Talking To Your Parent About Sex

What is “The Talk?”

The infamous “talk” is used to refer to the conversation many parents have with their child or children about sex and sexuality. Topics covered during “the talk” can include information about sex including the risks and consequences, motivations, decision making, different sexual orientations, consent, and ways of preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.

Unfortunately, the “talk” is often characterized as a one-time awkward encounter, but it does not have to be! Many young people are uncomfortable with the idea of asking their parents for advice on sexual topics, leading them to seek information elsewhere. Common sources for this information are peers, television shows, and pornography. Although these methods of learning may feel less awkward, they often offer sensationalized or inaccurate information and can leave one feeling more confused than enlightened. Although talking about sex with your parent can be uncomfortable, remember that your parent is there to help you through this process. Parents serve as an important and trusted resource for information and can be of great use in helping you make smart decisions about sex and relationships. In fact, research shows that parents want to have conversations about sex and sexuality with their children.1

Preparing for “The Talk” 

Talking to your parents about sex can be nerve-wracking and awkward, but remember that your parents may be nervous as well. This is why it is a good idea to have some topics or specific questions in mind before having this conversation with your parent. Specific questions such as “what are sexually transmitted infections?” or “where can I buy condoms?” will help direct the conversation and help make it flow easier for both parties. Think about your goals for the conversation: for example, do you want them to teach you basic sexual health information? Do you want them to share their expectations and values with you? Do you want them to take you to get birth control? Or perhaps, you may simply want to tell them that you are, or are thinking about becoming, sexually active. In any case, it can be extremely helpful to write down a list of questions or topics beforehand in order to organize your thoughts.

Also, having a list of questions and topics in mind will be helpful if your parent decides to initiate the conversation about sex first. Although it is difficult to predict how this conversation will go or when it will happen, being prepared ahead of time will allow you to not only organize your thoughts but also remain calm and collected. Sex can be a sensitive topic for some families so remaining as calm as possible while also having a productive and honest discussion is key. Here are a few topics you might want to add to your list.

  1. Puberty: From early adolescence to early adulthood, the human body goes through a series of changes that mark the transition into sexual maturity and adulthood. Some of these changes include the onset of the menstrualcycle and the development of breastsin females, and growth of the penisand testiclesfor malesPubertycan be a confusing time for young people since their bodies are going through changes they may not understand, and these changes occur at different times for everyone. Parents can be helpful in explaining these bodily changes and providing supplies, such as menstrual products. 
  2. Dating and sexual activity: All parents have different values regarding the appropriate time for their children to start dating or to become sexually active with a partner. Some teenagers may find it frustrating, but it can be helpful to have a conversation to determine what their guidelines are before you start pursuing a romantic or sexual relationship. This can be a perfect time to learn about your parents’ values and experiences, talk about the age of consent in your state or country, or to negotiate with them if you wish to start a relationship but worry that they may not allow it.
  3. Sexual orientations: Mainstream media is saturated with images and depictions of heterosexual couples, which can be confusing for young people who are beginning to learn about other identities, or may be questioning their own sexuality. All parents will have different views and opinions on LGBTQ+ issues, and it can be worthwhile to ask them questions. If you are questioning your sexuality, you can read our “Overview of Sexual Orientations” and “Process of Coming Out” articles for more information. These articles can also be great resources if you are simply seeking more information on the LGBTQ+ community.
  4. Safe sex: If you decide you want to become sexually active, it is crucial to learn how to do so in a safe and responsible way. This involves protecting yourself from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and proper use of contraception if you do not wish to become pregnant. Many teenagers rely on their friends for this information, but parents are often a more reliable resource. They likely have years of experience while your peers who are also likely just beginning their sexual journey. Additionally, your parents can provide you with information on your family’s medical coverage as well as your options for obtaining contraceptives and STI testing. They could even go with you to the doctor’s office to get birth control, get the HPV vaccine, or STI testing.
  5. Cultural, religious, and family values: Everyone has different ideas about the ethics and values surrounding sexuality. These ideas are heavily influenced by factors such as culture, religion, and family values. Talking to your parents about these values can be a good way to start a conversation about sexuality, and to learn about their expectations for you in the future.

Although there is much more to discuss and consider about your sexual health and choices, these topics are a good starting point as you continue to engage in conversations about sex and sexuality with yourself and your parent. 

