Back to top
February 01, 2016

“You’re going to remember your first sexual experience for the rest of your life,” a wise mother said to her teenage daughter, “so think carefully before you make a decision that can end up haunting you forever.”

Talking about sex with our children can be challenging for any parent. What to say? When to say it? Should we share personal experience? Should we assume a posture of neutrality, imparting information only, or should we include personal values, feelings and moral perspectives?

Studies have found that nearly half of all high school students have had sex, and nearly one-third are sexually active. Every year, over half a million pregnancies occur among adolescents, and nearly half of all sexually transmitted diseases occur among 15 to 24 year-olds. While we might wish it were otherwise, some form of sex (including sexting) has been or will soon be a part of many teen and pre-teen lives.

Research has found that when adolescents talk with their parents about sexual behavior and contraceptive use — especially when they talk to mothers — they tend to engage in safer sex, leading to lower rates of teen pregnancy and a lower incidence of sexually transmitted disease.1 These benefits were particularly pronounced among girls.

So talk to your teen about sex. Although the topic may be part of health education at school, there’s typically more your youngster needs to know, to understand, and to discuss. You can fill the gap. Here’s what to keep in mind:

  • Sex isn’t a one-time talk to be held at the “perfect moment.” Take advantage of unexpected moments when sexual content on TV, film or media offer a convenient conversation starter.
  • Briefer chats help keep the kids’ interest, focused on one important idea at a time — easier for them to remember.
  • If you’re uncomfortable with certain topics, say so — and keep talking. When you’re emotionally honest, your kids will more likely be honest with you — asking their thorniest questions, sharing their biggest concerns.
  • Don’t preach or use scare tactics. You want them to come back for more, without fear of scoldings, sermons, or intimidation.
  • Do a lot of listening. Rely on “tell me more” to draw them out.
  • Go beyond information. Incorporate values and feelings, the role of respect between sexual partners, and the importance of mutual consent.

Don’t squander the opportunity to be your kids’ most influential sex educators.

For more on how to talk to your kids about sex, visit: