The do's and don'ts of talking with your teen about sex

The Do’s and Don’ts of Talking With Your Teen About Sex

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 256 · Duration: 00:27:53

The Do's and Don’ts of Talking With Your Teen About Sex

Now here’s a subject we’ve managed to avoid yet it’s a subject every parent of an adolescent will face, talking with your teenager about sex.  We’ll talk about this and a whole lot more on this week’s podcast, The Dos and Don’ts of Talking With Your Teen About Sex.

Healthy Family Connections, the number one rated family therapy podcast, is sponsored by Neil D Brown, LCSW, and I’m your host, Neil D Brown and I’m here to help you get that enjoyable family you work for every day.

Please remember this podcast is for educational purposes only, it is not a substitute for psychotherapy when you need it.

Today I’m with my podcast co-host Robin Holland. 

And we’re hearing from Camila of Dallas, TX, who writes:

Dear Neil, I can use some help knowing the best way to have a conversation with my daughter about sex. She is 15 and very social. She is very focused on her appearance and wears clothes that are provocative, but common to her social group. She's a good kid and fairly responsible. I know her friends are starting to have boyfriends and she gets a lot of looks from boys. Mostly her male friends are just friends and part of her group, but I anticipate the next thing will be a romantic interest. I've tried to talk with her about sex and explain what is on boys’ minds, but she just brushes me off and says that's not true with her friends. I think she's naïve and can get herself in a situation where she could be pushed beyond her limits or feel like she needs to push herself beyond her comfort level. What's the best way for me to address this issue with her?

  • Yes, talking about sex with our young teens can be challenging. In the first place, they are struggling with their strong mixed and confusing feelings.
  • Also, we’ve wanted them to be safe and sheltered - facing the notion that they are sexual beings and will be engaging in sexual behavior can be hard for parents to accept. 
  • We are aware that peer pressure is a strong influence on our youth as they try to figure out who they’re supposed to be and how they’re supposed to be
  • Then of course there are our feelings about sex and our comfort with our own sexuality and talking openly about sex can be difficult for many of us. Knowing how to talk with our youth about sex is also dependent on our own values about sex. 
  • From a therapeutic perspective, the issues of importance are physical health and appropriate safety with respect to pregnancy and STDs and emotional safety with sexual behavior being consensual. What we want is for our emerging young women to feel strong, empowered, and able to clearly articulate their feelings, their needs, and their boundaries. Our want for them is to feel confident enough in who they are, that they don’t believe they have to engage in sexual behaviors or please others sexually to be liked and accepted.  
  • The same is true for our young men. We don’t want them to think they have to have sex to be cool, and we want them to have a strong moral compass and empathy that gives them caring and respect for other’s feelings and boundaries.  
  • We want our kids to make good decisions and to do that, they’ll need the skills to talk about it openly with each other. So starting by talking with parents is important. 
  • For the most part, kids don’t want to be told what to do or not do by adults.  And they resist getting information about sex from their parents so the first step is to assess your own comfort with the subject. Since the last thing your teen wants is a lecture, the best approach is to ask questions and let you be the one who is learning from your teen.  

For instance, you might ask questions such as: 

  • I know some of your friends have romantic relationships. How are kids or at least the ones in your crowd dealing with sex at this point? Are your friends having sex at this point or are they stopping short of that? 
  • I know you’re getting a lot of interest from boys, how are you feeling about that and how are you dealing with it? 
  • When you’re out with your friends downtown or at the mall, have you been put in difficult situations by guys? How have you dealt with it?  
  • It seems kids who are LGBTQ are more comfortable being open about that now. What are you and your friends noticing? 

Camila, these are the kinds of questions that you can use to open up conversations and these questions signal to your daughter that you are open to hearing what she thinks and feels and maybe opens things up for her to talk about what she is ready for or not and what she is doing.

Now she may not answer these questions easily or comfortably and may respond in conversation-ending ways such as.

  • Why are you being so weird?  
  • We don’t talk about that.
  • You’re being too nosey!
  • You’re being gross. I can handle myself.
  • Everyone has sex, why do you have to control everything I do!

How your daughter responds tells us about her comfort level with her sexuality or at least her comfort talking with her mother about sex and it will depend on the nature of your relationship up to this point. Yet, by opening up the discussion, you can open up a healthier new chapter in your relationship. 

More advanced questions and discussions could be something like, 

  • If you like a boy and want to be romantic and even be kissed, how would you let him know if he’s going too far?  
  • You’re very social and a really good friend to your friends. Do you think it would be hard to tell a boy that you like, that you don’t want to be touched a certain way?  How would you say it and not feel like you’re being a prude or sexually unsophisticated.  
  • You deserve to grow sexually at your own pace and it’s important not to feel like you have to do something that you don’t want or feel ready for. It’s important to remember that our sexuality is an important part of us and it needs to be both enjoyed and respected by ourselves and by others. Kids feel ready at different times and later is generally safer both physically and emotionally. Some kids have sex in high school, others after high school or in college, and others want to be married or close to being married before having sex. It’s very individual. Did you know that about half of all 18-year-olds have not had sex? And of those who did, 80% used some form of birth control. Would you feel comfortable letting me know if you were ready to be on birth control?

Camila, these are my thoughts and may not reflect your values or what you are comfortable with. Some families have strong beliefs that having sexual intercourse before marriage is not moral and will convey that to their kids in the strongest of terms. Yet adolescence is a time of transition from childhood to adulthood and during this time, kids will be making more of their own decisions. My experience is that we serve them best, and our long term relationship with them best, if we’re open to hearing about their journey of self-discovery and not trying to direct it.

The trick is to stay out of judgment and stay more focused on listening, support, caring and validation. We once again realize, it’s all about connection. When youth feel those things, they are most likely to make self-valuing decisions. 

I applaud you for opening this discussion and reaching out to get some input on a challenging topic.

Thanks for tuning in today and special thanks to you Camila for sending in this most important question.  

Parents, you won’t be effective at the many challenges in your lives in a state of burnout. So take time for yourselves. Every problem doesn’t need to be fixed today, and you don’t have to be the solution to every problem.  So take care of yourselves.  You need it, you deserve it and YOU’RE WORTH IT.  


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Posted in The Healthy Family Connections Podcast.