Talking to Your Teen About Sex

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talkAll parents want their children to make healthy decisions. Talking about sex and sexuality can be difficult for both you and your child. However, open communication and discussion about difficult issues such as sex will build trust between you and your child and can help your child make safe choices. Teenage sexuality can be confusing and overwhelming, and as a parent it is important to let your child know that you are a safe source of support and education.

It’s never too soon. These days, children are exposed to sexuality starting at a young age through television and media, what they hear in school or from older siblings, and even from just passing by magazines in the grocery store. Therefore, it’s important that your child knows early on that he can come to you with any questions. There are many good books for children of all ages starting from preschool and going through the teen years that you can share with your child. If your child asks you a question about sex that you think he is too young to know the answer to, ask him where he heard it and what he thinks the answer is, and then tell him however much you think he needs to hear. Remember, though, that it’s better if the truth comes from you.

Incorporate your own values.
Since birth, your child has been observing the family values that you live by. Take some time to examine what you have taught her. Include your child in this process by sharing the values that your parents set for you, while keeping in mind that times have changed. Your child values your opinion more than you think and ultimately looks to you as an example. Think about where you stand on issues of teen pregnancy, sexual orientation, abstinence and contraception. This conversation can help to initiate a more detailed conversation about sex. Be prepared to answer questions about what you did when you were your child’s age.

Listen closely. Parent – child communication about sex and sexuality can go both ways. Do your best to listen to what your child is saying. He may be exposed to issues surrounding sex that are not the same as what you faced at his age, so allow him to educate you on what he’s going through. Your child can help you to understand what kind of support he may need and this information will allow you to become better educated. If you suspect or find out that your child is sexually active, it is still important to talk to him about it even if you don’t confront him, talk to him about his and your thoughts and views about sex, even if you’ve already had the talk. Get to know his friends, his friend’s parents, and his partner if he is in a relationship.

Educate yourself. Many parents find it hard to talk about sexuality with their child. It is normal to be intimidated by topics such as sex and sexual orientation. In order to be able to provide the kind of support that your teen may need during this time, educate yourself on abstinence, sexually transmitted diseases, and contraception. You can ask your child’s pediatrician about how and what to tell your child about sex. Or, if both you and your child are uncomfortable, schedule a visit for her to talk to her doctor. As children get older, they see the doctor by themselves, and any discussions they have are kept confidential, which may make her more comfortable. The American Academy of Pediatrics support sex education that has information on both abstinence and birth control, and research shoes that this does not increase the number of teens having sex but helps to keep them safe from unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Here are some sexual health terms you should know:
  • Abstinence. Let your child know that the most effective kind of birth control and prevention against sexually transmitted diseases is abstinence, which means no sexual intercourse

  • Birth control. Talk to your child about the importance of protecting herself against diseases and pregnancy if and when she decides to have sex, even as an adult. Let her know that she can come to you or go to her doctor for information on birth control when the time comes.

  • Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). As your child’s body becomes that of an adult, let her know that if something doesn’t feel right, it’s important to let you or the doctor know. If she is sexually active and even thinks she may have an STD, it’s better to get it checked before it turns into something more serious.
Talk about what you see and hear. The things we see and hear these days in various media are very sexual and can spark a teen’s curiosity. These days, with the internet accessible to almost everyone, your teen can see and find out whatever she wants. Talk to her about how some of the images we see on TV, on the internet, and in magazines are not very respectful to people’s bodies. Also talk about any myths and misconceptions your child sees and hears. For example, some children believe that oral sex is not a risky behavior because it is not actually sexual intercourse; let your child know that you can get an STD from engaging in oral sex.

This information was compiled by Sunindia Bhalla, One Tough Job Manager, and reviewed by the Program Staff of the Massachusetts Children’s Trust Fund.

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