Although sex is totally natural, often both parents and kids get nervous discussing it together. Also nerve-wracking: deciding when to have the talk with your child? Relax. There shouldn’t be one “big” talk. Rather, a continuing dialogue with conversations starting on a small scale when kids are younger and getting more detailed as they grow older. Why these talks are a good idea? Studies have shown kids who talk about sex with their parents are more likely to wait to have sex and when they are more likely to use condoms and other birth control methods.
Here are conversation-starting scenarios:
1. Puberty Strikes
Puberty signals big body changes in both boys and girls. This typically starts in the pre-teen years, which may be a good time to start more in-depth talks about sex.
Planned Parenthood suggests having open conversations with your preteen about their changing bodies and sex. “Talking openly with your preteen about pregnancy and birth control will help them be better prepared for their future,” the organization said in an article on the topic. “It will also make them more likely to come to you for advice for big decisions as they get older. This way they feel comfortable coming to you and getting information from you.”
2. Your Teen Starts Asking Questions
Some teens have most likely heard at school talking about something sexual or seen something on TV that leads them to ask questions. Instead of dodging questions, use the opportunity to have an open and honest conversation.
“Sexuality is part of our entire lives and includes so much more than intercourse or sexual acts,” Dr. Mary Jo Podgurski, a certified sexuality educator and counselor with the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT) told Parentology in an article about sexual education in schools.
Her recommendation: “Young people need more than typical anatomy lessons and fear-based messages about pregnancy and STIs (sexually transmitted infections).” She suggests focusing on sexual health, consent, communication, relationship skills, decision-making and problem-solving skills, with an overall message of worthiness.
3. You Find Birth Control in Their Room
In 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported more than 50% of teenagers in the US will have been sexually active by the time they’re 18 years old. Though discovering birth control in their room may be startling, it’s also laudable. Talk to your teen about having safe sex and the consequences of not doing so. Don’t shy away from discussing birth control options, as well.
4. Your Teen Starts Dating
Studies done in the US and Canada show that drug and alcohol abuse tend to be linked to early teen dating. Researchers point out a lot of experimentation goes on in the teenage years when it comes to drugs, alcohol and relationships. Of the many topics to cover when your teen starts dating, it’s important to make sure they understand the myriad ways sex can impact a relationship — from pregnancy and STDs to sexting — and how to protect themselves.
5. You Notice They’ve Been Looking at Sexual Content
With all that’s out there on social media and the web, your teen may stumble across online sexual content. They may even be Googling sexual content.
An article in Time magazine stated: “A new study published… in the Journal of Adolescent Health, reports that one in five youths are seeing unwanted sexual material online—and one in nine are getting unwanted requests for sexual material from their peers or adults.”
Definitely address online dangers kids may encounter.
6. You Notice New Friends and Behavior Changes in Your Teen
If you notice your child’s behavior has done a 180 and they have new friends you don’t yet know well, kick “the talk” conversations up a notch. Whether the discussions are about sex or some other topic of concern, it’s important for them to know you’re there for them and ready to listen.
If you need some icebreakers to talk to your teen about sex, check out these resources. They can help to make sure your teen gets the right info and help to make these conversations more comfortable for everyone.
When to Have The Talk with Your Child: Sources
Healthline: The Ultimate Guide to Talking to Your Child About Sex
CDC: Talking with Your Teens About Sex
Planned Parenthood: What Should I Teach My Middle-Schooler About Pregnancy and Reproduction
NEA Today: Sex Education
Time: Here’s How Many Young People Are Seeing Unwanted Sexual Content Online