Talking about sex with your kids isn’t easy, but it’s important! Research shows that parents play an important role in sex education for teens. May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, and parents and caregivers can have a big impact on teen pregnancy prevention. When parents take the time to talk to their kids, the kids are more likely to have fewer partners, wait until they are older before beginning to have sex and are more likely to use contraception when they do have sex. That’s why we support having open and honest conversations with the young people in your life. Here are some ideas to get the conversation started:
1. Grab those “teachable moments” and make it an ongoing conversation.
Family communication about relationships, sex, and sexuality should be an ongoing process, not a one-time talk. So look for those "teachable moments" – those times when sexual issues come to the surface – to talk to your kids about sex. For instance, romantic or sexual storylines in TV shows, advertisements, lyrics from popular songs, movies or news stories. Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl performance and the #MeToo Movement are a couple of examples.
2. Let your teen do the talking, and listen to learn a thing or two.
Teachable moments are ideal opportunities to hear your child's questions and concerns, and to share your feelings and values about sexuality and sexual issues. Ask what your child thinks about the behaviors and relationships, and how they think the family values impact what they think.
Take the time to listen to your teen’s thoughts and feelings. Avoid responding harshly if they say something you disagree with or you think they’re too young to know about. Instead of minimizing them i.e. “that’s not what we taught you,” or “you don’t know what you’re talking about,” ask questions about why they feel that way or where they got their information. Asking questions gives you a chance to build a relationship with your teen versus making assumptions about them and what they’re doing.
3. Start early and take initiative.
Your kids may seem like they are not listening, or that they do not want to hear about sexuality from their parents, but they are listening! And if you remain silent on sexuality, that sends a message as well. Speak up - you will both be glad you did!
It’s also never too early to talk to your kids about sex. Don’t wait until they are a certain age, or until they start having sex, before you talk to them about it. Even if your kids haven’t started puberty yet, it’s still possible to have healthy, developmentally-appropriate conversations about sex with them. Talking about sex early and often with them sends the message that they can come to you if they have questions or concerns.
4. Focus on positive messaging.
If your child or teen asks a question about sex, it does not necessarily mean they are sexually active, or want to be sexually active! So, don’t panic and turn their question into an interrogation. Reassure them that their questions are normal, and keep your answers accurate, honest and simple. If you don't know the answer, be honest about that too and work with your child to find the answer together.
Many parents want their children to be able to appreciate their own bodies, feel empowered, be respectful of people of all genders, be safe, and to recognize their own values. Keep those values in mind when talking to your kids about sex. Also be clear about your values and let your kids know that others may have different values about sexuality. Teach them that respect for differences is important, and that they deserve respect too.
Hopefully, any or all of these ideas give you the confidence to continue the conversation with your children about sex. If you would like resources, we have a list of books in the side bar and additional online resources that can help you navigate specific subjects. Our Educators are also here to help with tips, resources, or in person through a Sex Education Program. Let us know if you want one of our Educators to help you directly.