Many parents and carers feel shy about broaching the topic of sex with their children. Some prefer to stay silent and assume their children will pick up what they need to know from school and the media. Others believe that telling children about sex will encourage sexual experimentation. In fact, a teenager needs to be informed if they are to act responsibly and safely.

Talking about sex is easier if the topic has been discussed with the child from an early age and the lines of communication are already open. However, it is never too late to begin. Books may be a helpful way to start if either you or your teenager feel awkward about frank discussion.

Sex education should cover a variety of topics including the biology of sex and reproduction, relationships, sexuality, contraception and STIs.

Negative influences
We are flooded with sexual images from the media every day of our lives. A teenager’s perception of sex and sexuality can be skewed by incorrect or misleading information from a variety of sources including magazines, television and other teenagers.

Numerous studies have shown that the most influential role models for a child are their parents or carers. You can inform your child and help them feel comfortable and knowledgeable about sexuality. By keeping silent, you allow your teenager to act on unreliable information. This can put them at considerable risk.

Teenagers and contraception
Unwanted pregnancy is a traumatic event for both the teenager and their parents or carers. The reasons why some teenagers don’t use contraception include:

  • Lack of knowledge
  • Fear of their parents finding out
  • The belief that using contraception implies promiscuity
  • The belief that planning for sex ruins the spontaneity
  • Alcohol and other drug use.

Preparing in advance
As a parent or carer, you can prepare yourself for discussions about sex with your teenager:

  • Talk about the issue with your partner or other carers.
  • Decide what kind of values and messages you want to deliver.
  • Read up on current sexual issues.
  • Accept that your teenager may have different views to your own.
  • Buy or borrow relevant books, magazines or videos.
  • Remember that the aim is to discuss the topic with your child, not give a lecture.

Gender roles
Gender roles play an important part in sexual relationships. The child receives important lessons on adult relationships by watching how their parents or carers interact. This can affect the way they conduct their sexual relationships.

Teenagers need to be aware that sexual responsibility is everyone’s concern, regardless of gender. Ideally, any parent or carer responsible for the child should discuss sex with the child. Thorough information on contraception and unwanted pregnancy should be given to both young men and young women.

What to talk about
Sex education involves more than just the biological mechanics of reproduction. Ideally, a variety of important topics should be covered including:

  • Relationships and emotions
  • Sexual feelings
  • Values
  • Gender roles
  • Sexuality
  • Sexually transmissible infections (STIs)
  • Birth control options including emergency contraception (the ‘morning after pill’)
  • Safer sex practices
  • Sex acts other than intercourse
  • Sexual problems
  • Sexual preferences
  • How to say ‘no’ to unwanted sex
  • Pregnancy, including options such as abortion, adoption or parenting.

Making decisions
A teenager needs to know how to negotiate their sexual experiences in positive and responsible ways. You can help your child to make safe and informed sexual decisions. Suggestions include:

  • Give them clear and correct information on contraception, safer sex and STIs.
  • Encourage them to talk about sex and its consequences with their partner.
  • ‘Brainstorm’ ways to counter unwanted sexual pressure, including peer pressure.
  • Encourage them to do their own research into sexual issues.
  • If they are sexually active or planning to be, stress the importance of always using a condom.

Ground rules at home
Some teenagers experiment sexually. You will need to decide whether or not your teenager’s sexual activity will be allowed in the family home. However, forbidding sex at home doesn’t prevent the child from having sexual experiences. The best time to decide on the ground rules is during an open and honest discussion about sex, not during an argument.

Where to get help

  • Your doctor
  • Family Planning

 Things to remember

  • Many parents feel shy about discussing sex with their children.
  • Your teenager needs accurate information on sex if they are to negotiate sexual relationships safely and responsibly.
  • Sex education should cover a variety of topics including the biology of sex and reproduction, relationships, sexuality, contraception and STIs.