Talking about sex and relationships with your teen

9min read

Mum and teenage son

Key Points:

  • Teenagers who talk to their parents about sex and relationships are more likely to be responsible and make positive choices
  • Young people often talk about being pressured to be sexually active. Open discussion can help them think things through and give them the confidence to resist these pressures
  • It is a good idea to start talking about contraception early and reiterate that they must share the responsibility if they decide to have sex

Parenting teens can be tough with many bumps in the road. There can be times when you will need to have conversations with your young person that doesn’t feel comfortable but are necessary.

Young people are learning about sex and relationships, not only from you, but also social media, peers and by watching online media. They may need help to sort out fact from fiction, to understand what is happening to their bodies as they grow older and to talk about their feelings and their relationships. Remember that the earlier you start talking, the easier it will be to tackle some of the more difficult subjects as they grow up.

Sex and relationships

It is important to be open with your teenagers 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, movies or online. 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. Talking to your teen about healthy relationships is very important as it helps them understand when a behaviour might raise red flags.

Young people say they want to talk about relationships, responsibilities, and values and not just about biology. They may find it hard to talk about 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 refuse to talk, don’t start nagging or laying down the law. You’ve broken the ice, next time you say something it may be much easier. All children are different. You need to 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.

Keep an open mind. Your teenager may be curious 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

Young people often talk about feeling pressured into becoming sexually active and they may need help in making choices that feel right for them. Open discussion can help them think things through and give them the confidence to resist these pressures. This is why it is important to help them understand consent.

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 sexual health

It is a good idea to start talking about contraception before your children become teenagers if possible. Teach them that they have share the responsibility if they decide to have sex, and make sure they are protected from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.  

Both boys and girls are vulnerable to all forms of STI’s, but they are even more likely to get infections such as chlamydia, which can cause infertility, if they do not wear condoms. STI’s 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 go online to find out the information. 

Further resources 

Brook provides free and confidential information about sex, contraception, STIs, pregnancy to under 25s. Family Planning Association provides information and advice on all aspects of sexual health and contraception. R U Thinking offers information, advice and guidance for young people under 18 on sex, relationships and contraception.

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 askus@familylives.org.uk or call us on our helpline on 0808 800 2222 to speak to trained family support worker.  

Watch this video made by young people discussing sex and relationships

This page was updated on September 2021

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