Sexual Activity

Understand Ages & Stages

Talking to Teens about Sexual Activity

  • Sexual activity may start earlier than you expect. Begin talking about sexuality and your expectations on the topic when your kids are young, and continue the conversations as they grow. It can be tough to start the conversation, but remember that educating your kids early is important for their future safety.
  • Realize that “sexual activity” includes everything from kissing to petting to sexual intercourse. Kids often experiment with kissing (closed mouth and open mouth) at early ages.
  • Ask your kids about their sexual values. Do they think it’s important to wait until they’re adults before having sexual intercourse? Or until they marry? Talk about sexual values with them, and don’t assume that they have the same sexual values that you do.
  • If your child is dating, talk about it. Some kids think the only requirement for having sex is “falling in love.”
  • If your child is sexually active and comes to you for advice, listen to what she has to say. Ask questions. Offer your help. You can influence your child, but ultimately she will make her own decisions.
  • Educate your child about the dangers of unprotected sex—including early childbearing—and the range of diseases to prevent. If you are not comfortable having these conversations, ask another adult whom your child trusts to address the subject. Sexually Transmitted Infections: Information for Teens from the Palo Alto Medical Foundation contains useful information about sexually transmitted infections.
  • Talk about your sexual values and your expectations for your kids. Kids are more likely to follow your expectations—if they know what they are. They’re also more likely to embrace your values if you can make the case for them.

Frequent Questions and Concerns about Early Sexual Activity

What can I do to prevent teen sexual activity?

Talk about your values and why you have the values that you do. Teenagers want to hear from their parents—and they do listen (even if it may not seem like it). Acknowledge teen sexuality and that your teenager has sexual feelings, but also point out that she doesn’t need to act on those feelings. Talk about which sexual activities you feel are okay for teens and which aren’t. Be explicit. What do you think of teen kissing, holding hands, snuggling, touching private parts, oral sex, and sexual intercourse?

Another step that you can take is to prevent your children from viewing adult-targeted media. In a recent study, Children’s Hospital of Boston discovered that younger children exposed to adult-themed television and movies become sexually active earlier during adolescence. By keeping a close eye on what your child is viewing on television, in movies, and on the internet, you can decrease the chance that your child will engage in early sexual activity.

What effect does early sexual activity have on teenagers?

Early sexual activity puts teens at risk for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, and females who have sexual intercourse at a young age and have multiple partners have a higher rate of cervical cancer. Researchers are also studying the relationship of teen sexual activity with sexual dysfunction later in life. In addition, early sexual activity has been correlated with dependency and low self-esteem. Researchers in the field of child and adolescent development consider early sexual activity a risky behavior. Some sexually active teens lose their reputations along with their virginity, and the labels that others place on them can be painful and long-lasting.

How young are kids starting to have intercourse?

Even if your child is not yet a teen, sexual activity is an issue you should be thinking about. Seven percent of young people had sexual intercourse before age 13, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control.

One of the best ways that you can lay a solid foundation for preventing early sexual activity is by instilling positive values—especially restraint—in your child. Talk about your values often, and explain to your child that abstaining from early sexual activity is one of the ways in which he can act out those values.

What do I do if my teen is seeing someone?

Emphasize that getting to know someone is much more than being sexual and moving toward sexual activity and intercourse. It’s about learning how to build a healthy relationship with someone. It’s about getting to know yourself and learning how to have a close relationship. Seeing someone should be fun—it shouldn’t be a high-pressured situation where kids feel like they need to act in certain ways, including being sexually active. Acknowledge that everyone has sexual feelings. Point out that even though it may seem that “everyone is having sex,” or that most teens engage in sexual activity, this just isn’t true. As your teenager dates, keep the lines of communication open. As relationships get closer, teens are more tempted to become sexually active.