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Information for parents, guardians and carers

Talking to your teenager about sex

Many people wrongly believe that talking to teenagers about sex will encourage them to go out and have it. In fact, research actually shows that teenagers who talk about sex and relationships with their parents tend to have sex at a later age, then those that don’t. They are also more likely to use contraception when they do have sex.

Most parents find the idea of talking to their teenager about sex and relationships daunting. It’s not the easiest topic to talk about, but it’s really important that you don’t avoid the subject. After all if you don’t talk to your teen about it, they are likely to turn to other sources that may be less reliable such as gossip at school and the internet.

You’ll be glad to hear that lots of teenagers do actually want to talk about sex and relationships with their parents, but they often find it difficult to raise the subject.

Here are some tips about talking about sex and relationships;

  • Don’t wait for them to raise the subject. Use storylines on TV, in soaps, articles in the paper and magazines to start off a conversation
  • Don’t try to do one big talk, have little conversations often. Talk when you are doing everyday things together e.g. washing up, driving somewhere, cooking. This will make it a normal part of family life.
  • Give information, but be careful not to lecture.
  • Talk their language. Speak at a level your children and young people will understand. Remember to check their understanding by asking questions
  • Talk about feelings and relationships, not just the biological side of things.
  • Know your stuff. Read up on areas you are unsure of. That way you will feel more confident having conversations about them.
  • Always be honest. And if you are asked something you don’t know just say so. Maybe you could look up the answer together
  • Keep books and leaflets handy for teenagers to read themselves. But remember they need to be followed up by a conversation
  • Start talking when they are young and keep it simple. Then they will be more likely to keep talking to you as they grow up
  • Have a handy phrase in mind in case you get asked an awkward question at an inappropriate time. For example ‘that’s a good question, let’s talk about it when we get home,’ and make sure you do.
  • Find out when your teenager is having sex and relationships education at school, so you can discuss what was taught and share your opinions.
  • Speak to other parents to see how they are handling the subject, they may be able to advise on topics that you are finding difficult.

Keep an open mind and don’t assume that just because your teenager has asked you a question about sex or relationships that they are actually doing it. Often they are just want a little more information. Make sure you talk to them about responsibility and choice and how to stay safe.

Remember the most important thing is to keep talking and be honest. You don’t necessarily have to have the same opinions as your young person, but you should acknowledge theirs.

Sometimes it helps to remember how you felt when you were a teenager. Finally let your young person know you will always be there for them if they need someone to talk to.