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.
However 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 to look after their sexual health when they do start.
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 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. Find out about where young people can get contraception.
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 (find out about talking to your pre-teen child about sex). Let your teen know that they can talk to you about anything that's on their mind.
One of the easiest ways to turn the conversation to sex 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 and pregnancy). Make sure that your child knows where they can get them. Don't sound judgemental or critical.
Find out what they’re learning 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
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
Sex is a large topic. It covers how our bodies work, pregnancy, relationships and feelings, types of contraception and where to get them, STIs, 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:
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.
Sex and relationships computer game for parents
Researchers from Coventry University have designed a computer game to help parents talk with their children about sex and relationships.
Parents play through five situations and a quiz, and get feedback on how they talk with their child.
There are two versions of the game – one for children aged 5-9, and one for children aged 10-14.