How to Talk to a Teen about Sex

I contend that there are two sets of people you do not — not, not, not — want to think specifically about having sex: your parents and your children. Sure, you want them to have a fulfilling intimate life (in the right context), but you don’t want to actually imagine it. *shudder*

And yet, parents need to teach their teenagers about sex. So how can this be done . . . while preserving everyone’s sanity and dignity?

Here’s what I’ve learned about talking to teenagers about sex.

Converse, don’t lecture. Don’t teach your teen like a student in a Purity 101 class, giving him lectures, and then merely checking for understanding. Teenagers are growing toward adulthood and gaining independence. They won’t respond to simply be preached at.

This is a time when they are open to discussing deeper topics, especially those that apply to their lives. They are seeking knowledge and wisdom, and if you can communicate that in a conversation, you stand a far better chance of making headway.

Make sure that you are not hogging the conversation by doing most of the talking. Let them talk and express what challenges they are dealing with and what they think about sexuality and purity. Then share your wisdom and the teachings of the Bible to inform and shape their views.

Let them ask questions. Don’t shy away from tough questions. Your teenager needs to know that she can come to you with difficult questions about sexuality and purity, and you will be her mentor. Be prepared that you might get asked anything from “What is BDSM?” to “How do oral contraceptives work?” to “Why does God make us wait until marriage?” and anything else they can come up with. If you don’t have the full answer, don’t sweat. Answer as best you can and let them know you want to think and study about it more. But if you put your teenager off, don’t forget to return and revisit the topic with what you’ve learned.

Now if they ask specifics about your sex life, you are not obliged to answer. Sex itself is a private act. You can choose how much to share, but you do not owe your child a run-down of your sexual history or your current practices. Keep your answers honest but general. Examples?

TEEN:  How many sexual partners did you have before you married dad?
MOM:  Your father is aware of my history, but I don’t think you need to know the specifics. The point is that I wish that your dad had been my only one. That’s what God designed, and that’s what I want for you.

TEEN:  How often do you and mom have sex?
DAD:    It depends. But healthy married couples usually engage in sex a few times to every day of the week.
TEEN:  That much?!!! Ick. [I added this line so you’ll be prepared. 🙂 ]

Let them confess their struggles. Perhaps they’ve already messed up in this area. No one is perfect. And teenagers are facing a culture that constantly pushes a wrong message about sexuality. Even if we didn’t have that culture, we have God-given sexual desires within our bodies that we must learn to surrender to His plan. That’s a real challenge for a young person — absolutely doable, but a challenge nonetheless.

If they’ve looked at porn, gone too far with a date, or even had sex already, please don’t explode. Look at your daughter or son as a sister or brother in Christ, and help them to get back on the right path. Guide them with love, wisdom, patience, and practical ways to handle the temptations they are facing.

Proverbs 28:13 says, “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” And 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Of course, you may feel desperately hurt and saddened by your teen’s choices, but if God encourages us to confess and grants mercy when we repent, surely we can find a way to be merciful to our children.

Enlist help if you need it. If your teenager confesses something out of your league to handle, such as a porn addiction or sexual abuse, it’s time to get help. It is not a violation of your teen’s trust to do whatever you can to help them when the stakes are so extreme.

Let him/her know that you will be there to love and support them, but that you need to seek professional help. Talk to your pastor, look for Christian-based resource groups that handle these issues, install Covenant Eyes or other software on your child’s computer, seek a qualified counselor and then make sure your teen feels comfortable with the counselor, do whatever you need to address the specific situation your teen is facing.

Sweeping the issue under the rug or saying, “never again,” won’t cut it. You need to take extra steps to protect your teen’s emotional, sexual, and spiritual health.

Keep talking. Make sure your teenager knows this isn’t a one time convo. One conversation isn’t enough. Remember when that gangly teen was a little kid? All the times you had to remind him, “Say thank you,” before he did it on his own? Or the number of times you showed her how to tie her shoe before she finally got it?

So why do we think a biblical approach to sex can be taught to kids in one shot?

Keep talking as opportunities arise: When you see a scantily clad girl in a beer ad on TV. When a single friend or relative turns up pregnant. When a newspaper article reports STD statistics. When your preacher mentions Song of Songs in his sermon. (C’mon, preachers, be bold.)

The point is to look for those “teachable moments” and start a conversation, even with the simple question, “What do you think about that?”

One final tip: We often demand that our kids look us straight in the eye when we’re saying something important and we want to know they’re listening. On this subject, Let. That. Go.

Remember how I said that you don’t want to think about your parents or children having sex? Teenagers will be much more forthcoming about sexuality if they do not have to look you in the eye. Try shoulder-to-shoulder conversations as you sit on the couch, ride together in the car, go fishing, play basketball or a board game, etc.

So what are your tips on talking to teens about sex?