Picking the Right Time

If you are planning on initiating a discussion about sex with your parents, timing and location are important factors to consider. Try to broach the subject while they are relaxed and not doing anything important. A few good opportunities include: while you are watching TV, washing dishes, or in the car together. You can even use relevant examples to start the conversation, such as class material or the media. For instance, if you are watching TV together and sexpregnancy, or contraceptioncomes up, you can engage your parents in a discussion about those issues. On the other hand, if you feel comfortable discussing sex with your parents, you may feel confident simply bringing up your concerns at any other appropriate time and location. 

Listen to Each Other

Although you and your parents may have differing views about sexual topics, it is important that you each listen to what the other has to say. The discussion may flow smoothly, or it could be difficult if you have differing opinions. In any event, if you behave maturely, they will probably do the same. Respect your parents' opinions, as they probably have been through many of the things you are experiencing now as a young adult. However, in the end, the decisions you make about sex are your own. Although talking to your older, more experienced parents can provide guidance and valuable information, you will ultimately need to decide when and how you want to live your sexual life.

 

What if I Can't Talk to My Parents?

In some families, parents are not open to talking to their children about sex and sexuality. Some parents may have been raised in a home where sex was a taboo topic and they never had “the talk” with their own parents. If so, they might believe it is unnecessary to have this talk with their children. Other parents may have strong traditional views accompanied by an expectation that their children abstainfrom sex until marriage. And some parents have a hard time accepting the thought of their child being sexually active and would rather avoid this topic altogether. Whatever the reason may be, it is important to recognize cues that indicate whether your parents would be open to having this talk with you before initiating such a conversation.  For example, if your parents have consistently told you that you are forbidden from watching kissing and sex scenes during movies because they are inappropriate or set a bad example for you, it would be reasonable to assume that your parents have a strict attitude towards discussing sexual topics with you.

If you feel that bringing up a discussion about sex will upset your parents, lead to punishment, or create conflicts within your household, it may be wiser not to initiate “the talk” with them and to instead seek information from another source. One option is to talk to a trusted adult, such as an older sibling, family friend, or guidance counselor who is willing to provide you with information while keeping the conversation discreet from your parents. Make sure that this person is trustworthy and has sufficient education in the topic you are consulting them about. For example, an older sibling may be best suited to give advice about dating and relationships, while a school nurse or doctor would be better equipped to provide information on contraception and STI prevention.

If you feel there is no one in your community you can reach out to for guidance there are many other options available. If you live in the United States, Planned Parenthood is an excellent resource for anything concerning sexuality. Planned Parenthood health centers are located around the country and can provide accurate information and services such as STI testing, birth control, and emergency contraception. If you are not located near one of these health centers, there is a chat feature on their website where you can talk to a health expert and get your questions answered.And, as always, the Sexpert team at SexInfoOnline would love to provide support and answer any questions you have! Our website offers an abundance of information on sexual health, love, and relationships. Do not hesitate to reach out to us if you are struggling to find answers to any questions or relevant concerns. We want to make sure that any questions you have about sex related topics are answered, especially if you find that all your other resources are lacking. To submit a question or concern, please visit our question forum here: Ask the Sexperts

 

Concluding Remarks

Whether you feel completely comfortable talking to your parents about sex or you would prefer to confide in an adult outside of your family, remember that sex and sexuality are important parts of everyone's lives and that, at some point, every individual has had the questions you have now. Having conversations with trusted adults will help you make decisions that will keep you safer and more comfortable with sexual intimacy. In fact, teenagers who talk to their parents about sex are statistically more likely to have safe sex and less likely to get pregnant.1It may be tempting to turn to peers or to pornography when you have questions, but these sources are likely to provide you with inaccurate or unclear information. Next time you have a question, consider asking your parents for help. They are experienced adults who care for you and want you to be safe in all aspects of your life, including sexuality. 

 

References

  1. Mauras, Carrie. “Mother-Daughter Communication About Risky Behavior: A Self-Determination Theory Perspective.” ProQuest Dissertation Publishing: Ann Arbor, 2008. Date Accessed 12 November 2018. 
  2. Parenthood, Planned. “Should I Talk to My Parents About Sex?” Planned Parenthood.

Last Updated: 13 November 2018.