But We're In Love: Talking to Teens about Sex
Jodi Dworkin, Extension Specialist and Associate Professor — Department of Family Social Science
Revised May 2016 by author.
It’s important to talk with your teen about sex because recent studies show that nearly half of high school students have had sex, 6.2 percent before age 13, and 15 percent have had four or more partners (Centers for Disease Control, 2013; Guttmacher Institute, 2014). Parents need to share their values about sex with their children, because teens will also get information from other kids and the media.
What to Say About Sex
Deciding what to say to your teen about sex is a personal decision. Regardless of what you say, be sure the information is age-appropriate. In general, younger teenagers (7th grade) are concerned with biology, the definition of slang terms, and intercourse. Older teens (10th grade) are more interested in learning about birth control, health risks, and communication in relationships. In general, boys are more interested in slang terms and intercourse. Girls typically want information on health risks and communication in relationships. To prepare yourself to answer your teen's questions, look at the related resources below, contact your church or local health department, or speak with your physician. You can also get free information on many issues from Planned Parenthood.
How to Talk About Sex
Here are tips for talking with your teenager about sex.
- Admit it’s awkward. It is okay to let your child know it makes you uncomfortable to discuss sex with them. They will probably feel the same. They will respect your honesty. Admitting it is awkward may make it more comfortable for both of you.
- Know what you are talking about. Make sure you are dispelling the myths about sex and sexually transmitted infections, and giving your teen the facts. It is okay to say you don’t know right now. But be sure to find the answer and tell your teen later. Check out the resources at the bottom of this page for more information.
- Listen carefully to your teen’s concerns and feelings, and respect his views. Be sure to answer only the question he is asking. This will help prevent you from giving information your teen might not be ready for.
- Let your teen know love is not the same thing as sex. Teenagers fall in love frequently and intensely.
- Emphasize that your teen has a choice about whether or not to have sex. Role play how to say no. There are a lot of safe, intimate things teens can do without having sex. Remind her that everybody is not “doing it.”
- Don’t lecture or threaten your teen. This will discourage your teen from talking to you in the future.
Preparing to Talk with Your Teen
You can never be totally prepared to talk with your teen about sex. Avoiding the issue does not mean your child will avoid sexual activity. Ask yourself what you would do in the following scenarios:
- You suspect your daughter is getting serious with her boyfriend.
- You found your son and his girlfriend home alone in his room.
- You found condoms or birth control pills in your teen’s room.
- You found out your daughter was pregnant.
Start thinking about these scenarios before they happen. While you may not be able to control your teen's behavior, you can prepare and control your response to his or her behavior.
Passing on Values
You can’t control your teen’s sexual activities once she walks out the door. It is possible to explain your values to her in hopes of influencing her decisions. What you believe about sexuality is important to your teen. How do you feel about your own sexuality and your teen’s sexuality? Be willing to talk with your teen about what you think is right and wrong. Be prepared for your teen to disagree with you. Listen to his or her disagreements, but state your beliefs firmly, and be honest and clear about the values you hope your teen will adopt.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Adolescent and School Health.
Guttmacher Institute. (2014). American teens’ sexual and reproductive health.
Schaefer, C. E. & DiGeronimo, T. F. (1999). How to talk to teens about really important things: Specific questions and answers and useful things to say. San Francisco, CA: Wiley.
Younger, F. (1992). Five hundred questions kids ask about sex and some of the answers. Springfield, IL: Charles C. Thomas Publisher.
Healthy Teen Network — This network promotes better outcomes for adolescents and young adults by advancing social change, cultivating innovation, and strengthening youth-supporting professionals and organizations.
Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) — SIECUS was founded in 1964 to provide education and information about sexuality and sexual and reproductive health.
STDs and HIV — Minnesota Department of Health — Provides information on HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases and infections.
It’s perfectly normal; Changing bodies, growing up, sex, and sexual health — This book, written for young people, provides accurate and up-to-date information on teen’s sexual health.