Talking to your teenager about relationships and sex

Teenage girl

Who know's what goes through a teenager's head? But you can bet that relationships and sex are quite regular features. And who can blame them? They get enough exposure through TV, magazines, friends and the internet. With sex becoming an increasingly hot topic, more and more young people are feeling under pressure to have sex earlier, and they’re finding it harder to separate the facts from fiction.

In fact, a recent survey found that over a quarter of teenagers feel confused, worried and even scared about sex and relationships, and that most teenagers would like to talk to their mum and dad about it. And that’s great news. Because all the evidence suggests that talking openly to your teenager makes them feel less under pressure to have sex. And that means they’re more likely to wait. Talking openly also gives them the confidence to approach the subject with their partners, and practice safe sex when the time comes.

Finding the right moment 

86% of parents think that there would be fewer teenage pregnancies if more parents talked to their teenagers about sex and relationships.

Once you get conversations going you just need to continue them as they get older. The thing to remember is that the more they understand, the more likely they are to make the right choices when the time comes. It isn’t true that talking about relationships and sex encourages teens to experiment! Once your child is in secondary school, they’ll be going through puberty and picking up misinformation and pressures from other young people. Although they might think everyone is ‘doing it,’ most teenagers don’t have sex until they are at least 16, and those that do are more likely to regret it, and are at greater risk of pregnancy and STIs. This is a great opportunity for you to be their trusted voice. By helping them understand the basics and reassuring them that it’s fine to wait, you’ll be relieving any pressures they might be feeling. It’s never too early to start the conversation about relationships and sex. Helping young children understand their bodies, their feelings and the feelings of others are essential ingredients for open discussions.

Finding the right words

The easiest time to talk about relationships and sex is when you’re doing everyday things: washing the car, watching tv etc. It’s more informal and less embarrassing than sitting down for a big ‘talk.’ And here’s a few ways to get things started:

  • Ask other parents and carers about how they answer difficult questions. Trust us, you’re not going through this alone.
  • Use everyday media to approach the subject – TV, radio, magazines, internet including social media etc. – you won’t be short on options, and talking about how the issues affect other people can make it less embarrassing – Celebrities can be a good common ground
  • Find out what relationship and sex education is being taught in school so you can discuss what they thought of the lessons
  • Ask what they think about relationships and sex. This is a great way of finding out what they already know and what attitudes they’re shaping.
  • Ask them what they think about waiting to have sex with someone they care about, and who they think should be responsible for contraception and safe sex.
  • Ask them about what their friends have to say on the subject. It’s a way of talking about their feelings and fears indirectly.

Discussing your values with your teenagers will help them to form their own. Remember though, that trying to convince them of what’s right and wrong may discourage them from being open. Try to keep the discussion light, encourage them to say what they think and reassure them that you trust them to make the right decisions.

Genital hygiene is really important to maintain healthy genitals and avoid infection and this must be taught from young.  For the correct info:

For males:

For females:

The internet and social media are now a normal part for young people growing up.  For parents/carers, this can bring a whole new level of concern.  Having hands on access to the internet and social media world can make it highly likely for young people to gain access to sexually explicit content. 

With this in mind, as well as speaking to your young person about healthy and safe relationships, there is a need to have the discussion about pornography. 

Young people can accidently encounter sexually explicit material online or they can actively seek it out. View talking about pornography as an extension of talking about sex and relationships.  It is important to reiterate the following:

  • Porn is not real – it is a movie made up of actors and actresses
  • Consent – is crucial before anyone makes sexual contact
  • People are not sexual objects; therefore you should not treat people like one.
  • In the real world, sex can come with consequences.
  • To think critically about the images they see.

Boys/young men and young women will view porn for different reasons at different times. Young women tend to view porn later, along with a partner. Boys/young men will use porn for pleasure/or for masturbation.

Real sex vs porn – to help dispel myths and misconceptions about porn and sex:

Search Porn and masturbation on the Brook website for more info on how to talk to your young people about porn and masturbation:

Masturbation is healthy and a normal part of adolescence. For more info:

Online safety resources for parents:

Screwball - a film to show young people about the sexual pressures that they face and that being ready is much more important than ‘just doing it’ – For aged 15+:

Information and support services for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning, Intersex and Asexual young people in Croydon:

LGBTQIA counselling in Croydon:

‘No smoking in the Booth’: A great documentary that highlights the issue with young males and heavy skunk use and the onset of mental health issues:

For drugs and alcohol support: