Talking to your teenager about sex

Most teenagers would like to talk to their parents or carer about relationships and sex. It might seem difficult, but here are five ideas on how to start the conversation.

However you bring up the topic of sex and relationships, listen to what your teenager has to say. You can then use this to let the conversation develop.

For example, if they mention condoms, check that they know why it's important to use them, where to get them and how to use them. Talking about sex and relationships with your teenager won't make them want to start having sex, but it will help them look after their sexual health when they do.

Try to keep calm, even if what they say surprises you or you disagree. Let your child know your opinions, but reassure them that you trust them to make their own decisions. If you lose your temper or criticise them, they might feel that they can't talk to you in the future.

Ask your teen about their friends

Ask what your child's friends think about the subject. This can be a way of talking about your child's thoughts and fears indirectly. For example, if you see a pregnant woman, you could say, "When I was a teenager we were scared of getting pregnant. Do your friends ever worry about that?"

You could then talk about why it's OK not to have sex, and where young people can get contraception and condoms if they're planning to have sex. 

Talk about sex little and often

Don't have one big talk about sex. Make it an open, ongoing topic. Have lots of little talks whenever the subject comes up, and start before your child is a teenager. Let your teen know that they can talk to you about anything that's on their mind.

One of the easiest ways to bring up the topic is during everyday activities like washing up or watching TV. This makes it less of an event. You can use the storyline in a programme, or a celebrity in the news. For example, you could say, "What do you think about the fact they've had sex?"

Listen to your child's answer. You could then talk about why it's important to use a condom and contraception to protect against STIs and pregnancy. Make sure that your child knows where they can get them. Don't sound judgemental or critical.

Find out about talking to your pre-teen child about sex.

Find out what they're learning about sex at school

Ask your teenager's school what they are teaching your child about sex and relationships. Ask your child what they think about this. Find out if there's anything they don't understand, and if their classes have raised any topics they'd like to discuss with you. You could say, "What do you think of the sex and relationships lessons you're getting at school?"

Listen to what your teen thinks about sex

Ask your teenager how they feel about things, for example, waiting to have sex with someone they care about. You could say to them, "Do you think it's worth waiting until you meet someone you really care about, and who cares about you, before you have sex?"

You can use this discussion to talk about the risk of pregnancy when a boy and a girl have sex, and about getting contraception ready before having sex. You can also discuss who your child thinks should be responsible for contraception. Make sure they understand that it's up to both partners to think about using condoms and contraception.

Make sure you know the facts about sex

Sex is a large topic. It covers how our bodies work, pregnancy, relationships and feelings, types of contraception and where to get them, STIs, tests, treatment and more.

If you're confident in your knowledge of these topics, you'll be able to answer your child's questions more readily. If you don't know something, say so, but let them know you'll find out. Look up the information and share it with them, or look it up together.

There are reliable websites with accurate information. NHS Choices has lots of information for you and your teen on sex and relationships. Other organisations include:

If your teen may be gay, lesbian or bisexual

Your child might be gay, lesbian or bisexual. If so, they still need to know about safer sex messages, including how to protect themselves against STIs and pregnancy. They might use a discussion about sex and relationships as an opportunity to come out (tell you about their sexual orientation).

Women and girls who have sexual contact with other females and men and boys who have sexual contact with other males can get and pass on STIs, so it's important that they know how to protect themselves. See sexual health for women who have sex with women and sexual health for men who have sex with men.

If your child is gay, they still need to know about contraception. People who identify as gay or lesbian might have sexual contact with people of the opposite sex, so it's important that they know about contraception and avoiding unintended pregnancy.

Talking to your teenager about sex

What's the best way to discuss sex with your teenager? In this video, see what other parents and teenagers think, and get expert advice on when and how to start talking about it.

Media last reviewed: 12/06/2014

Next review due: 12/06/2016

Page last reviewed: 04/12/2013

Next review due: 04/12/2015

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The 4 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

caroline64 said on 27 January 2011

ahh teenagerhood! I remember it well and it will always be basically the same. We humans are programmed by our genes to be hell bent on reproduction even though we in our wealthy society can expect three score years and ten plus in which to regret the foolhardiness and myopia of youth!

So just to share not advise (v): we recently watched the Sex Education Show (Ch4) en famille and it was gr8. M&D learnt quite a bit too (there is a lot more to know these days alas) and it sort of levelled the playing field. We ended up sharing our early experiences with our teens - they were fascinated and we had lots of laughs. I think the brave people willing to appear naked in front of crowds of school kids reminded us that we were all in the same boat. It is still on C4 on demand I think. So sharing rather than giving advice (n) perhaps?

NB though today there are things a lot nastier than pregnancy - viruses that you cannot get rid of that basically mean that no one without said virus will touch you and it could impact your happiness for the rest of your life. Worth avoiding. Take care dear people!

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teenager15 said on 04 March 2010

You know what, if either of my parents tried to talk to me in any of these ways, I would get seriously annoyed at them trying to pry on my personal life. Asking about my friends, their activities and their thoughts, I would consider very intrusive. As for what to say to their own child well, if the child has been bought up to think 'if I have sex with someone, my parents will go mad' then however the subject is approached the child will lie to avoid punishment.

Parents need to grasp the fact that kids nowadays already know it all as they are taught it from primary school and are learning from personal situations.

So here is some adivse, let children grow up more, don't try to 'indirectly' talk to them about it (we're not stupid), wait for them to tell you and don't make it sound like sex is a bad thing that will get them punished. Give us teenagers some space and trust, you will get A LOT further.

Sure, tell us about sex and how to be safe, but don't ask our opinions on it, don't pry, don't snoop, don't be embarrassing, don't make it sound like an act that will get us punished; as all of these things just make us more reluctant to want to talk to adults about it.

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NickWwww said on 20 February 2010

Here is some advise for the NHS, stop giving my kids advise.

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jeremyspired said on 10 December 2009

You know, there are articles about talking to your children and teenagers about sex, and articles about talking to your partner, but it would really be helpful to have an article for teens about how to talk to your parents about sex. After all, sometimes you can't wait for someone else to start the conversation -- you have to start talking yourself.

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