Forward Thinking: What would you tell teenagers about sex?

I’ts that time of the month again! Head on over to Camels with Hammers to see Dan’s roundup of the posts written in response to his prompt on collective mourning two weeks ago, and with that said, it’s time to turn to our next Forward Thinking prompt.

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about the problems of the purity culture’s elevation of virginity. The evangelicalism I grew up in made abstinence before marriage a critical matter of faith, and did it’s utmost to persuade of scare teens out of having sex. Misinformation was rife. But like many similar blogs, I spend more time talking about how the purity culture “does it wrong” than about what it looks like to be doing it right. And so, without further ado, I give you this month’s Forward Thinking discussion question:

What would you tell teenagers about sex?

I want to invite readers to discuss this question in the comment section and to invite bloggers to respond on their own blogs. At the end of two weeks I will post a round-up of links and excerpts to both blog posts elsewhere and especially insightful comments here. Bloggers should email their links to lovejoyfeminism (at) gmail (dot) com with “Forward Thinking” in the subject line if they want to be included in the round-up.

Happy thinking and discussing!


Forward Thinking: A Values Development Project is an invitation to both readers and fellow bloggers to participate in forming positive values and grappling with thorny questions. Click here to read the project introduction.

Fifty Shades of Disagreement: Evangelicals and Feminists on Fifty Shades of Grey
Male Sexual Entitlement, Again
Do Traditional Gender Roles Lead to Good Sex? No.
"He'll never by the cow when he can get the milk for free"
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Slow Learner

    I would tell a teenager that sex is something that most people enjoy immensely, and that they will probably want to do themselves, but that it does carry risks.
    So all in all, I would approach it quite similarly to alcohol – it is something I hope they enjoy responsibly as they get older, but that it is something to explore carefully with people you can trust…and if they ever get into trouble relating to it, I hope that they can rely on my reaction being to solve the problem first, then do any required lecturing!

    • Amanda

      This is fabulous, and I just wanted to let you know I fully intend on hijacking it for use with my own children. My older son is edging up on 14 and although we’ve had the “sex is great, proceed with caution” talks (in more detail and covering more subject matter), this is exactly the meat of what I’ve been wanting to say but have been struggling to find the words to adequately convey.

  • Marta L.

    Fantastic topic! I have lots of thoughts on this one, and am looking forward to finding a thread of thought to talk about here. Thanks for the inspiration and the structure to explore these important issues.

  • Annie

    I plan to teach my kids that sex is a big deal, and the decision to have sex should not be taken lightly, especially when you are young. I will teach them that birth control works very well if you correctly use a reliable method (or two) and that abortion is also available if somehow an unwanted pregnancy resulted. I will tell them about STI’s and how to prevent them. I will supply them with good books on sex, birth control, and sexuality, including Our Bodies, Ourselves (which I read over and over as a teen). I will talk honestly about my own sexual past and the mistakes I made, if they ask and it is appropriate to do so. I will teach them that there is nothing dirty or shameful or bad about sex or sexuality. I will tell them about where to go to get birth control if they wish to do so on their own, or offer to help them if they want or need help. I will encourage them to be in healthy, loving relationships if they want to be part of a couple.

  • Marta L.

    Btw, I promoted this topic on FaceBook and I ended up giving a teaser on my own position. For the interested:

    This one may cost me my progressive card, because I can be a little prudish when it comes to sex. I think that sexuality is a big decision which teenagers should take seriously and only become intimate some ways into the relationship, once you have an emotional foundation and a certain degree of trust. But I’m also in favor (majorly) of thorough sex education and birth control access, and majorly *not* in favor of the focus on virginity and the hard-divide between sex and everything-but you see in some conservative circles. So I’ll definitely have some things to say on this topic.

