Communication between parents and teens is very important. Your teen may not share the same values as you but that shouldn't stop you from talking about sex and sexuality.
Before your children reach their early teens, girls and boys should know about the following:
- Correct body names and functions of male and female sex organs
- Puberty and how the body changes (When and how the body changes is different for each child.)
- Menstruation (periods)
- Sexual intercourse and the risk of getting pregnant or getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI), including HIV (the virus that causes AIDS)
- Your family values about dating, sexual activity, cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs
During the teen years, your talks about sex should focus more on the social and emotional aspects of sex, and your values. Be ready to answer questions like
- When can I start dating?
- When is it OK to kiss a boy (or a girl)?
- How far is too far?
- How will I know when I'm ready to have sex?
- Won't having sex help me keep my boyfriend (or girlfriend)?
- Do you think I should have sex before marriage?
- Is oral sex really sex?
- How do I say "No"?
- What do I do if someone tries to force me to have sex?
Answer your teen's questions based on your values—even if you think your values are old-fashioned. If you feel strongly that sex before marriage is wrong, share this with your teen and explain why you feel that way. If you explain the reasons for your beliefs, your teen is more likely to understand and adopt your values.
Other concerns include the following:
- Peer pressure. Teens face a lot of peer pressure to have sex. If they aren't ready to have sex, they may feel left out. But more than 50% of teens wait until after high school to have sex, and there are benefits of waiting. Abstinence from sex (oral, vaginal, and anal) provides 100% protection against STIs and pregnancy, and less emotional stress if there's a breakup.
- STIs. Teens need to know that having sex exposes them to the risk of STIs. Common STIs include chlamydia, gonorrhea, human papillomavirus (HPV), herpes, HIV, and trichomoniasis. HPV is responsible for most cervical cancer.
- Prevention. The only sure way to prevent STIs is not to have sex.
- Reducing the risk. Condoms (male or female) are the safest method to reduce the risk of most STIs and should always be used. Also, postponing sex until later teen years or adulthood reduces the risk. If both partners are abstinent before marriage or in a long-term, mature relationship; have never had an STI; and have sex with each other only (monogamy), the risk is eliminated.
- Monogamy. Many teens have heard that monogamy is "safe sex"; however, they misunderstand and believe that having one partner and then switching and having another partner and then switching is monogamy. While having multiple partners during the same time frame is especially risky for STI exposure, having one partner after another is not monogamy (monogamy means one partner for life).
- Birth control. Girls and boys need to know about birth control whether they decide to have sex or not. If your teen doesn't know about birth control, an unplanned pregnancy might result. Ten percent of teen girls in the United States get pregnant each year. By the age of 20 years, 4 out of 10 girls become pregnant. Birth control pills, shots (trade name Depo-Provera), and contraceptive patches only prevent pregnancy—they don't protect against STIs, including HIV/AIDS. Condoms and another reliable birth control method need to be used each time to help reduce the risk of STIs and pregnancy.
- Date rape. Date (or acquaintance) rape is a serious problem for teens. It happens when a person your teen knows (for example, a date, friend, or neighbor) forces her (or him) to have sex. Make sure your teen understands that "no always means no." Also, dating in groups instead of alone and avoiding drugs and alcohol reduces the risk of date rape.
- Sexuality. This is a difficult topic for many parents, but your teen probably has many questions about heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality. Many young people go through a stage when they wonder, "Am I gay?" It often happens when a teen is attracted to a friend of the same gender, or has a crush on a teacher of the same gender. This is common and doesn't necessarily mean your teen is gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Sexual identity may not be firmly set until adulthood. If your teen is gay, lesbian, or bisexual, your love and acceptance is important.
- Masturbation. Masturbation is a topic few people feel comfortable talking about. It's a normal and healthy part of human sexuality and shouldn't be discouraged. Discuss this in terms of your values. Talk with your pediatrician if your child can't limit masturbation to a private place (for example, bedroom or bathroom).