sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), the possibility
of pregnancy, and a growing concern about date rape, it is important to talk
openly with your adolescent or young teen about sex. Ideally, you should begin
talking about issues before your child's body begins to grow and develop so he
or she knows what to expect.
Make it your responsibility to start
the discussion. Realize that waiting for others-friends, school staff, or
another adult-to address sex is doing your child a disservice. And be aware
that children have easy access to many Web sites with sexual or pornographic
content. You know your child best; and by talking about sex, you help build
trust. When your child knows he or she can talk about sex with you, your child
is more likely to keep asking you questions as they come up. In this way you
can gradually share information and values about sex without "lecturing" your
When my brother-in-law's dad took him to college in 1962, he asked his son,
"You know about girls, right?" Paul Soglin answered, "Yes." His
father said, "Good," gave him a hug, and drove off. That brief
conversation at 17 was the long and the short of the sex talk Soglin, today a
62-year-old management consultant in Madison, Wis., got from his parents.
Nowadays, experts advise there is no one "big" (or, as in Soglin's
case, small) sex talk. Teaching teens about their bodies and
If you are absolutely not able to talk openly with your
teen about sex, ask for help from your doctor, a trusted friend or family
member, or a counselor.
Your adolescent or young teen needs help
to make responsible choices about sex. Being informed and talking about sex
does not encourage sexual activity in teens. In fact, some studies show that
talking openly and honestly about sex can prevent teenage pregnancy.1
When you talk to your teen about sex:
Talk in a quiet, private place. Respect each
other's privacy, and let your teen know that talking to you is
Answer questions frankly and honestly. If your child is shy,
bring up questions yourself and answer them. Talk about specific issues such as
sexual intercourse, pregnancy prevention using
contraceptive methods, and sexually transmitted
diseases. For more information on contraception, see the topic Birth Control.
For more information on sexually transmitted diseases, see the topic Exposure
to Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
Talk about both the physical and
emotional aspects of sex.
Explain that sex does not just mean
vaginal sexual intercourse. Oral sex is becoming more accepted among
adolescents. Generally, adolescents do not think of oral sex as "sex." Many
adolescents think of oral sex as a safe way to enjoy some of the benefits of
vaginal sex with less risk of feeling guilty, getting a bad reputation, or
going against their own values and beliefs.2 Also,
some adolescents don't understand that it is possible to get a sexually
transmitted disease or
HIV from having oral sex.2
Anal sex is another sexual activity that some adolescents hear about or
practice without fully understanding the risks of sexually transmitted disease
Help your child understand these
risks as well as other possible effects from engaging in sexual behaviors. For
example, some adolescents may not realize the emotional aftermath that
sometimes results from having sex. Focus on helping your child think about what
makes a relationship strong. Talk about what it means to truly care for another
Respect each other's opinions, even when you disagree.
Recognize that your child's view is valid.
techniques, such as offering books about teenage sexuality or bringing up the
feelings you remember from your own teenage years.
Research shows that the greater the amount of sexual content
adolescents watch on TV, the more likely they are to increase their own sexual
behaviors.3 Set rules for which shows your child can
watch and for how long. If you allow your child to watch shows with sexual
content, watch it together. Talk about what happens on the show and the choices
characters make. Point out the possible consequences of sex that might be
missing from the show, such as pregnancy, feeling confused, or getting a
sexually transmitted disease.
Keep in mind that your child may not
follow the advice you or another adult gives regarding sexual matters. He or
she may do things that you do not agree with. Talk to your child about being
safe in those circumstances. No matter what happens, let him or her know that
you will always listen and be available.
For more information, see
the topic Talking With Children About Sex.
Ahern NR, Kiehl EM (2006). Adolescent sexual health
and practice: A review of the literature. Implications for healthcare
providers, educators, and policy makers. Family and Community
Health, 29(4): 299-313.
Halpern-Felsher BL, et al. (2005). Oral versus vaginal
sex among adolescents: Perceptions, attitudes, and behavior. Pediatrics, 115(4): 845-851.
Collins R, et al. (2004). Watching sex on television
predicts adolescent initiation of sexual behavior. Pediatrics, 114(3): e280-e289.
Debby Golonka, MPH
Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN, MBA
Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer
Michael J. Sexton, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer
Louis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics
March 17, 2008
WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise
March 17, 2008
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor.
Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this