Is it time for you to have “the talk” about the birds and the bees with your child? For many parents, talking about sex with your teen can be a trepidatious and terrifying conversation. It means your baby is growing up, becoming more curious about themselves and others and starting to make important life decisions that have real consequences.
You may have had conversations with your child over the years regarding proper names for body parts, what private parts mean and what they look like, but talking about sex is very important to their overall health and safety. Research shows teens who report talking with their parents about sex are more likely to delay having sex, and they’re more likely to use condoms when they do have sex.
So, how does one even broach this type of conversation?
Jerimya Fox, a licensed professional counselor and a doctor of behavioral health at Banner Behavioral Health Hospital, provided these tips for parents on how to have better open and honest conversations about sex with your teen:
Ask and Listen
A sure-fire way to get your teen to ignore you and shut you out of future conversations is telling them what they should and shouldn’t do as it relates to relationships and sex. Instead, Dr. Fox suggested asking your teen about their friendships and relationships. You can gain insight into what your teen is thinking by listening to what their friends are doing.
Share the Basics
Whether you try to limit what your teen sees on TV or their phone, they’re still being exposed to sexual content everywhere they go. Although young people live in a more sophisticated world today, there is still confusion, so it’s helpful to get accurate information at home.
Define sex and the behaviors that can lead to pregnancy, as well as sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and infections. Clarify any misunderstandings or myths and give an honest answer that meets their needs. If you don’t know, that’s OK. Let them know you’ll find out the answer and make sure you follow through.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that 15- to 24-year-olds account for half of all new STD infections. Make sure your teen is aware that oral sex is still sex and that it too comes with risks. Explain to them that you can get STDs through all types of sexual activity, including oral sex and other sexual behaviors. Provide them with fact-based information on ways to prevent STDs through abstinence and/or contraception.
Build Trust and Honesty
If your teen does share personal information that you may not agree with, try to leave judgement at the door. While you should let your teen know when their behavior is dangerous or harmful, reassure them you still love and support them no matter their decision. They will be more apt to share if they don’t feel pressured or fearful to discuss sensitive topics.
Discuss Consent and Coercion
Remind your teen that no one has the right to touch another person without explicit permission, even if they’ve been engaged in a certain behavior or act before. Sexual assault can happen to any teen, no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity. Explain the differences between consent and coercion and remind them that sexual assault isn’t just sex, it’s any unwanted touch.
Provide Access to Resources
If your teen is feeling uncomfortable speaking with you about sex or they have additional questions you feel you aren’t equipped to answer, get them the information they need through access to books, a therapist, clinic, hotline or support group.
“Lastly, know that talking about sex with your teen doesn’t mean you are giving them permission,” Dr. Fox said. “You are simply equipping and empowering your teen to make the right decisions.”
If you’re struggling with the sex talk or you’ve noticed your teen is beginning to lie to cover up risky behavior, ask your teen’s pediatrician or a licensed behavioral health specialist for help.