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Preparing for The Talk

How to Discuss Sex with Your Teen and Live to Tell About it

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Updated May 04, 2009

4 Ways to Prepare for The Talk

If you haven't already started talking to your teen about sex, or even if you have, it's a good idea to mentally prepare for the discussion. Your teen will need to know as much as possible to make a good decision about sexual activity in the future. Because it can be a little disturbing to be talking about the nuts-and-bolts of sexual activity, knowing what you need to say and how to say it ahead of time can help make things easier for everyone.

The Mechanics

Your teen may need to know the basics, but he or she may not admit it. If you've been talking about the differences between boys and girls and their reproductive organs since your child has been little, you might be a little ahead of the game. It is important that they understand puberty and how it prepares their body for having children in the future. Ask them what they have learned about their body and sex in health class or what they have heard from friends. Asking open-ended questions allows for a dialogue, not a one-sided parent lecture. It is important for your teenager to know what exactly intercourse is and what other acts constitute sexual activity. Use websites or books if talking about the acts themselves is too uncomfortable. However you can convey the message is fine, as long as the information is provided.

Your Beliefs and Values

Sex is more than the act itself. Our society and culture has many rules, regulations and taboos regarding sexual behavior. Think about how you feel about sex. What attitudes towards sex did you grow up with? What does your religion say about the matter? What beliefs do you want to impart to your teen about sex? Many of these beliefs about sex are held for a reason -– to protect a teen from an unwanted pregnancy, to delay sexual activity until he or she is with a committed adult partner –- or because they are customary to a certain culture or religious group. Knowing what you feel and why you feel it will allow you to convey your attitudes about the subject more effectively.

The Facts

There are a few things that kids need to know about sexual activity during the teen years. Some of these things include:

  • You can get pregnant the first time you have sex.
  • Withdrawal isn't effective in preventing pregnancy.
  • More than half of all high school students have NOT had sex.
  • According to one survey, two-thirds of teens who have had sex wish they would have waited.
  • The CDC has found that 1 in 4 teenage girls has a sexually transmitted disease.

You don't have to be a “sexpert,” but knowing some of these facts and statistics will help your teen understand the risks of sexual activity. Additionally, the more that you can learn about pregnancy prevention -- abstinence and contraception -– and how to avoid contracting a sexually transmitted disease, the better. If you can be an ally and a resource for your teen, he or she will feel more comfortable in talking to you about the subject. It is important to note that discussing birth control and STD prevention with your teenager does not mean you are encouraging your teen to have sex. Studies show that teens that have access to accurate information about sex tend to delay or reduce their own sexual behavior, particularly high risk behavior.

Your Expectations

The goal for many of us, whether we are parents or health care providers, is to reduce sexual activity of our young people. With the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and the increase in teen pregnancy rates, teenage sexual activity has serious consequences that we'd like to avoid. If you want your child to not have sex, then say so. If your limit is that you expect that your teen will not have sex while they are still in high school, or living at home, or still a teenager, then you need to make your expectations clear. It's been shown that teens who get a clear message from their parents about what the limits are regarding sexual activity delay having sex -– our ultimate goal.

If your teen is having a particularly receptive day and wants to talk, feel free to tackle any or all aspects of sexual activity and your expectations. If not, it is okay to talk about whatever seems manageable at the time. If there is an article about teen pregnancy, use it as a springboard to discuss contraception. “The Talk” doesn't have to be one big talk but an open dialogue about this important subject.

Sources:

Kerpelman, Jennifer and Thomas, Laura. ”Principles of Parenting. Communicating With Your Teen: Talking About Sex.” Alabama Cooperative Extension, Alabama A&M and Auburn Universitites. August, 2003.

Nationally Representative CDC Study Finds 1 in 4 Teenage Girls Has a Sexually Transmitted Disease. Centers for Disease Control. September 5, 2008. http://www.cdc.gov/STDConference/2008/media/release-11march2008.htm

Talking to Your Pre-Teen or Teen About Waiting. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. September 5, 2008. http://www.4parents.gov/talkingtoteen/index.html

Teens and Sex: Talking to Teens About Sex. Palo Alto Medical Foundation. September 5, 2008. http://www.pamf.org/teen/parents/sex/talksex.html

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