Talking about sex

6min read

Children and young people are learning about sex and relationships from soaps, magazines, adverts and their friends. The media is full of confusing messages about sex – it can seem like everyone is doing it all the time.

Talking with their parents helps young people to feel safer and less anxious, allowing them to make up their own minds about the choices they take. It also gives them the confidence to talk to future partners about their relationship, sex and contraception.

Making time to talk shows you are there to support your sons and daughters as they grow up. It does not mean that you are encouraging your children to have sex. All the facts show that if you talk openly about sex, young people delay having sex and are more likely to use contraception. By talking to your children about sex, you can help them to sort out fact from fiction, understand the changes in their bodies, and talk openly about feelings and relationships. They will be grateful to hear about your opinions and beliefs and to have a chance to take about their own views.

How to talk about sex and relationships

It is important to be open with your children about sex and relationships. Teenagers who talk to their parents about these issues are more likely to be responsible in their relationships and to wait longer to have sex for the first time. They are also more likely to use contraception.

Teenagers learn about sex and relationships in many ways - from their friends, television or the internet.  The different messages they hear can be confusing and that is why it’s important for parents to give their teenagers the chance to talk about what they know, or don't know and what choices they have, whatever their own views are. 

Young people say they want their parents to talk to them about relationships, responsibilities and values and not just about biology. They may find it hard to talk about or feel embarrassed. Be reassuring, start the conversation at a time when you are both relaxed and getting on okay, not during an argument or when either of you are feeling annoyed about something. Listen to and talk with them, not at them. If they don't seem ready to talk, don't start nagging or laying down the law. Once you've broken the ice, next time you say something it may be much easier. 

All children are different. Adapt how you talk and listen, especially when talking about risky behaviour including sex. Some teenagers prefer reading information whilst others find it easier to talk things through.  Most will need more than one conversation.  Being open and available when needed is extremely important.

"I said - I'm too young to be a granddad. That got us talking!"

Keep an open mind. Your teenager may be confused about their sexuality and feelings. They may worry that no-one will be interested in them, or that they don't seem to be interested in sex. They may know or think that they are bisexual, lesbian or gay. You may feel shocked, upset or even angry - but they deserve your respect and support whatever your opinion about their sexuality. 

Young people often talk about being pressured into early sex and they need help in delaying until they feel it is right for them. Open discussion can help them think things through and give them the confidence to resist these pressures. The majority of young people don't have sex before 16.  Those who do are much more likely to regret it and not use contraception. Some parents worry that sex education at school encourages young people to have sex early. There is no evidence that this is the case and there is plenty of evidence that Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) helps young people be more aware of risks and how to make safe choices.  

Contraception and safer sex

It is a good idea to start talking about contraception before your children become teenagers if possible. Both boys and girls have to understand that they must share the responsibility if they decide to have sex, and make sure they are protected from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. It's very important for boys and girls to think about what pregnancy means and to know about condoms so they feel confident enough to insist that a condom is used, and comfortable enough to get them from the clinic or the chemist themselves.

Sexual health

Young people need to know how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections (STI) as well as pregnancy. Both boys and girls are vulnerable to HIV and AIDS but they are even more likely to get infections such as chlamydia which can cause infertility if not treated promptly. STIs often have no symptoms so encourage them to get themselves tested and to be responsible for their physical and sexual health.

Parents need to remind young people that only condoms protect against infection. Even if a girl is on the pill it's important to use condoms as well, as the pill will only help prevent pregnancy.  By talking about STIs and condoms you and help your teenagers understand the risk and protect themselves. 

If there is any possibility that your teenager might have caught an STI, you should encourage him or her to contact your nearest NHS Sexual Health or GUM (Genito-urinary medicine) clinic as soon as possible.  Your GP or nurse can give you details.  If you would rather keep it private, you can search for the information online.

Further resources

It may help to chat to other parents on our forums to find out how they are dealing with this issue within their family life. You can also talk to us online via our live chat service, email us at or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker.

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