Talking to Your Teenager About Sex

Father giving condom to his son
Father giving condom to his son. cokada / Getty Images

Some parents would rather do anything than talking to their kids about sex. The thought of their teens having sex is too terrifying to contemplate. Parents sometimes hope that by not talking about sex, or by just talking about virginity, that their teens will never have sex. Sadly, it doesn't work like that. Not talking about sex with your children doesn't stop them from hearing about it. It just stops them from hearing about it from you. Wouldn't you rather know that the information they were getting was good, and accurate, and designed to help them make the best choices possible?

Talking to your kids about sex doesn't make them more likely to have sex. If anything, it could have the opposite effect. Comprehensive sex education has been conclusively shown, over and over again, to reduce teen pregnancies while not increase sexual risk-taking. So, what could be better for your kids than to also talk about sex at home? Accurate, informative, realistic information is your best weapon in helping your teens have healthy sexual romantic relationships. It can also help your relationship with your teen. Telling teens the truth about sex, rather than simply promoting abstinence, is more to encourage them to trust you. It may also make them more likely to listen to your advice when making decisions.

And remember, it's called the birds and the bees (plural) for a reason. One of the biggest secrets in talking with kids about sex is that you have to keep doing it. A single talk isn't enough. After all, repetition isn't only the secret to comedy. It's also the secret to good communication.

The Virgin Question

  • Comprehensive Sex Ed
    • Some parents and politicians aren't sure how they feel about the teaching of comprehensive sex education in schools. Although I agree that there's no substitute for talking to your teens at home, it's hard to argue with the efficacy of good school-based sex education. Here's all the information you need to learn that it works, how it works, and why even parents who would prefer their teens to avoid having sex should consider encouraging their teachers to stay away from abstinence-only.
  • The Hymen
    • People are under the misconception that having an intact hymen is synonymous with a girl being "pure," virginal, and safe from STDs. In reality, all it is is a piece of skin and one that can not accurately be used as a barometer of either morality or sexual experience.
  • Sex With a Virgin Isn't Safe Sex
    • If your sexual partner is a virgin it doesn't mean you can't get an STD. Just because a person is a "virgin" doesn't mean that sleeping with them is without risk.

Getting Down to the Nitty Gritty

  • Why You Need to Talk About Oral Sex
    • From the things kids hear on the news these days, it's not surprising that many of them don't think that oral sex is sex at all. Although parents may be hesitant to discuss specific sexual behaviors with their kids, it's critical that they do. Their kids may already be engaging in oral sex while having no idea that it is putting them at risk for various STDs.
  • Myths About Who Needs Safer Sex
    • No one likes to think of themselves as being at risk for an unwanted pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease. Instead of simply choosing not to have sex or using condoms or other forms of contraception, they manage to convince themselves they're simply not at risk. Here are some misconceptions about who does, and doesn't, need to practice safer sex that is common in both teens and adults.

Help Them Be Prepared

  • Safety and Self
    • Preparing your kids to make smart decisions about sex is also preparing them to make smart decisions about life. Help them to become confident in their ability to stand up for themselves, make their own decisions, and act on them and they'll be ready to face the world.
  • Teach Them Agency
    • A lot of people don't make decisions about sex. They just let it happen to them. Teach your teens to have sexual agency, and agency in general. It will help them stay in control of their life, and it may help you too.
  • Ignore What You Find in the Sock Drawer
    • If you confront your kids over finding condoms in their sock drawer or book bag, do you really think it's going to stop them from having sex? It's far more likely that they'll simply stop buying condoms. Given that you can't control their choices, wouldn't it be easier if they were prepared to make safe ones?

The HPV Vaccine

  • How the HPV Vaccine Works
    • When the HPV vaccine first came out, a friend of mine told me that her students were asking if the vaccine, itself, could give them cancer. This is my explanation of how Gardasil works, and why that's not something they need to worry about.
  • Why Don't More American Teens Get the HPV Vaccine?
    • The U.S. has recommended that all teens and young people get the HPV vaccine for years. Why doesn't it happen? There are a number of reasons. Two of the most important are that doctors don't recommend the vaccine and parents don't ask for it.

Teenagers Aren't Just Little Adults

  • Transformation Zone
    • Teenagers bodies are undergoing processes of great change. Height changes and development of secondary sexual characteristics are only two of them. These changes are important, and not for the obvious reasons. The process of how the cervix develops during adolescence actually puts teenage girls at increased risk of disease compared to adult women.


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