Talking to Your Teen About Sex and Sexual Health

Most teenagers would like to talk to their parents or carer about relationships and sex. It might seem difficult, but here are five ideas on how to start the conversation.

Dad-talking-to-teen-about-sexHowever you bring up the topic of sex and relationships, listen to what your teenager has to say. You can then use this to let the conversation develop.

For example, if they mention condoms, check that they know why it’s important to use them, where to get them and how to use them. Talking about sex and relationships with your teenager won’t make them want to start having sex, but it will help them look after their sexual health when they do.

Try to keep calm, even if what they say surprises you or you disagree. Let your child know your opinions, but reassure them that you trust them to make their own decisions. If you lose your temper or criticise them, they might feel that they can’t talk to you in the future.

Ask Your Teen About Their Friends

Ask what your child’s friends think about the subject. This can be a way of talking about your child’s thoughts and fears indirectly. For example, if you see a pregnant woman, you could say, “When I was a teenager we were scared of getting pregnant. Do your friends ever worry about that?”

You could then talk about why it’s OK not to have sex, and where young people can get contraception and condoms if they’re planning to have sex.

Talk About Sex Little and Often

Don’t have one big talk about sex. Make it an open, ongoing topic. Have lots of little talks whenever the subject comes up, and start before your child is a teenager. Let your teen know that they can talk to you about anything that’s on their mind.

One of the easiest ways to bring up the topic is during everyday activities like washing up or watching TV. This makes it less of an event. You can use the storyline in a programme, or a celebrity in the news. For example, you could say, “What do you think about the fact they’ve had sex?”

Listen to your child’s answer. You could then talk about why it’s important to use a condom and contraception to protect against STIs (sexually transmitted infections*) and pregnancy. Make sure that your child knows where they can get them. Don’t sound judgemental or critical.

Find out about talking to your pre-teen child about sex.

Find Out What They’re Learning About Sex at School

Ask your teenager’s school what they are teaching your child about sex and relationships. Ask your child what they think about this. Find out if there’s anything they don’t understand, and if their classes have raised any topics they’d like to discuss with you. You could say, “What do you think of the sex and relationships lessons you’re getting at school?”

Listen to What Your Teen Thinks About Sex

Ask your teenager how they feel about things, for example, waiting to have sex with someone they care about. You could say to them, “Do you think it’s worth waiting until you meet someone you really care about, and who cares about you, before you have sex?”

You can use this discussion to talk about the risk of pregnancy when a boy and a girl have sex, and about getting contraception ready before having sex. You can also discuss who your child thinks should be responsible for contraception. Make sure they understand that it’s up to both partners to think about using condoms and contraception.

Make Sure You Know the Facts About Sex

Sex is a large topic. It covers how our bodies work, pregnancy, relationships and feelings, types of contraception and where to get them, STIs (sexually transmitted infections*), tests, treatment and more.

If you’re confident in your knowledge of these topics, you’ll be able to answer your child’s questions more readily. If you don’t know something, say so, but let them know you’ll find out. Look up the information and share it with them, or look it up together.

There are reliable websites with accurate information. NHS Choices has lots of information for you and your teen on sex and relationships. Other organisations include:

If Your Teen May be Gay, Lesbian or Bisexual

Your child might be gay, lesbian or bisexual. If so, they still need to know about safer sex messages, including how to protect themselves against STIs and pregnancy. They might use a discussion about sex and relationships as an opportunity to come out (tell you about their sexual orientation).

Women and girls who have sexual contact with other females and men and boys who have sexual contact with other males can get and pass on STIs, so it’s important that they know how to protect themselves. See sexual health for women who have sex with women and sexual health for men who have sex with men.

If your child is gay, they still need to know about contraception. People who identify as gay or lesbian might have sexual contact with people of the opposite sex, so it’s important that they know about contraception and avoiding unintended pregnancy.

Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US audience.

Also, check out this very useful and well written brochure on talking to your teen about sex, developed by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), with additional US-focused resources.

About the Author

NHS Choices ( is the UK’s biggest health website. It provides a comprehensive health information service to help put you in control of your healthcare.


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