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Talking With Your Child About Sex - Topic Overview

Middle school and high school

As children enter their teen years, they begin to have more interest in dating, and many become sexually intimate with a partner. Almost half of adolescents will have had sexual intercourse by 10th grade. And by 12th grade, a little more than half have had sexual intercourse.4Teens face a lot of peer pressure to have sex. So if your teen is not ready to have sex, he or she may feel left out. Help your teen understand that many teens decide to wait to have sex.

Keep talking to your child about healthy relationships and safer sex. Studies show that when parents talk openly about sex, their teens are more responsible in their sexual behaviors.5

Planned Parenthood and other groups offer counseling and classes you can take with your child to discuss sex, dating, and other important issues.

Defining sex

It's important not to make assumptions about what your child knows or doesn't know about sex. Your child may know something or nothing about sex. He or she may or may not know what the terms sexual activity and sexual intercourse mean. Start by explaining these terms. Make it clear that sex does not just mean vaginal sexual intercourse.

Oral sex is becoming more accepted among children. In general, children do not think of oral sex as "sex." They 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.6 Also, some children don't understand that it is possible to get a sexually transmitted infection (STI) from having oral sex.6Anal sex is another sexual activity that may take place without the child fully understanding the risks of STIs, such as HIV.

Help your child understand the risk of STIs and other possible effects from engaging in sexual behaviors. For example, some children may not realize the emotional aftermath that sometimes results from having sex. Help your child think about what makes a relationship strong. Talk about what it means to truly care for another person.

Masturbation is a topic few people feel comfortable talking about. But it is a normal and healthy part of human sexuality. Talk about it in terms of your values.

Discussing STIs and pregnancy

Two-thirds of all sexually transmitted infections (STIs) occur in people who are younger than age 25. STIs affect both males and females. Consider talking about why teens have a high risk of getting an STI. Talking about condoms and other forms of contraception is often based on family values and attitudes. Even so, it's important to make sure your child understands how to avoid STIs, how pregnancy occurs, and how to avoid an unwanted pregnancy, be it by abstinence or the use of condoms and other birth control methods. For more information about STIs, see the topic Exposure to Sexually Transmitted Infections.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends several strategies to help prevent unplanned pregnancy. The AAP supports having programs in place that help children delay becoming sexually active. The AAP also recommends that children learn about contraceptive methods and be able to get them easily. This includes emergency contraception methods.7

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WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 07, 2012
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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