  • Lane

    I have a lot of things I would say and I’d like to think I have a pretty developed view of sexual ethics, but I just want to highlight my two rules of thumb for deciding whether to have sex with someone (these aren’t necessarily restricted to teenagers):
    1) Only have sex with someone if you would be ok with them being the parent of your child. Contraception fails, abortions are extremely difficult to obtain in some places, and if shit goes seriously wrong you need to be a-ok with that and you need to have a contingency plan. (I realize that this doesn’t quite work with same-sex relationships or people otherwise unable to reproduce. Humor me here, I know it’s not perfectly airtight.)
    2) Only have sex with someone if you can say, with confidence, that you love them, or at least deeply trust them. This one is kind of personal and I realize many people may disagree. However, this isn’t rooted in some bullshit about how sex is such a ~*~spiritual and magical~*~ union. Rather, I think that sex is an act of profound trust and vulnerability, for both sexes. You are rendering yourself pretty defenseless to that person. When you engage in sex acts with someone, they become capable of doing very deep harm to you on many levels (physical, verbal/emotional, blackmail). So, in my opinion, you should have a deep trust of someone before opening up this possibility. If you’ll excuse the mediocre analogy, you wouldn’t let someone borrow your credit card or your car unless you knew a lot about them and trusted them with such sensitive resources, so why on earth would you apply a lower standard when it comes to *your own body/self*?

    (Disclaimer: I realize that not all teenagers are perfectly rational and sensible about applying these standards, so again, this is not a complete picture of the advice I would give to a teen in particular. There are obviously other things that would need to be said.)

    • Liz

      1) Don’t have sex with someone if you can’t agree on what to do in case of accidental pregnancy. Find out if you can get an abortion in your area; learn about adoption. Talk about the chances of pregnancy with the birth control method you’re using. For example, I made it extremely clear to my pro-choice boyfriend that I wasn’t sure if I would get an abortion if I was pregnant and that he had to be okay with the very small possibility of becoming a father.

      I like Lane’s point but in some areas (like mine) it is definitely possible to get an abortion.

      • Lane

        Yes, I think that’s a better way of describing what I was trying to say, but I sort of glossed over it to emphasize the “crap happens” aspect. I think the point is particularly important for males because, as your situation implies, the man doesn’t ultimately have control over the choice his female partner makes, and he needs to be ok with that. For example, perhaps at one point she says she’d abort, but then if suddenly she finds herself pregnant, she might change her mind. People can be very unpredictable, which ties into my point about trust being important too.

    • PS Laplace

      I realize that this doesn’t quite work with same-sex relationships or people otherwise unable to reproduce. Humor me here, I know it’s not perfectly airtight.)

      I’m happy to humor you :-) However, I do find it troubling that many people’s first thoughts on this matter have to do with potential pregnancies. Awkward and uncomfortable don’t even begin to describe , for example, the (potentially quite dangerous) first sexual experiences of a young gay man whose only “sex ed” has been teaching him how to avoid getting a woman pregnant. Believe me, I know.

      So yes, your point (1) is well-taken, but any sex ed or conversations with teens about sex must explicitly include education about homosexual sex etc. etc.

      • Lane

        Well, I suppose my comment was a bit revealing then. Perhaps my first thoughts have to do with potential pregnancies because I’m a woman, and because I would rather shoot myself in the foot then be pregnant. I wish I was exaggerating. :P

        Your point is well-taken too, though, and certainly an important one.

    • Christine

      Perhaps 1) should be rephrased as make sure you think through potential consequences (dealing with pregnancy – either you need an abortion, to co-parent or to offer for adoptionl; STIs; etc) and be sure that you’re prepared to deal with them.

      • Lane

        Yes, I like that. That’s basically what I was thinking in my head while I wrote that: that you should have a contingency plan that you and your partner agree upon with this sort of thing. You raise an important point, though, that that should also include covering other potential complicating issues like STIs.

  • Jenn

    When they are in their early teens, I’ld give show them the wikipedia pages on human reproductive biology, as well as the pages on reproductive health. And I would especially warn the girls about things like endometriosis and POS, and offer to take them to the doctor if their periods are too painful just in case (thank you catholic sex ed for warning me all about the dangers of the contraceptive pill without warning me about conditions it’s used to treat).

  • AndersH

    I thought a bit about that recently, and wrote two blog posts about it:
    It’s rather idealistic, though. Thinking a bit more about it recently since my nephew is 10. Need to have good answers when they come, and point out idiocy when I notice it. And I figure this situation might occur as well:

  • revsharkie

    Well, what I have told teens when I’ve had occasion is that sex is a very, very intimate act, and it needs to happen within the context of a committed relationship. I try to help them think through the consequences that they might face, including pregnancy, STIs and the just basic emotional upheaval of getting that intimate with someone when there isn’t a trusting, committed relationship. Depending on the young people I’m talking to, I will occasionally tell them to learn from my mistakes so they don’t have to make them for themselves (without going into gory detail that’s none of anybody else’s business). It’s more than just a basic biological function, because humans get all kinds of emotions tangled up with the physical act, and thus there’s a lot that needs to be thought through.

