How to talk to your kids about sex

February 21, 2019 | by Anne Schneider, D.O.
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

Kids today are exposed to sexual images before they are prepared to handle them, and roughly 1 in 4 teens will become pregnant by age 20. But teen pregnancy is less likely for kids who talk with their parents about sex.

In national surveys, teens reported that their parents have the greatest influence over their decisions about sex — more than friends, siblings or the media. Those who talk with their parents about sex are more likely to delay having sex until they are older, and to make healthy choices when they do have it.

Teaching kids about sex does not give permission to have sex. It opens the door to conversations about how to be safe and responsible.

And it’s never too early (or too late) to talk with your kids. Remember, if you don’t educate your kids, someone else will.

Start with sharing what to expect during puberty, how their bodies are changing, and that it’s all normal. As your child gets older — by age 10 or 11— most kids are ready for conversations about sex.

That’s not to say talking with your kids about sex is easy. Below are tips for parents summarized from the American Academy of Pediatrics:

  1. Talk early and often. This sends the message that sex is a normal part of life so your kids will feel more comfortable coming to you. Even if your child is older, a late talk is better than no talk.
  2. Don’t try to fit it all into one big talk. Start small. Have lots of little conversations over time.
  3. Be ready to answer questions. When your kid asks a question, ask what they already know first (e.g., “What have you heard about that?”). Then, check their understanding (e.g., “Does that answer your question?”). Let your kid know that they can also talk with their doctor as well if they would feel more comfortable.
  4. Listen more than you talk. Practice active listening: nod your head, and repeat back what your child says in your own words. Try not to lecture them or interrogate them.
  5. Ask about their friends. Teens can be more chatty about their friends than about themselves, and this will give you insight into how your teen feels.
  6. Look for talkable moments. It can sometimes be easier to talk about sex while doing something else, like driving or cooking. Look for opportunities to talk about sexuality and relationships, including when the topic arises on a TV show or in a movie.
  7. Be real and honest. Dispel myths and provide accurate information. If you are embarrassed or uncomfortable, say so. Reassure them that there is nothing to be ashamed of.
  8. Ask for their opinion. This shows that you respect what they have to say and will help them feel more comfortable coming to you. Ask questions like, “When do you think it’s okay to start dating?”
  9. Share your values. Explain to your kids why it’s worth waiting to have sex. Let them know they deserve to feel honored in their relationships and to feel good about who they are.
  10. Be open-minded. Don’t assume that your teen is only interested in opposite-sex relationships. Young people whose parents are rejecting of their sexual identity are more likely to experience depression and attempt suicide. Remind your kid that your love is unconditional.
  11. Establish clear expectations. As kids grow into teens, set reasonable boundaries for them, including rules for curfews, dating and sexual behavior. Check in with them regularly.
  12. Talk about safe sex. Talk about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), how STIs are spread and ways to protect themselves, such as using condoms. Talk about testing available for STIs, as well as birth control options to prevent unwanted pregnancy.
  13. Talk about consent and safety. Explain the impact drinking and drugs can have on judgement. Be very clear that their safety matters most. Monitor your teen’s online usage, and remind them never to share sexually explicit photos. Learn tips to keep your kids cyber-safe.
  14. Be there. Make it clear that they can always come to you for help without being judged.

Kids who have regular conversations with their parents about sex are more likely to make healthy choices about sex and relationships as they grow up. Stay involved in your kids’ lives. Set boundaries. And, above all, let your kids know that you love them no matter what.

There are a variety of online resources, books and other educational materials about sexuality and sexual health that offer sound information to help you navigate this topic with your kids. Ask your child’s doctor for resources if you need more help.

There are resources for teens, too. Created by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, Stay Teen is a website just for teens — to encourage them to avoid the responsibilities that come with too-early pregnancy and parenting.

Learn more about children’s services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Related blogs:

Puberty: What’s normal, what’s not?

7 need-to-know facts about HIV

Teach your teen to be a teen first, a parent later

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