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Talking to your young teen about sex and sexuality - guidelines for parents
About Sex and SexualityGuidelines for Parents
Sex seems to be everywhere these days—on television, in the movies, and
in popular songs. Sex in the media is so common that you might think that
• Resisting pressure to have sex:
Teens face a lot of peer pressure to
your young teenager already knows everything he or she needs to know about
have sex. If your teenager is not ready to have sex, she may feel left out.
sex. In fact, your teenager may claim that he or she already knows everything
Help her understand that many teenagers decide to wait to have sex.
about sex, but this is not true. Teens today need information about sex more
• Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and how to prevent them:
than ever, and you are still the best source for that information. The American
Teenagers need to know that having sex exposes them to the risk of
Academy of Pediatrics offers the following tips to help you talk to your teen
sexually transmitted diseases. Your teen should also know that AIDS is a
about this important and sensitive subject.
leading cause of death in young people, aged 15 to 24. These young peo-ple were probably infected with HIV when they were teenagers. The only
Why should I talk to my teen about sex?
sure way to prevent STDs is not to have sex. Explain to your teen that if
Talks about sex should begin when your child first asks a question like “where
she chooses to have sex, using a latex condom every time is the only
do babies come from?”. Children usually start asking such questions at age
proven way to lower the risk of getting STDs. Be sure to explain that even
3 or 4. Waiting until your child is a teenager to have “the big talk” means your
child will probably learn his first lessons about sex from someone other than
• Birth Control:
Even if you have made it clear that you would prefer that
you. Studies show that children who learn about sex from friends instead of
your teenager wait to have sex, your teen still needs basic information
their parents are more likely to have sex before marriage. They are also more
about birth control. (Both girls and boys need to know about birth control.)
likely to have sex at a young age, and to have more than one sexual partner
Your teen may decide to have sex despite your wishes. Without birth con-
before marriage. You can have a great effect on your child by talking to him
trol information, an unplanned pregnancy might result. Be sure to explain
that birth control pills, shots (Depo-Provera), and implants (Norplant) onlyprevent pregnancy. They do not protect against sexually transmitted dis-
What should I tell my teenabout sex?
eases. Only latex condoms protect against STDs, including HIV/AIDS.
Well before they reach their early teens, both boys and girls should
Both condoms and another reliable birth control method need to be used
• The basics of sexual “plumbing,” that is, the names and functions of male
• Acquaintance (date) rape:
Acquaintance rape is a serious problem for
teens. It happens when a person your teenager knows (for example, a date,
• The purpose and meaning of puberty (moving into young womanhood
friend, or neighbor) forces her (or him) to have sex. Make sure your
teenager understands that “no always means no.” Discuss with your teen
• The function of the menstrual cycle (period)
that avoiding drugs and alcohol may make date rape less likely to happen.
• What sexual intercourse is and how women become pregnant
• Forms of sexuality (heterosexuality, homosexuality,
Once your child becomes a teenager, the focus of your talks about sex
This is a difficult topic for many parents. However, your teen
should shift. You should begin to talk to your teen about the social and
probably has many questions about the different forms human sexuality
emotional aspects of sex, and about your values. You will want to deal with
can take. Many young people go through a stage when they wonder, “Am
issues that help your teenager answer questions like these:
I gay?” It often happens when a teenager realizes that he is attracted to a
friend of the same sex, or that he has a crush on a teacher of the same sex.
• “When is it okay to kiss a boy (or a girl)?”
This is normal and does not mean your teenager is gay or bisexual. Sexual
identity may not be firmly set until adulthood. You should also let your teen
• “How will I know when I’m ready to have sex?”
know that if he is gay or bisexual, you will not reject him.
• “Won’t having sex help me keep my boyfriend (or girlfriend)?”
Masturbation is a topic few people feel comfortable
You should answer your teen’s questions based on your own value system
discussing. But it is a normal and healthy part of human sexuality. Discuss
—even if you think your values are old-fashioned by today’s standards. If you
feel strongly that sex before marriage is wrong, you should tell your teenagerthat, but be sure to explain why you feel that way. If you explain the reasons foryour beliefs, your teen is more likely to understand and adopt your values.