    That said, I have no illusions about the extent to which teens’ brains have developed the ability to think clearly about the consequences of their actions… which means I also encourage the regular and responsible use of birth control.

  • Sophie

    I would teach them that sex is an amazing thing; that it feels great (when you do it right!), that it can help build trust and intimacy with your partner, that it creates a bond with people you are intimate with. But that it is a big thing, particularly psychologically and that you need to be ready and it needs to be with someone who you trust and respect and who trusts and respects you. And I would say that is true for every sexual encounter, not just the first time. I would also make sure they were knowledgeable about the main forms of contraception, plus methods of emergency contraception and abortion. I would talk to them about the risks of STIs and what to do if they think they might have been exposed and what symptoms to look out for. I would also advise them to never have sex with a new partner whilst drunk or under the influence of other drugs, because those substances can impair judgement and you’re more likely to take risks or make mistakes. I would talk about sexuality and how it’s fluid and that wherever they fall on that spectrum is ok. I would also talk about loving and respecting your body, as well as your partner’s. I would also emphasise that there is no right way to have a sex life; whether it’s one night stands, within a relationship or by yourself, it’s all ok as long as you are happy. As is being celibate, there are ways to be intimate with a partner without having sex. I think one of the biggest things I would stress was to always trust your instincts, the only sexual encounter I regret is the one where I didn’t listen to what my instincts were telling me.

    However, I would start talking about sex younger than the teenage years. I would start talking about it as soon as they started asking questions about it. And if they didn’t ask questions, then maybe I’d start those conversations once they were between 5-7. Obviously I would make it age appropriate but it’s my belief that the younger sex education starts, the more confident and knowledgeable a young adult that child will become. It also takes away the taboo and means they are less likely to believe the urban myths. I think I would start teaching them about body image and work up from there. I was lucky to have parents who took that approach, and I didn’t take the risks or make the mistakes that a lot of my friends and contempories did. I was also the person that everyone came to with questions or problems because I was knowledgeable and nonjudgmental. Although that did often mean the person I liked came looking for advice relating to someone else which never stopped hurting. Basically my strategy is start young, be completely non-judgemental and teach them to respect themselves.

    • Sophie

      I forgot consent! This is what happens when I write in the early hours. I would talk about consent as part of the section on loving and respecting your body. That it is never acceptable for someone to pressure you to do something you are uncomfortable with and that it is never acceptable to pressure someone else. With consent, I would encourage them to always wait for a definite yes and for them to give that response when they are consenting, as it helps reduce confusion. I would also tell them that it’s ok to withdraw consent, that if they or their partner are uncomfortable it’s best to stop there rather than do something they may regret later. Withdrawing consent is not being a tease, it is being responsible. And anyone who gives you a hard time for doing so is not worth your time.

  • Uly

    1. Sex isn’t love. Sex is sex, love is love. Lots of people find that sex is better with somebody you love, but they aren’t the same thing.

    Why is this important? Because a lot of teenagers and young adults have this idea that it’s completely wrong to have casual sex. But they really really WANT to have sex, because their bodies are just raring to go. So they convince themselves that they really love the other person, which makes it okay. In extreme cases, people get married. And sometimes they’re in bad relationships because of this idea. Not just abusive relationships (which is the worst case scenario) but relationships with people they aren’t really compatible with, or who have drastically different ideas about how to live, or that just aren’t that great.

    So long as everybody is okay with it, and is taking appropriate safety precautions, casual sex is probably morally fine, though many adolescents probably shouldn’t engage in any form of sex due to their immaturity. But if they’re going to, at least they should know the difference between what they’re doing and what they’re not.

    Corollary: if they’re using “if you loved me…” to pressure you into sex, dump them. You can do better.

    2. Your brain and body don’t always agree. Sometimes your body wants to have sex with somebody your brain doesn’t like. You should probably listen to your brain, but at any rate it’s not wrong or weird or perverse, so don’t go beating yourself up over the fact that you really want to do it with that jerk who sits behind you in bio, even though you hate him. Especially when your young, your body is a lot more singleminded than you are.

