Sexual Health and Relationships: What to Tell Your Teen
You may be embarrassed to talk to your teen about sex, or you may think you don’t know enough to have the conversation. But your teen probably has questions and needs your guidance. By talking to your teen, they will learn about your values on sex and relationships. With accurate information, your teen will have the tools needed to make the best decisions possible. Talking to your teen about sexual health may be tough, but it’s worth it. Here are 10 topics to help get the discussion started.
Respect in relationships
It’s important for your teen to hear from you that healthy relationships are built on mutual respect and trust. Both partners should be willing to listen to the other person’s point of view but should also feel free to speak up when something is amiss. Respect for one another doesn’t mean you always agree, but it does mean you will work together to solve conflicts.
Setting healthy boundaries in relationships
Many teens and young adults believe that a relationship means you are always with the other person. But in a healthy relationship, both partners are free to spend time with friends without their partner. They should have time to participate in activities they enjoy and pursue hobbies independently. Partners should respect one another’s privacy and not assume they have the right to passwords to email and social media accounts.
Deciding what you want in a relationship
Explain to your teen that throughout our lives, we have different types of relationships. We have relationships with family, friends, classmates, coworkers, and significant others. Everyone has the right to decide what they want to give and receive within a relationship. No one has the right to force you to be in a romantic relationship if you do not want that. Before choosing to be in a relationship, take time to decide whether it is what you want.
Leaving a relationship
Just as it is your right to choose to be in a relationship, it is your right to decide to end a relationship. Make sure your teen knows that they should not have to stay because of intimidation or guilt. If a relationship is no longer working, your teen should know they have the right to end it, without fear that the other person will harm them.
Deciding to have sex
Sex is a way for partners to share their love with one another. It is a big step and comes with risks and responsibilities, such as STDs and pregnancy. Deciding to have sex should be a mutual decision. Neither partner should feel coerced or be forced to have sex. Let your teen know that if they feel coerced or pressured to have sex, they can come talk to you.
Minimizing the risk of STDs
Teens and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 years old account for one-half of all new STD diagnoses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Abstinence is the only sure way to avoid getting an STD. Using a condom every time greatly reduces the chances, but your teen may not know that condom use can’t guarantee they won’t get an STD. Some STDs, such as human papillomavirus and herpes, are spread through skin contact and can be transmitted even while using a condom.
What to do if you think you have an STD
Many teens don’t know what to do when faced with the possibility of an STD. Tell them that if they think they have one, it’s best to abstain from sex until they can get tested. Let them know they can talk to their doctor or go to a health clinic for testing, and offer to go with them for support if this should ever happen. If they do have an STD, they should follow the prescribed treatment. Finally, explain the importance of telling current and recent sexual partners so they can get tested too.
Teens often have misconceptions about preventing pregnancy. For example, they may believe that if the male pulls out before ejaculation, it will prevent pregnancy every time. It’s important to share accurate information about different birth control methods, including abstinence. If you need help, make an appointment for your teen to talk with a doctor about the different methods. If you have a son, talk about how birth control is the responsibility of both partners.
Talking to the doctor
For many teens, discussing sexual topics with a doctor is embarrassing. Some may avoid seeing the doctor altogether, while others may simply avoid discussing anything related to sex. Suggest your teen write down any questions or concerns before going to the doctor. This often makes it easier to bring up difficult subjects. Explain that doctors are used to these discussions and can offer much more accurate information than searching online.
Deciding not to have sex is OK
Let your teen known it’s OK to choose abstinence. Even if someone has already had sex, it’s OK to decide you don’t want to do it anymore. If your teen chooses abstinence, recommend they make that clear to their partner. Help them practice ways to say “no” and remind them that someone who continues to pressure them isn’t showing respect. Suggest they plan group activities instead of one-on-one dates. Remind them to stay away from drugs and alcohol, as these can lead to risky behavior.
It’s important that your teen knows that you are there to help. If your teen is experiencing unwanted advances, is receiving sexting messages, or has been the victim of rape, date rape or other violence, they should feel comfortable coming to you for help. Make a list of other adults your teen can talk to as well, such as a guidance counselor, aunt, or older sibling. Have your teen put these numbers in their phone in case of an emergency and remind them to always have her phone with them.