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New Nationwide Survey from Planned Parenthood, Family Circle Magazine, and the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health Shows How Parents and Teens Talk about Sex – and How They Can Communicate Better

NEW YORK, NY (October 2, 2012) — A new nationwide survey released today shows that most parents and teens talk about sex; teens are less comfortable than their parents having these conversations; and parents need to talk more about how their teens can prevent pregnancy and STDs. The survey, which is one of the first to question a large number of parents and teens from the same households, was commissioned by Planned Parenthood, Family Circle magazine and the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health (CLAFH) at New York University.

Half (50 percent) of all teens feel uncomfortable talking with their parents about sex compared to just 19 percent of parents who feel uncomfortable talking with their teens, according to the survey, which is the first to reveal that parents are much more at ease than their teens when it comes to discussing sex. Using a nationally representative panel and conducted by GfK Custom Research, LLC, the survey put questions to more than 2,000 parents and teens from the same households. The findings offer deep insight into parent and teen communication about sex and provide a roadmap for how they can communicate more effectively, ultimately helping improve young people’s sexual health. 

The survey findings are detailed in, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about the Sex Talk (But Were Afraid to Ask),” a feature in the November issue of Family Circle, which is the go-to resource for moms of teens and tweens, on newsstands today. The report is being unveiled in tandem with 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 survey shows that parents and teens have very different perceptions about how often they’re talking about sex and what’s being said during those talks,” said Leslie Kantor, vice president of education for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Parents think they’re giving nuanced advice, but their teens are just hearing directives. We’re offering tips that can help parents talk with their teens in a way that resonates and helps them make smart choices about relationships and sex.”

The report finds that while 42 percent of parents say they’ve talked to their teens “many times” about how to say no to sex, only 27 percent of teens agree. In fact, 34 percent of teens say they’ve “never” or “only once” talked with their mom or dad about how to delay sex. Moreover, only small percentages of teens said they plan to discuss these and other sexuality-related topics with their parents in the future. This resistance is likely a result of teens’ discomfort discussing these topics.

“There is clearly a communication breakdown between what parents are trying to convey and what kids are hearing,” said Family Circle Editor in Chief Linda Fears. “As a magazine that speaks to moms of teens and tweens, it is essential that we help parents learn how to talk to their kids about sex in an effective way.”

“As parents, we want to protect our teens and keep them healthy, and I believe that includes talking with them about relationships and about sex so that they don’t feel pressured into it before they’re ready and so they know how to prevent pregnancy and STDs when they are ready,” said actor Cynthia Nixon, spokesperson for Planned Parenthood’s 2012 Let’s Talk Month campaign. “That’s why I’m encouraging parents to have these conversations with their teens.”

“One of the most important jobs parents have is guiding their teens into adulthood,” said actor Alfre Woodard, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood’s Let’s Talk Month campaign. “Talking with them about sex and making sure that they can make responsible choices is a crucial part of that work.”

The survey also showed that among teens who’ve had intercourse, most of their parents (81 percent) knew it; while only 45 percent of parents knew once their teen had oral sex. These findings underscore 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. 

Other key survey findings include:

  • 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.
  • 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 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.

“Parents are very concerned with keeping their teens safe and healthy, and talking with their teens about sex, setting clear expectations about behaviors, and providing teens with the information they need to prevent pregnancy and STDs are a critical part of those efforts,” said Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, PhD, co-director of CLAFH. “These survey results show that parents also overwhelmingly support comprehensive sex education as a tool for helping to keep their teens safe and healthy.”

As part of Let’s Talk Month in October, Planned Parenthood will also release a set of new and updated resources that put special focus on helping parents and teens get more comfortable talking about sex. They are available at www.plannedparenthood.org/letstalkmonth and will include:

  • an Online Flipbook featuring actors Cynthia Nixon, Alfre Woodard and Elizabeth Banks, as well as parents and teens sharing their thoughts on why it’s important to talk about sex;
  • Parenting Tips: Talking About Sex, an animated, interactive digital tool that encourages parents to talk to their teens and models examples of conversations;
  • a video featuring real-life parents and teens offering advice on how to talk about sex; 
  • the “Tools for Parents” section of plannedparenthood.org, which features tips to help parents talk with their teens about sex and sexual health, build strong parent-teen relationships, and set rules that help keep their teens safe and healthy; and
  • a “Twitter” Q&A for Parents with PPFA, Family Circle magazine and CLAFH experts to help parents navigate difficult sex topics with their teens.

Also as part of Let’s Talk Month, CLAFH will make available its Families Talking Together family intervention program, an evidence-informed parent-adolescent communication program designed to support parent-teen communication, foster effective parental supervision of teens, and build stronger parent-adolescent relationships. Families Talking Together is available at no cost and in English and Spanish, and offers versions tailored to African-American and Latino families. It is available at www.clafh.org/resources-for-parents/parents-materials.

Planned Parenthood affiliates across the country will also provide workshops and events for parents during the month of October and throughout the year. Planned Parenthood offers educational programs that are geared toward helping parents communicate with their teens about sex and sexual health.


Survey Methodology

The Planned Parenthood/Family Circle/CLAFH Let’s Talk Month poll, conducted by GfK Custom Research, LLC (GfK), utilizes a panel recruited and maintained by GfK that represents 97 percent of U.S households.  A stratified nationally representative sample of parents and teens aged 15–18 living in the same households was selected from panel participants, and 2,092 (1,046 parents and 1,046 teens) completed the survey. The poll was conducted from June 12 to June 25, 2012. The margin of error is +/- 3.5 percent.

Planned Parenthood

Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading sexual and reproductive health care provider, educator and advocate. We believe that everyone has the right to choose when or whether to have a child, and that every child should be wanted and loved. Planned Parenthood affiliates operate nearly 800 health centers nationwide, providing medical services and sexuality education to millions of women, men, and teenagers each year. We also work with allies worldwide to ensure that all women and men have the right and the means to meet their sexual and reproductive health care needs. Planned Parenthood encourages parents and teens to talk about sexuality and sexual health. We provide sex education to 1.1 million parents and young people every year and provide information on plannedparenthood.org, which gets more than 33 million visits annually.


Published 12 times a year by Meredith Corporation, with a circulation of 4 million and 18 million readers, Family Circle is one of the most widely read monthly magazines in the world. Family Circle provides smart relevant advice, sensible solutions, and inspiration in a voice that encourages and celebrates success in its pages and online at www.familycircle.com. Family Circle has always been committed to women’s issues and in 1973 became the first women’s magazine to fully underwrite a professional women’s sporting event, the Family Circle Cup, an annual women’s tennis tournament held in April in Charleston, S.C., at Family Circle Magazine Stadium.

The Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health

The Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at the NYU Silver School of Social Work investigates the role of parents in shaping the development and well-being of adolescents. Our research addresses key issues among Latino and other families and seeks to foster the development and evaluation of evidence-based interventions to prevent and reduce problem behaviors among youth. www.clafh.org



Planned Parenthood Federation of America


Planned Parenthood Federation of America media office: 212-261-4433


October 02, 2012


March 11, 2016


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