Talking to Your Teens About Healthy Sexuality

How to Talk About Sexual Issues and Safe Sex So Your Teens Listen

Mother and son talking while sitting in garden
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I’ve always considered myself to be open with my children about issues of healthy sexuality and safe sex. However, when my son asked me to take him to Planned Parenthood for free condoms soon after his 18th birthday, all of my openness flew out the window. I asked Duane Westhoff, HIV & STD Prevention Specialist for Health and Education for Youth/Young Adults (HEY), a Project ARK Program, for his advice.

 

Talking About Sex with Your Teen

Westhoff told me that my teenager depends upon me as his parent for essential information about values, love, and relationships, not just in word but in deed. Here are a few suggestions he passed along that may help you and other parents who struggle with communicating about sex with their teens.

“If You Can’t Talk About It, You Shouldn’t Be Doing It” 

This is a good rule of thumb for teenagers who are just becoming sexually active. It encourages sexual responsibility and communication. This advice also seems to apply to parents who are queasy about providing condoms to their teens. Talk to your teen about your concerns. Be honest about your own struggles. Explore and share both your feelings and your teen's. Discuss with your son or daughter the positive and negative consequences that sex can have on our lives. 

Acknowledge That Talking Is Difficult But Important 

It may be challenging to explain your concerns.

You may feel embarrassed. But this is a great opportunity to act as a role model for your teen in regard to healthy communication. Convey to your teenager that you are available to answer any questions they have. When they do have questions, respond without judgment, focusing on the facts. If your child feels self-conscious about opening up to you, they'll try to find the information they need elsewhere...

and it may not be accurate.

Show That You Are Interested Without Demanding Intimate Details

Keep in mind that your teen may not be comfortable talking to you about sex. They may be protective of their privacy, and may also feel that they already have most of the facts they need about sex and pregnancy. But they still want their parents to be involved in their lives. Take advantage of natural opportunities to talk. The next time you pass by a clinic, bring up the topic again.

Reiterate the Importance of Safe Sex 

Discussing with your teen whether or not it is the right time to become sexually active is important. Teens need to know that sex won’t heal a troubled relationship. Sex is not proof of adulthood. Sex carries with it major responsibilities. Is your teen ready for them?

If these are your concerns, share them with your teen. Convey that, while you want him to be safe, you also hope he’s having sex for positive reasons.

You should also stress that, aside from abstinence, condoms are the only method of contraception that offers reliable protection from sexually transmitted diseases.

And don’t forget that he can also buy his own condoms. We should empower teens and remind them that sex carries responsibilities. If he is too embarrassed to buy condoms or to get free condoms, it may be a sign that he’s not really ready for the responsibilities of sex.

Remind your teen of that first nugget of advice: “If you can’t talk about it, you shouldn’t be doing it.” 

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