Talking about sex and relationships with your teenager
Young people are learning about sex and relationships, not only from you, their parents, but from TV and films, online, and their friends. They need and want their family to help them to sort out fact from fiction, to understand what is happening to their bodies as they grow older and to talk about their feelings and their relationships. Remember that the earlier you start talking, the easier it will be to tackle some of the more difficult subjects as they grow up.
“My parents were great about talking things through – whatever we asked. It made a big difference to the way we felt about ourselves and others.”
Being a parent of teenagers can be tough. Our sons and daughters may clam up overnight, sulk or do nothing but argue. They may say things that upset you, and do things that frighten you. The good news is that most children get through this – and so will you. Young people nowadays are faced with different problems and pressures. We can’t ignore these things and nor can they. We need to be open about the risks they may be taking – from having sex to experimenting with drugs. They need help and advice that makes sense to them. And that means we must listen to them as well as expecting them to listen to us.
More and more teenagers are trying drink and drugs in their early teens. Young people often have sex for the first time – without using a condom – when they have been taking drugs or have been drinking too much. Many who have had sex after taking drugs or drinking wish it hadn’t happened.
Sex and relationships
It is important to be open with your teenagers about sex and relationships. Teenagers who talk to their parents about these issues are more likely to be responsible in their relationships and to wait longer to have sex for the first time. They are also more likely to use contraception.
Teenagers learn about sex and relationships in many ways – from their friends, television or the internet. The different messages they hear can be confusing and that is why it’s important for parents to give their teenagers the chance to talk about what they know, or don’t know and what choices they have, whatever their own views are.
Young people say they want to talk about relationships, responsibilities and values and not just about biology. They may find it hard to talk about feel embarrassed. Be reassuring, start the conversation at a time when you are both relaxed and getting on okay, not during an argument or when either of you are feeling annoyed about something.
Listen to and talk with them, not at them. If they refuse to talk, don’t start nagging or laying down the law. You’ve broken the ice, next time you say something it may be much easier. All children are different. You need to adapt how you talk and listen, especially when talking about risky behaviour including sex. Some teenagers prefer reading information whilst others find it easier to talk things through. Most will need more than one conversation. Being open and available when needed is extremely important.
“I said – I’m too young to be a granddad. That got us talking!”
Keep an open mind. Your teenager may be confused about their sexuality and feelings. They may worry that no-one will be interested in them, or that they don’t seem to be interested in sex. They may know or think that they are bisexual, lesbian or gay.
Young people often talk about being pressured into early sex and they need help in delaying until they feel it is right for them. Open discussion can help them think things through and give them the confidence to resist these pressures. The majority of young people don’t have sex before 16. Those who do are much more likely to regret it and not use contraception. Some parents worry that sex education at school encourages young people to have sex early. There is no evidence that this is the case and there is plenty of evidence that Sex and Relationships Education (SRE) helps young people be more aware of risks and how to make safe choices.
Contraception and safe sex
It is a good idea to start talking about contraception before your children become teenagers if possible. Both boys and girls have to understand that they must share the responsibility if they decide to have sex, and make sure they are protected from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. It’s very important for boys and girls to think about what pregnancy means and to know about condoms so they feel confidence enough to insist that a condom is used, and comfortable enough to get them from the clinic or the chemist themselves.
Young people need to know how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections (STI) as well as pregnancy. Both boys and girls are vulnerable to HIV and AIDS but they are even more likely to get infections such as chlamydia which can cause infertility if not treated promptly. STIs often have no symptoms so encourage them to get themselves tested and to be responsible for their physical and sexual health.
Parents need to remind young people that only condoms protect against infection. Even if a girl is on the pill it’s important to use condoms as well, as the pill will only help prevent pregnancy. By talking about STIs and condoms you and help your teenagers understand the risk and protect themselves.
If there is any possibility that your teenager might have caught an STI, you should encourage him or her to contact your nearest NHS Sexual Health or GUM (Genito-urinary medicine) clinic as soon as possible. Your GP or nurse can give you details. If you would rather keep it private, you can Google the information.
Sex and alcohol or drugs
Unprotected and early sex often happens for the first time when a young person is under the influence of alcohol or drugs. The number of teenagers trying drink and drugs in their early teens is growing, often influenced by peer pressure and the media. Most who have sex under the influence admit they that regret what happened.
“When asked why they had sex for the first time, 20% of men and 13% of women aged 15 – 19 said alcohol was the main reason.”
There are a number of excellent online sites and helplines which can help teenagers find out more. Some parents find it easier to tell their teenagers about these and suggest that they look at the facts. If you opt for this, remind them you are always there for them if they want to talk. You can make sure you know the latest facts from these sites and helplines as well. Other parents say that leaving magazines and leaflets written for young people around help to break the ice.
Brook provides free and confidential information about sex, contraception, STIs, pregnancy to under 25s
Family Planning Association provides information and advice on all aspects of sexual health and contraception.
R U Thinking offers information, advice and guidance for young people under 18 on sex, relationships and contraception.
Frank provides individuals and families information on drugs and substance abuse.