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Talking to teens about sex

A mother and daughter.

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!

You can help your daughter learn how to keep her body healthy and build respectful relationships. Remember that most teens really care what the adults in their lives think — even if they don’t always act like they do.

We are here to help with:

Teen sex by the numbers

  • One out of 4 teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
  • Three out of 10 teenage girls will become pregnant before they turn 20.
  • A little more than half of sexually active high school girls say they used a condom during last sex.
  • Nearly half of teens 15 to 17 have had oral sex.
  • Nearly 4 out of 10 teens say parents most influence their decisions about sex.
  • Nearly 9 out of 10 teens say more open conversations with parents would help prevent teen pregnancy.

Tips for talking to girls 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 over the years — 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 help a girl open up about hers. And definitely share your values.
  • Ask questions. You can ask your 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 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 a girl think about consequences. Give her the chance to consider the possible results of sexual behaviors. How would she feel, what might happen, and how might her life be affected?
  • Help her prepare. Ask a girl what she 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 your girl deal better with her feelings and peer pressure. By talking, you’re helping her create better relationships and healthy futures. You can check out more tips for talking, and you can learn about a program to teach parents communication skills building.

Main messages for girls 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 STDs is not to have sex. And you can get an STD from sexual contact other than intercourse, including oral sex.
  • Sex can make a relationship — and a breakup — a lot more complicated.
  • Many teens who have sex 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 what other people do or say.
  • Even if you’ve already had sex, you can stop. 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 your body deserves to be treated with respect, and you deserve to be valued for who you are.
  • 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, use both condoms and another form of effective birth control. To lower the chances of getting an STD:
    • Make sure both you and your partner get tested for STDs
    • Have sex only with each other
    • Use a latex condom correctly and every time
  • If you are sexually active, make sure to see a doctor to protect your reproductive health.
  • Don’t fall for pregnancy myths. For example, there are no particular positions that prevent pregnancy. Understand what does and doesn’t cause pregnancy. And if you think you could be pregnant, make sure to see a doctor.

Ways to influence girls’ decisions about sex arrow. top

Talking about sex is one way to influence a girl’s behavior. But you can take other steps that also can affect how she feels about sex, love, relationships, and her body.

  • 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 her appropriate books. Make sure she learns about sex from reliable sources that are right for her age. If you think she 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 her find appropriate activities. Unsupervised time has been linked with earlier sexual activity. Clubs, hobbies, and volunteering can help balance out the pull of romance.
  • 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, one study found. 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 are to use it correctly, and how well it works. Some types of birth control work better 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 STDs. And condoms don’t provide perfect protection.
  • 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. You can also use EC if you failed to use a regular method of birth control, but EC should not be used as a regular method of birth control. 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. And doctors sometimes prescribe the pill for conditions like acne, PCOS, and bad PMS.

Still, the pill is not right for everyone. Encourage girls to discuss the pros and cons of the pill with their doctors. Also, 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

Some research suggests that about one out of 10 people is 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 (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 protect her mental health and lead to stronger, healthier relationships.
  • There’s no evidence that therapy can change a person’s sexual orientation, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.
  • If you feel you don’t know how to talk with your daughter about her homosexuality, you can get help. Good places to start include a doctor, 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 face 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 April 15, 2014
Page last updated June 02, 2014

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