You also need to listen to what your teenager is saying. Find out what
she knows about sex and try to answer her questions as clearly and directly as possible.
When talking about sex with your teen is difficult
sex, say what you have to say anyway. Your message will get through. If your
Talking about sex with your teenager may be a hard thing to do. Perhaps you
teen disagrees with what you have to say or gets angry, take heart. This means
find it embarrassing to talk about sex. Maybe you think talking about it will
that she has at least heard what you have said. These talks will help your
make your teen want to have sex. Maybe your teen does not seem to want to
teenager learn to think about her actions. They will also help her develop a
solid value system, even if it is different from your own.
Don’t worry. Many parents find talking about sex with their children hard.
Sex is a very personal and private matter. If talking about sex is hard for you,
For more information, see the following
American Academy of Pediatrics Publications:
• Be honest. Explain your discomfort to your teenager. Let her know that
The Correct Use of Condoms: A Message to Teens
talking about sex is not easy for you—perhaps because of your own back-ground—but that you think it is important for her to get her information
Deciding to Wait: Guidelines for Teens
Know the Facts About HIV and AIDS: Guidelines for Parents
• If certain subjects make you uncomfortable, try speaking slowly, calmly,
Making the Right Choice: Facts for Teens on Avoiding Pregnancy
• Practice with your spouse or partner, a friend, or another parent. Knowing
Puberty: Information for Girls and Boys
what you want to say and going over the words may make it easier to talk
The Pelvic Exam: Guidelines for Teens
about sex with your teen when the time comes.
• If you just cannot talk to your teen about sex, ask your pediatrician to pro-
Sex Education: A Bibliography for Children, Adolescents, and Their Parents
vide her with sex-related information. A trusted aunt or uncle, or a minister,priest, or rabbi may also be able to help. Finally, many parents find it useful
Television and sex
to give their teenagers a book on human sexuality.
Television exposes children and teens to adult behaviors by showing
“Won’t talking about sex with my son make him
these actions as being normal and risk-free. Being sexually active is oftenshown on TV as a popular thing to do. Because sexual activity happens so
want to have sex?”
often on TV, the message that is sent is “everybody does it” with no harm-
Parents often fear that even talking about sex may make it seem exciting to
ful results. In addition, young teens may think that these behaviors will
their children and make them want to try it. Teenagers are curious about sex,
whether you talk to them about it or not. Studies show that teens whose parents
Ten percent of adolescent girls in the United States get pregnant each
talk openly about sex are actually more responsible in their sexual behavior.
year. Although TV viewing is not the only way that your teen learns about
Your guidance is important. It will help your teen make difficult decisions
sexuality, the risks and results of sexual activity are not given equal time
about sex, and it may make it less likely that he or she will be exposed to STDs
on TV. Programs on many cable TV channels are often even more extreme
or have an unplanned pregnancy. Teenagers who have poor information about
in the way they portray sex. This makes it even more important for you to
sex (usually those who learn about sex from friends) or who have no informa-
talk about these issues with your young teen.
tion at all are the most likely to get into trouble.
“I want to talk to my teenager about sex,
but every time I try to start a conversation,
The information contained in this publication should not be used as a substitute for the
she just stares at me.”
medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment thatyour pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
It is not always easy to talk to your teenager about anything, let alone some-thing as private and difficult as sex. Your teen may be embarrassed to talk toyou about sex. She may fear that if she opens up to you about sex, you might
use what she says against her later. She may also feel that what she thinksabout sex is none of your business.
Teenagers do need privacy. However, they also need information and guid-
ance from parents. Try to strike a balance. Let your teen know that while youwould prefer that she would accept your values, she will have to make her ownsexual decisions. Give your teenager a chance to share what she thinks and toask questions. If your teen does not say anything when you try to talk about
The American Academy of Pediatrics is an organization of 55,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical subspecialists, and pediatric surgical specialists dedicated to the health, safety, and well-being of infants, children, adolescents, and young adults.
American Academy of Pediatrics Division of Publications PO Box 747 Elk Grove Village, IL 60009-0747
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