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How to Have the Sex Talk with Your Teen

Everything you always wanted to know about "The Sex Talk" (but were afraid to ask).
The Sex Talk 1
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Illustration by Joel Holland

Your kid knows what grades you want to see on his report card. But what about your expectations around more intimate matters? "When parents talk to their teens about sex, kids wait longer to engage in it, end up in healthier relationships and are more likely to protect themselves," says Leslie Kantor, vice president of education for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Still one in six teens say their parents have never spoken to them about anything sex related. This summer, Family Circle and Planned Parenthood partnered in a nationwide "sex talk" survey of more than 2,000 adults and their teens conducted by Knowledge Networks. What we learned will change how you communicate with your kid today.

6 Ways to Make "The Talk" More Relaxed

Our survey is the first to reveal that parents are much more at ease than kids talking about this topic. "That's important because the message needs to change," says Kantor. "It's not just about you being comfortable. You have to help your teen feel that way too." Alleviate everyone's awkwardness with our expert tactics.

1. Make it a series. The one-and-done approach doesn't cut it. "You need numerous, ongoing dialogues," says Mark Schuster, M.D., co-author of Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They'd Ask).

2. Seize opportunities. "There are teachable moments when a couple gets intimate on TV or a suggestive song comes on the radio," says Kantor. Ask your kid, "Does that seem healthy?" or "What would you do in that situation?"

3. Stick together. Avoid mixed messages by getting on the same page with your spouse. Nearly one in four parents chatted only "a little" or "not at all" with their partner about expectations of their child's sexual behavior. "Parents often avoid sex talks because they haven't sorted out their own feelings," says John Chirban, Ph.D., author of How to Talk with Your Kids About Sex.

4. Skip the face-to-face. Teens open up more when eye contact is limited: Chat in the car, while fixing dinner or on a walk. "I have a better chance getting my son's attention if I text him, even when we're in the same room," admits Kantor.

5. Listen more, lecture less. Sometimes what teens need most is a sounding board. Let them talk. When they're finished, summarize the situation so they know you understand.

6. Ask questions. Avoid offering up TMI. Find out what prompted your kid's query and what she thinks you'll say. Then answer only the question asked.