Time to Talk to Your Teen About Sex?

Your teen is going to prom. Uh-oh. Back when we were in high school, prom night carried an expectation for couples to go “all the way.”


Does this mean it’s time to have the big sex talk with your kid?

You’re probably too late.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), half of all high school students have had sex, and the average age of first intercourse is 16. Given these figures, Prom is not likely to be the night most Juniors and Seniors take the plunge.

A study released in December in Pediatrics found that many parents don’t discuss the details of sex until after their teens are already sexually active. Researchers discovered that more than 40% of teens had sex before having a single conversation with their parents about condom use, birth-control options or sexually transmitted diseases.

Talking about sex is tricky for parents. Many of us fear that discussing the specifics of having sex gives our kids permission to go out there and do it. Walking that tightrope freaks us out.

Dr. Sharon Risch, a staff psychologist at the Family Institute at Northwestern University, sees this in her work with teenagers and their families.

“Some parents are so afraid of their teen’s burgeoning sexuality that they make one of two mistakes: either not talking about sex at all with their teen, or monitoring the teen very strictly in hopes of controlling his or her behavior. “

Both approaches can backfire for parents, causing kids to engage in risky behavior out of ignorance or rebellion.

Risch feels that sex and sexuality should be discussed regularly in families. “You need to talk and talk often, especially if your son or daughter is in a relationship. You want to create an environment where your child feels comfortable coming to you with issues.”

Risch says the first thing parents need to explain is their own values about sex and the reasons behind them – whether religious, moral or purely practical. Secondly, parents need to talk about how to behave responsibly if their teen does choose to have sex. At minimum, this means talking about condoms, since they protect against both pregnancy and STDs.

The good news is that kids want to hear this information from their parents and, according to Risch, they do understand the dual “don’t have sex/have responsible sex” message.

Prom night may not be the virginity-losing occasion it was when we were in high school, but it’s as good a time as any to start a dialogue about sex with your teen. Here are some resources that can help get things rolling.

Links: Here are some resources to help you start talking with your child about sex.