Talking with teens about sex
Kim Allen, Ph.D., M.F.T., former State Specialist, former Director, Center on Adolescent Sexuality, Pregnancy and Parenting (CASPP), Human Development & Family Studies, University of Missouri Extension
Sexuality is just one area of significance in the life of a teen, but the decisions around this topic are great enough in scope that they could alter the journey into adulthood tremendously. Parents are the most influential factor in the sexual decision-making process during adolescence.
Again and again, the literature on adolescent health shows that parents are the number one potential influence on the sexual decisions of adolescents. Perhaps more importantly, kids really care about what their parents want, and listen to what they say.
Research shows that students want sexual education information
from their parents; however, parents
report that talking with their teens about sexual issues is difficult
and teens report that parents are the least likely source of information
about sexual education.
Many parents share the concern that having these conversations might lead the youth to sexual activity prematurely. The truth is, teens are thinking about sex whether or not the parent is talking about it. There has never been a study supporting the notion that communication leads to sexual promiscuity. In fact, just the opposite is true. Several studies indicate that having conversations about sex decreases the likelihood of sexual risk taking or sexual activity.
Even though it may be difficult to discuss, there are steps parents can take
to help their teens make good decisions about sexual activity.
Share your values. Research is clear that teens make sexual
decisions based on parents' values and personal values. Sharing values
with teens gives them the power to make better choices because they
know exactly what their parents would want.
Have frequent communication. Having “the big talk” about
the birds and the bees is not adequate for helping teens make sexual
decisions. Teens have to make these decisions over and over, and
the more frequently the parents are talking about sexual decision
making, the better.
Start conversations early. There is never a bad time to
have sexuality discussions, but the earlier the better. Research
shows that when parents have this conversation prior to the first
sexual encounter, the results are even better than waiting until
the adolescent is sexually active.
Keep a good connection. Teenagers who have a good relationship
with their parents are more likely to make good decisions about
sexual activity. Youth that feel satisfied with their relationship
with their parents report waiting longer for sexual initiation and
report having fewer sexual partners and an increase in contraception
Listen. Sometimes just being available to listen to teens
without passing judgment can be just what they need to make the
best decisions. Keep lines of communication open by reflecting feelings,
using “I” statements and truly listening.
Offer contraception information. If a teenager decides to become sexually active, using contraception is the best way to keep the child safe from teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV. More information about contraception and parent communication can be found though family doctors, health departments and these websites:
Established in 1980 as the Center for Population Options, Advocates for Youth champions efforts to help young people make informed and responsible decisions about their reproductive and sexual health. Advocates believes it can best serve the field by boldly advocating for a more positive and realistic approach to adolescent sexual health.
POPLINE® (POPulation information onLINE) contains citations with abstracts to scientific articles, reports, books, and unpublished reports in the field of population, family planning, and related health issues. POPLINE is maintained by the K4Health Project at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health/Center for Communication Programs and is funded by the United States Agency for International Development. (USAID).
Dittus, P., Miller, K., Kotchick, B., & Forehand, R. (2004). Why parents matter!: The conceptual basis for a community-based HIV prevention program for the parents of African American youth. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 13, 5-20.
Fitzharris, J., & Werner-Wilson, J. (2004). Multiple perspectives of parent-adolescent sexuality communication: phenomenological description of a Rashoman effect. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 32, 273-288.
Somers, C, & Surmann, A. (2004). Adolescents’ preferences for source of sex education. Child Study Journal, 34, 47-59.
Last Updated 11/29/2011