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Sex

Physical changes, feelings of attraction, curiosity, and peer pressure — the sex lives of teens can be really tough. And being the parent or caregiver of a teen isn’t simple either!

Talking about sex-related topics can be easier if you start when kids are young, with age-appropriate information. As a caring adult, you can help girls learn how to keep their bodies healthy and build respectful relationships. And remember that most teens really care what the adults in their lives think — even if they don’t always act that way

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Sources: U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Kaiser Family Foundation, and National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

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Tips for talking about sex arrow top

You know that a lot of messages about sex are reaching girls. How can you make sure you’re heard too? Consider the tips below:

  • Talk often. Having ongoing, age-appropriate discussions — not just one big “talk.”
  • Use media as a starting point. Images of sexuality are everywhere. You might talk about the difference between TV love and real life.
  • Be honest and open. Admitting your feelings can let girls open up about theirs. And definitely share your values.
  • Ask questions. You can ask a girl questions like, “Do you feel okay about the way your body is growing?” and “Have any of your friends started dating?” You can ask a girl what she has heard about sex-related topics to make sure she has accurate information.
  • Welcome questions. Ask your daughter what she wants to know about sex. And let her know she can talk to you anytime. If she asks questions you’re not prepared to answer, don’t worry. Just acknowledge that the question is important, and make a time to talk later.  
  • Listen well. Remember that sexual feelings can be very powerful, and teens can have strong opinions. You want to keep the lines of communication open. When it comes to sex, teens say they respond better to a conversation than a lecture.
  • Help girls think about consequences. Give girls the chance to consider the possible results of sexual behaviors. How would they feel, what might happen, how might their lives be affected?
  • Help them prepare. Ask girls what they might do or say in different sexual situations.
Of course, it can be hard to talk about sex-related topics. But by talking, you can help girls deal better with their feelings and peer pressure. By talking, you’re helping them create better relationships and healthy futures.

Main messages about sex arrow top

Here are some key sex-related messages that experts recommend. They suggest telling girls that:

  • The only sure way to avoid pregnancy or STIs is not to have sex. And you can get an STI from sexual contact other than intercourse.
  • Sex can make a relationship — and a breakup — a lot more complicated.
  • Many teens who have sex later say they wish they had waited.
  • You need a plan for dealing with sexual situations. Figure out in advance what you will say and do to stand by what you believe.
  • No one has the right to pressure you. If a partner is pressuring you, find someone better. And don’t let friends influence you either. Having sex is too big a deal to be based on other people.
  • Even if you’ve already had sex, you can stop. Everyone makes mistakes. You don’t have to continue doing something that doesn’t feel right to you.
  • Drugs and alcohol increase the chances that you’ll have unprotected sex.
  • TV and movies can make it seem like girls need to be sexy to be popular. But sex is not a tool, and your body deserves to be protected and valued.
  • No one has the right to touch you against your will. Help protect yourself by learning about rape and date rape.
  • If you’re going to have sex, be responsible. To avoid pregnancy, some people use both condoms and another form of birth control. To lower the chances of getting an STI:
    • Make sure both you and your partner get tested for STIs
    • Have sex only with each other
    • Always use a latex condom
  • Don’t fall for pregnancy myths. For example, there are no particular positions that prevent pregnancy. Check out more myths.

Ways to influence girls’ decisions about sex arrow top

Talking about sex is one way to influence girls’ behavior. But you can take other steps that also can affect how girls feel about sex, love, relationships, and their bodies.

  • Help your daughter feel connected to you. Research shows that girls who have at least one supportive parent are more likely to delay having sex. Some ways to build connection are showing affection, creating special family times, and being a good listener. 
  • Help girls feel good about themselves. Girls who like themselves are able to make better choices. Compliment the girls in your life, and celebrate their achievements.  
  • Give girls appropriate books. Make sure girls learn from reliable sources that are right for their age. If you think they might not want to take a book from you directly, you could just leave it around the house.
  • Set rules. Rules like curfews can help girls avoid situations that they may not be ready to handle.
  • Ask where your teen is going and with whom. Research shows a connection between parents’ monitoring of teens’ activities and lower rates of pregnancy.
  • Help girls find appropriate activities. Unsupervised time is associated with earlier sexual activity, researchers note. Clubs, hobbies, and volunteering can help balance out the pull of romance and build a great sense of purpose.
  • Work with your school. Find out what the school is teaching about sex, and fill in any gaps.
  • Watch out for media. Teens who watch lots of sexy shows are twice as likely to get pregnant, according to one recent study. And more than 75 percent of prime-time shows have sexual content. Be selective about kids’ TV, Internet, movie, and music access.

Talking about birth control with girls arrow top

You may worry that talking about birth control sends the message that it’s okay for a girl to have sex. You can state very clearly that you don’t want your daughter to have sex. But, because nearly half of all 15- to 19-year-olds in the United States have had sex, it makes sense to talk about birth control, too.

Here are some tips to give girls about birth control:

  • Think carefully about your birth control choice. Think about questions like how likely you are to use it every time, how likely you’ll use it correctly, and how well it works. Some types of birth control fail more than others. Learn about the different types of birth control and how well they work.
  • Talk to your partner. If you feel close enough with someone to have sex, you should feel close enough to discuss the need for birth control.
  • If you’re not sure how to use your birth control, ask a doctor or nurse. It’s worth a little embarrassment to avoid serious problems.
  • Only latex condoms protect against STIs. And condoms don’t protect against all STIs.
  • Some types of birth control require a doctor’s visit. You may not need to have a pelvic exam to get birth control, though. Your pediatrician may be able to prescribe birth control. Also, you can get free or low-cost birth control visits at family planning clinics.
  • You can get emergency contraception (EC) if your birth control fails or if you don’t use it. Learn more about EC.

A note about birth control pills: You may be concerned about the safety of birth control pills for teenagers. The doses used today are lower than before and are generally considered safe. In fact, the pill actually protects against certain types of cancer. Still, the pill is not right for everyone. Encourage girls to discuss the pros and cons of the pill with their doctors. And doctors may prescribe the pill even if girls smoke, but they should definitely quit smoking to protect their overall health.

What if my child is gay? arrow top

Approximately 2 to 5 percent of teens are gay. For some girls, the teen years are a time of exploration, and they may have same-sex experiences but later conclude that they are straight. Sometimes, people are bisexual, which means they are romantically and physically attracted to members of both sexes.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), scientists generally agree that several things affect a person’s sexual orientation. But, AAP adds, there is growing evidence that our genes may incline us to one sexual orientation or another.

If you believe your teenager may be gay, consider the following points:

  • All children need to feel accepted and loved. Accepting a gay child can help her build stronger, healthier relationships in the future.
  • You may feel you need help talking with your daughter about her homosexuality. You have already made a great step by visiting this website. You can get more help from your doctor, a counselor, and local support groups.
  • Some gay teens may be at increased risk for serious problems, such as depression and suicide. If you are concerned, get help. People who can help include a school nurse or counselor, a doctor, or a therapist or other mental health professional.
  • Gay teens may be at increased risk of bullying. Bullying can be serious, so learn more about what you can do to help. Below, you can watch President Obama's speech after the tragic bullying of some gay students.

 

Content last reviewed January 11, 2011
Page last updated October 31, 2013

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.

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