Talking to Your Kids About Sex

Last Editorial Review: 3/28/2005
The Cleveland Clinic

Sexuality is an important part of being human. It involves more than the physical act of intercourse with another person. It affects how we feel about ourselves as males and females, and even impacts some of the choices we make. That is why it is a good idea to talk to your kids about sex. They are going to learn about it somewhere, so it is best that they learn it from their parents. The best age to have the discussion is when your children become teenagers.

Why Should I Talk to my Kids About Sex?

Talking with your teenager is important to helping him or her develop healthy attitudes toward sex and to learn responsible sexual behavior. Openly discussing sex with your child also enables you to provide accurate information. After all, teens will learn about sex somewhere. But what they learn might not be true, and might not reflect the personal and moral values and principles you want your children to follow. In addition, teens need to understand the possible consequences of being sexually active -- including pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases , as well as being emotionally hurt.

If I Talk to my Kids About Sex, Won't That Just Make Them Want to Do It?

It is important for children to understand sexual feelings and relationships before they become sexually active. In fact, studies have shown that teens who have discussed sex with their parents are more likely to wait longer to begin having sex and to use contraception.

What Should I Tell my Kids?

First of all, focus on the facts. Consider using the following list of topics as an outline:

  • Explanation of anatomy and reproduction in males and females
  • Sexual intercourse and pregnancy
  • Fertility and birth control
  • Other forms of sexual behavior, including oral sex, masturbation, and petting
  • Sexual orientation, including heterosexuality, homosexuality , and bisexuality
  • The physical and emotional aspects of sex, including the differences between males and females
  • Self-image and peer pressure
  • Sexually transmitted diseases
  • Rape and date rape, including how being intoxicated (drunk or high), or accepting rides/going to private places with strangers or acquaintances puts you at risk
  • How choice of clothing and the way you present yourself sends messages to others about your interest in sexual behavior

How Should I Talk to my Kids?

Some parents are uncomfortable talking to their kids about sex. It may help to practice what you are going to say before you sit down with your son or daughter. Be sure to pay attention and listen, as well. It may be helpful to have both parents present for support. Some teens may be embarrassed to talk about sex or to admit they don't know something, and so may not ask direct questions. Look for opportunities to bring up sexuality issues with your children. Opportunities may come from a scene on TV or in a movie, a book or article, or the appearance of visible changes in your son or daughter, such as the growth of breasts or facial hair. Explain the physical maturation process and the sexual arousal process. Remember to respect your child's privacy, and try to show that you trust him or her to make good decisions.

Teen Sexual Rights

When talking with your teen, consider the following teen sexual rights, which were developed by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS):

  • The right to accurate information about sexuality and HIV/AIDS
  • The right to stop being physical or sexual with a partner at any point
  • The right to say no to an unwanted touch of any kind
  • The right to make decisions about sexuality, in your own time
  • The right to express your sexuality safely, without risk of pregnancy, or STDs including HIV/AIDS
  • The right not to be pressured into being physical or sexual
  • The right not to express your sexuality unless you want to

Reviewed by the doctors at The Cleveland Clinic Department of Psychiatry and Psychology.

Edited by Charlotte E. Grayson, MD, WebMD, Oct. 2003.

Portions of this page copyright © The Cleveland Clinic 2000-2004


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