New Survey from Planned Parenthood and Family Circle Magazine Shows How Parents and Teens Talk about Sex — and How They Can Have Better Communication

Survey shows that most parents and teens talk about sex; teens are less comfortable than their parents; and parents need to talk more about how their teens can prevent pregnancy and STDs


Jen Aulwes


Published: | Updated: 10.04.12

St. Paul, MN — A new nationwide survey of both parents and teens sheds light on how they are talking to each other about sex. The survey of more than 2,000 parents and their teens is from Planned Parenthood and Family Circle magazine with assistance from the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health (CLAFH) at NYU. The findings are detailed in “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about the Sex Talk (But Were Afraid to Ask),” a November issue Family Circle magazine story out Tuesday, October 2.

According to the survey, the vast majority of parents and teenagers have talked about sex. Half of all parents said they feel very comfortable talking with their teens about sex, but just 18 percent of teens said they feel very comfortable talking with their parents. The findings underscore the importance of October’s Let’s Talk Month, an annual awareness-raising effort aimed at getting parents and teens talking about sex and providing parents with tools for making these conversations easier and more effective.

“This national survey bears out what we see every day in Minnesota. Parents are talking with their kids about sex and sexuality, but they need tools and support to have even more meaningful, ongoing conversations,” said Migdalia Loyola, Director of Education & Outreach for Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota (PPMNS). “We’re here to help parents and teens have these conversations — which are critical for helping teenagers make healthy choices like waiting until they are older to have sex and using birth control and condoms when they do have sex.”

Key findings from the nationally representative survey, conducted by Knowledge Networks, include:

  • Most parents (80 percent) know when their teens are sexually active, which underscores the continued importance of conversations between teens and parents once teens start having sex, as parents play a critical role in helping their teens protect themselves from unintended pregnancy and STDs. 
  • A majority of parents and teens are talking about sex. Ninety percent of parents reported having talked with their teens about sexuality (which includes information on the human body, reproduction, sexual behavior and relationships), and 84 percent of teens reported talking with their parents about sexuality.
  • Both mothers and fathers are talking with teens, but moms (93 percent) are doing more talking than dads (85 percent).
  • Parents report they are talking about these topics more frequently than do teens. Parents were more likely than teens to say they have frequently talked with each another about subjects such as how to say no to sex and when sex should and shouldn’t take place.
  • Parents and teens aren’t tackling the tough topics. Half of parents said they have frequently discussed healthy relationships with their teens, but just 29 percent have frequently talked to their teens about birth control, and only 31 percent said they have frequently discussed sexual orientation.
  • Parents think they are giving their teens nuanced guidance about healthy relationships and when sex should and shouldn’t take place, but teens say they only hear simple directives. For example, one father said that he most wanted to convey to his 16-year-old daughter that “your life is in front of you and sex should be low on the list,” but what the daughter heard was that “he never wants me to ever have sex with anyone!”
  • Parents overwhelmingly support school-based sex education programs and believe that school-based programs should cover a range of topics, including birth control. Ninety-three percent of parents believe birth control should be covered in high school sex-ed programs, and 78 percent believe this information should be provided in middle school. Over 95 percent of parents said STDs should be covered in both middle and high school programs, and a majority of parents said that sexual orientation should be covered in both middle and high school sex-ed programs.

As part of Let’s Talk Month in October, Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota South Dakota is offering resources and programs to parents and teens in the region.

  • PPMNS offers Parent-Child education programs designed to encourage and enhance communication between parents and their teens. Find out about the Mother-Daughter or Mother-Son retreats here.
  • Our Let’s Talk Tablemat is a free tool for families to use during shared meals to encourage conversation.  It features 24 open-ended questions (in English or Spanish) that anyone from age 2 or 3 and older may ask and answer.
  • PPMNS’ Parent-Child Connectedness report is also available for parents and teens. The report discusses the importance of Parent-Child Connectedness (PCC): time spent together, structure, communication, and a basic sense of trust.  PCC is known in the public health world as a “super protector,” buffering adolescents from the many challenges and risks they face.

Other resources can also be found here.

Survey Methodology

The Planned Parenthood/Family Circle/CLAFH Let’s Talk Month poll, conducted by Knowledge Networks, a Gfk company, utilized a panel recruited and maintained by Knowledge Networks that represents 97 percent of U.S households.  A stratified, nationally representative sample of 2,092 parents and teens aged 15–18 living in the same-households was selected from panel participants.  The poll was conducted from June 12 to June 25, 2012.  The margin of error is +/- 3.5 percent.


For more than 80 years, Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota has worked in our region to make sure all people have the information and the means to make free and responsible decisions about whether and when to have children.  Planned Parenthood operates 20 clinics in Minnesota and South Dakota and an Online Health Center, providing quality and affordable family planning, reproductive health care services and education to nearly 64,000  women and men each year.

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