15 thoughts on “How to Talk to a Teen about Sex

    1. MK

      I think he means homosexuality / same sex attractions and how to handle questions and honest answers from your teen who admit or may hint at having such feelings or desires.

      My kids range from 10, 8, 6, and 5.
      We have taught them from an early age what God’s plan is for man and woman and not m/m or w/w.
      They do know that people get together anyway, just like we all have sins. (ie , lying, stealing, etc)

      Lucky me, my kids still think the other sex has cooties. 🙂

    2. J

      Well, this post was more of a HOW than a WHAT to tell your teen. Maybe I should take a stab at my thoughts on what to tell your teen…

    3. Anonymous

      I wouldreally appreciate hearing some Christian sex bloggers share their thoughts on this!

  1. Larry B

    I applaud your essay, J. You did your usual thorough job and covered all the main points.

    Parents need to talk to their children at the appropriate age about sex. It seems that many Christian parents do not do this. Perhaps, they think the sex-ed in the schools does the job for them. However, the sex-ed in the schools is not based on Christian teachings and morals.

    As to tips, I agree, make use of appropriate opportunities or “teachable” moments. What I would suggest is that parents do not blindly follow what may have been the approach of their parents. It is okay for a father to talk with a daughter about sex. So many girls do not get the fatherly care and sympathetic advice from their fathers in the home. A couple could try both being in the first conversation with their teen aged daughter so as to build the necessary trust and confidence for future communication.

    A sex positive message which stresses that sexual love is good (and special) and ought to be saved for marriage is something all teens need to hear. We see that some recent articles say that parents have more influence with their teen children than they (the parents) realize. Peer pressure notwithstanding, by all means, do talk about sex with your teen children. You may help protect them from much emotional and spiritual, not to mention physical, hurt.

  2. Heather Sibert

    I just have one “tip” that comes to mind from my own experience as a teenager….Do not wait until your child is a teenager to discuss the subject of sex. I was in the 5th grade the first time a parent discussed with me about my period…a friend started in 4th grade, and i wish i had understood more at that time. (especially dont wait on this with your girls, because girls are starting their periods at an earlier age than they used to!) The first time i knew what sex was, I was 13 years old…EVERY other person in my grade at school knew, except me! It made me feel horrible to know that I was the only one who didnt know where babies came from. As far as i knew until that point, A mommy and daddy got married, and then eventually when god decided it was time for a baby to be born the doctors would cut the baby out of the mommy’s belly. (I was 13 and in Jr High!!!) At a young age kids dont need to know a lot, but the basic mechanics of sex, and why boys and girls are made different is something a teen should know before the teenage years. (i had younger brothers and sisters, so i knew boys were different, but i just thought it was so you could tell a boy from a girl. i never realized that there was a real reason for the differences)

    Also one more tip that i just thought of, use the real words, especially for body parts! I know someone who was 16 and went to the OB/GYN for a period related issue, and when the doctor asked something about her vagina, she didn’t know what that was! a 16 year old! 🙁

    1. Paul Byerly

      Amen to that. Our recent survey found that 28% of boys see porn before their 11th birthday, and 55% before their 13th birthday. For girls it was 32% before 13th, and 49% before their 15th birthday.

      Looking just a those under 18, 75% of boys had seen porn by age ten!

      This was primarily folks raised in church. “Seeing porn” was defined as a good look at full nudity porn, not just catching a glimpse.

  3. rockhisworld

    All great ideas, I am in the middle of doing this with my second oldest. I am talking to him over a series of times, not just one day. Talking about how a lot of different topics. We have talked about the importance of God’s design for marriage and sex. Next session is the mechanics of sex. My older son and I still have talks about it and we will continue to. I plan on talking with both of them from time to time until the get married, even afterward if they want to talk. I will also talk with my daughter some, when she get’s older, but for now that is my wife’s job mostly, but I am going to teach her what to look for in a man and let her know how a man treats a lady.

  4. Greg

    Great post! I personally think one of the biggest challenges for young people is: “What do I do with this sex drive and knowledge/questions/misconceptions about sexuality while I wait for marriage one day?”

    It’s not an easy question to answer, especially as years can turn into decades, and considering the hostile environment to the truth we live in.

  5. Karen Yocum

    I NEEDED this! My 11yr old is just starting middle school & they did a “life lessons” class last year, that was just supposed to cover physical body changes & hygiene only…and about half the kids sat it out, but it did end up going into reproduction, but he really shows no interest in learning more. But I feel my 9yr old (who’s liked girls & had a “girlfriend” for 3 years-the same girl even) needs to start hearing things sooner, despite the age difference. Thanks for the tips!

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  8. LC

    Wow, maybe my family is crazy I don’t think I ever heard my mom or dad so much as say the word sex growing up. They never told us not to have sex, that was a given. We were taught the bible though and “it is good for a man not to touch a woman” my husband and I were both virgins when we married 🙂

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