    3. One condom good, two condoms bad. Always have your own condoms, even if you don’t intend to have sex. This way, if plans change, you don’t have to run to the drugstore. Not that we want you to run out and have sex, but we REALLY don’t want you to run out, have sex, and get pregnant or sick. If your partner doesn’t want to use a condom, and won’t, don’t have sex with them!

    • Rosie

      I like this. I don’t think casual sex is a bad thing, but I do think it’s important that everyone involved be there for pretty much the same thing/reasons. If your partner clearly wants less or more commitment attached to the act (or thinks it must be inherently so) than you, don’t do it. If you’re unclear about what you or your partner wants out of it, don’t do it. There will most likely be another opportunity later; you have your whole life ahead of you.

  • Meg

    I’ve had a different experience than most of the posters so far – I worked with 18&19 yr olds for a while, but I don’t have kids and don’t envision them in the near future. Since they have had some experience or are pretty aware of what sex is, we’ve talked about the nitty gritty (vulvas all look different, there is no bad vulva, etc) and relationship related things. Some (solicited) advice I’ve given is:

    1) There is no reason for you to be sore. He needs to spend a minimum of 15 minutes on foreplay and lube is your best friend (moisture prevents chafing and condom breaking, plus makes everything feel nice).

    2) It is not your job to act out porn or to only do the things your partner wants to do, especially if you don’t like them or feel uncomfortable. If they insist, google some “how to identify a controlling person” checklists. I’ve seen (and experienced) these relationships dragging on way too long and doing some damage.

    3) Consensual sex is fun, but when someone cares for you, respects you, focuses on and engages with you it’s way better than just fun.

    4) Read “Attached” by Levine and Heller and not Twilight (fyi: it’s Teen Dating Violence Awareness month)

    5) Masturbation is also your best friend. It’s way easier to communicate with a partner when you actually know what works for you. It’s also a super wonderful stress reliever.

    6) Sometimes guys lose erections. They respond to stress or perceived performance pressure or back pain or a position that doesn’t work or internal-dialogue-noise, too. It’s not about you, it’s totally normal, respond affectionately (or casually, or kindly, or whatever your partner needs) and move on. Again. Totally normal.

    7) Don’t fake. You do yourself and your partner no favors. If you can’t have an open and honest dialogue, you’re almost assuredly not ready for sex (or sex with them).

    8) Ask permission. Always get an ok when you’re with someone new and/or doing something new and, even as time goes by and you have a pretty good idea what they like, check in and make sure everything’s good.

    • Meg

      8a) It’s totally ok to not orgasm. Sex does not have to be about climax and can be satisfying without it.

      • Meg

        darnit. 7a). I also apologize if any of that is a little disjointed – yay, fever and sinus headache.

    • Rosa

      This is awesome.

    • luckyducky

      Love these.

  • Lucreza Borgia

    Don’t wait until the teens to talk about sex.

    If someone slut shames former partners, they will likely do the same about you!

    A person who does not take your pleasure into account isn’t worth having sex with.

    Someone who carries condoms is not a slut or man whore.

  • Paul Sunstone

    If I had kids, I would tell them sex can be wonderful, but that, like most things, it must be approached responsibly. I would then go on to inform them of all that is involved in approaching it responsibly. But I wouldn’t stop there. No, I would make sure they knew that sex and relationships have a learning curve, that they are likely to make mistakes, and that mistakes can usually be learned from. Hence, they are not to despair and think the world is coming to an end if and when they do make mistakes. Lastly, I would be sure to teach them how to identify an abusive relationship and how to get out of one.

  • Darrell

    I read a book in my 20′s about sex which I have found to be the most helpful by far. I always recommend it to my friends and family. We have many years before we have teenagers of our own but I intend to use The Guide to Getting It On. It will be required reading. If you are not familiar with it, you may want to check it out. It does an outstanding job of teaching sex in a comical but serious and well-rounded way. It talks very openly about pleasure, myths, partnerships, etc. Website for it is

    I will be rereading that book prior to talking to teens. It even has a section about talking to kids about sex.

    • Rosa

      I have this book, and I’m just really hoping there’s an updated version in about 7 years when I need it.

