Talking Sex with Your Teen

With studies showing that almost half of America's teenagers have experienced sexual intercourse by the age of 18, educating kids about sex is something all parents need to do.

Parents must be prepared to help their teens navigate the changes in their bodies and their newfound sexuality. Otherwise their teens could be risking early pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and emotional turmoil.

The most important thing for parents to remember is that your discussions with your teenager won't happen in a vacuum. They will be a natural result of your overall relationship. So it's important to build an open, trusting relationship while children are still young.

Parents need to be alert to warning signs that could signal problems related to sexual activity such as a sudden loss of interest in school, a dramatic change in eating or sleeping habits, or mysterious statements such as, "I think I might need to see a doctor."

How can parents find ways to approach the difficult subject of sex with their teens? Here are a few suggestions.

  • Look for openings. Use current events as an icebreaker. Imagine you are watching the news on TV, and a story about teenage pregnancy comes up. That can become a natural way for you to use that news story to begin a more personal discussion of sexual issues.

  • Make the first move. In most cases, it's better to broach the subject of sexuality yourself, rather than waiting for an adolescent to seek you out. Why? If the child has questions, you want the answers to come from a mature, caring adult, and not from the child's peers, who may or may not have the facts straight.

  • Sort out your own values in advance. If as a parent you decide that sexual activity is acceptable, then you should be clear about what behavior and boundaries you expect from your teenager. It is a good idea to have a discussion with your family doctor about how you're going to handle such issues as pregnancy and disease prevention, when and if the time arrives.

  • Talk to other parents. Talking to parents who have already raised teenagers can often produce suggestions that will help you communicate better with your own kids.