Teen sexual health is often an uncomfortable topic for parents and teens alike. That is why we wrote this guide for parents on how to talk to their teens, celebrate important milestones, and minimize the cringy moments. Age-appropriate, evidence-based education about sex, sexual identity, and sexual health is key to lowering the risk of sexual and relational abuse, reducing teen pregnancy, and reducing the spread of STIs for teens. Children who feel safe enough to talk about their identity and sexual health with a trusted adult are at reduced risk of becoming targets for sexual predators and are more equipped to make safe choices about sex.
Things to keep in mind when talking to your tweens and teens about sex:
- The priority in these conversations is maintaining open communication so that they will talk with you about any problems they may have in the future! Stay in connection.
- Assume that your teen will be responsible and live up to your expectations around safety and consent. Do not assume they will “let you down” or talk to them as if you are sure they will “do it wrong.”
- Be transparent and clear about your own views on sexuality. To stay silent is to rob your kid of your personal perspective.
- Many ongoing debates exist about teaching sex in schools, such as safe sex programs supporting condom distribution vs. abstinence-until-marriage programs. There is also debate around if gender identity should be taught in schools and, if so, when? Let your teens know about your thoughts on these topics, and present them with articles from both sides. Invite them into dialogue with you about it.
- Let them know why you want to talk to them about sexual health. Let them know that you care about them being able to talk to you about anything that might come up for them related to this topic.
- Tell them you’ll get back to them if you can’t answer one of their questions. Get back to them promptly and let them know what you found.
As girls develop:
- Often by age 10, girls will need their first bra. This should be a fun experience! Have a trusted adult female take them shopping for their first training bras.
- Girls have their first period as early as 10. Ensure they have hygiene education, access to various period care options (tampons, diva cups, and pads), and a positive, welcome-to-womanhood attitude! Recently, first-period parties or celebrations have become more popular.
- Make sure to educate girls about pregnancy and especially the first trimester. Make sure your daughter understands your views on abstinence, consent, birth control options, abortion, adoption, STIs, her legal rights, and what would happen or be your reaction if she became pregnant while living at home. Try to keep this as matter-of-fact as possible. The goal is to share this information while keeping lines of communication open.
- Even though the girl is starting to fill out, she still needs tickling, hugs, and roughhousing that the family has done in the past. Sometimes fathers and brothers will pull away from girls physically as they grow. The girl will likely interpret this as rejection and will begin distancing herself from her family. This leaves her at higher risk for assault or self-harm behaviors.
Tween girls relate to their menstrual cycle in many different ways. Some will be excited to get their period, and others will be terrified of it. One of our favorite videos about a tween girl receiving her period for the first time is still relevant! No matter what your tween or teen is experiencing, make sure you minimize shame and keep the conversation open.
As boys develop:
- Approach your boy with a curious and open attitude such as “how much do you know about erections?”. Let your teen lead the conversation. Make sure he knows that erections are natural and can happen spontaneously.
- Go shopping for his first jock strap together. Maintain the isn’t this neat! Attitude.
- Ensure to educate him about abstinence, birth control options, abortion, adoption, pregnancy, sex, STI and consent. Ensure he understands the pregnancy risk and how the family will respond if a pregnancy happens while he’s living under your roof.
Talking to your teen about sexual orientation and gender identity:
- Educate your teen on sexual orientation and gender identity, and share your views about it from a neutral place.
- Give them articles, books, and additional information about the topic as well. Allow them to do their research and openly discuss it with you. Ask your teen what they think with curiosity and openness.
- Accept the reality of your teen’s exploration even if you don’t like it.
- Know that it is normal for a teen to experiment with many different forms of gender expression. One day, a teen may feel like a “girly-girl,” and the next day, they will be a “tomboy.” Having space and openness around this is essential as your teen discovers more about who they are. Read more about teen self-identity building here.
- Youth may internalize negative feelings about their sexual orientation, causing increased emotional struggle and lowering the likelihood of reporting the abuse. LGBTQ populations are at increased risk for abuse.