November 21, 2019
Being a teenager is awkward enough, even without the sex talk. Regardless of how embarrassed you and your teen might feel talking about sex, it’s one of the most important health conversations you can have together. While many schools provide some sort of sexual education class, most fail to create an open environment that encourages a positive and factual exchange.
When parents or other trusted adults take responsibility for offering unbiased and medically accurate advice about safe sex, teens will feel more well-versed, make safer choices, and have healthier outcomes. Here are a few tips for having “The Talk” with your teen.
While focusing on the negative (and often scary) risks of sex may feel like an effective way to prevent your teen from having sex, it’s not the healthiest way to influence their understanding of sexual wellness. The fact of the matter is, your teen may have already begun a sex life or may be about to start one. So fear-mongering will foster a limited exchange that’s likely to close your teen off from feeling safe to communicate any questions or concerns.
Rather than trying to scare your teen with the consequences of an STD, provide accurate information and offer ways that your teen can discuss STD statuses with future partners. Be sure to emphasize the importance of regular testing and remember not to perpetuate the stigma of STDs—this only makes it more difficult for young people to speak up and seek care should they need it.
While abstinence is a great option for teens who know they’re not ready or currently interested in being sexually active, it’s not the reality for the 41 percent of high school students who do choose to have sex. Because many schools focus on abstinence-only programs, students may not receive information on effective contraception methods like birth control, condoms, and IUDs, leaving sexually active or sexually curious teens to fend for themselves when it comes to pregnancy prevention and safe sex practices. Even if you don’t think your teen is sexually active, it’s important that you fill this gap in education.
Having safe sex requires thought and responsibility, but there’s one absolute requirement that’s foundational to sex: consent. If you haven’t had a discussion with your teen about what it means to give or receive consent, you haven’t addressed one of sex’s most prominent safety concerns. Teach your teen how to ask for consent, what genuine verbal consent looks like, and how to say “no” and respond to “no.” These simple but vital conversations can help prevent harassment, coercion, and sexual assault that can lead to behavioral and emotional consequences.
Important themes to address when discussing consent with your teen include how drugs and alcohol impact a person’s ability to give consent, the difference between verbal and nonverbal consent, how power dynamics can influence consent, the importance of checking in with your partner before, during, and after sex, and why sex without consent isn’t sex at all.
While it might not be comfortable or easy, open and educated conversations about sex with your teen will foster an environment that’s conducive to healthy decisions—even if those decisions won’t affect your teen in the near future.