      The website Scarleteen is an amazing resource, too.

    • Azkyroth

      This is a good resource but as I recall it’s pretty strikingly hetero-centric. Some supplementation might be in order.

      • Josh

        I think the copy I have has a chapter on homosexual and bisexual relationships.

  • Sam Grover

    I have 17 year old boy/girl twins. I’ve always told them that sex is not taboo. I do tell them that they should love (or think they love) the person that’s happening/going to happen with. I’ve told them that they can come to me for birth control options. My son has bought condoms, but don’t know if he’s needed to use one yet. I’ve told my daughter that humor, intelligence, kindness and compassion far outweigh any membrane she ever had as an indicator of ‘worth’. I also tell them that I lived with their father before we married. Funnily enough, I think both my kids are still virgins and my daughter has a puritanical streak (also o.k., if not quite understood). I think she’s rebelling :)

  • Rae

    I’d first and foremost point out that a person is likely to treat you like they treated their past parters – if a guy breaks up with his girlfriend to be with you, they’re probably not going to hesitate to break up with you when someone newer and more interesting comes along. If someone says “all my exes are crazy”, you’re going to be the crazy ex, too (and they probably drove all of their exes crazy). If they got someone else pregnant, they might get you pregnant. And so on.

    Another thing, I’d say, is teaching them to that sex and romance, and attraction and arousal, are different things. That your head and heart and body can be saying entirely different things all at the same time, either with regards to specific people, or entire genders, or various types of relationships, and that’s all normal and OK. And you can take as long as you want to sort through the conflicting feelings, or you can decide not to label yourself and do (or not do) whatever you think is right on a case-by-case basis.

    Finally, and most importantly, the concept of enthusiastic consent, and the idea that if they’ve got doubts about whether their partner is consenting, to just not participate in sexual activity. And to speak up and say something if they see someone doing something to a person who can’t consent.

  • Lassou

    I think the most important thing in teaching teenagers about sex is honesty and personal ownership. First, as a person raised in a cultural context 20-30 years behind their child’s, a parent’s personal feelings and biases towards sex probably involve a lot of baggage that’s unrelated to current norms, things that feel true to the parent but might be completely invalid for their child. But STD’s don’t go away, and pregnancy is always a possibility, and hormones have skewed teenagers dealing with friends and romantic partners alike for forever, and intimacy always runs the risk of ending in pain. There are risks like with most things in life, but it’s fun, and there’s a lot to learn, and your attitude at the outset probably has a lot to do with the long-term emotional consequences…but really know what you could be getting yourself into before you make your decisions.
    And then ownership. A teen’s sexuality is theirs. It is *theirs*. How much you do or don’t want to have, or maybe if you don’t want to have it at all, is up to you. How much they do or don’t want to have, or maybe if they don’t want to have it at all, should be up to them. Superimposing yourself onto someone else’s sexuality wouldn’t be received well in any other context, but in parent-child relationships it’s seen as fine. Expected. I don’t think kids need unnecessary complexes about sex, and I think they’re probably less likely to have them if they feel completely in control of and responsible for their choices.

    • luckyducky

      Though I have a while before dealing with teens of my own (we’ve covered the basic biology but that isn’t what this is about), I’ve been thinking about this.

      I have a hard time thinking of teens being genuinely ready/healthy about sex. I know not everyone who has sex as a teen is hurt, etc. but I waited in part because of all of the social intrigue in a small high school (you can hardly help but date a friend’s ex with that small of a dating pool) and in larger part because my potential partners were jerks. I would have been a conquest and I didn’t like that feeling or all the anticipated social consequences (I am sure some of that was overblown in my mind). Anyway, I have a hard time imagining teen boys in particular (socialization not inherently based on sex or gender) being “good” partners, which is totally not fair because I knew my husband as a teenage boy and he wasn’t a jerk. Not sure he would have been ready because we (I?) assiduously kept our relationship platonic through high school and into college.

      That being said, I don’t want to pigeon hole my kids with my experience of teens (teen boys in particular) not being emotionally mature enough but I have a hard time giving it up. I hope that outside of a hermetically sealed Friday Night Lights kind of community, my kids and their peers are not so captive to that warped patriarchal, purity culture that they may have a healthy understanding of sex and be emotionally mature enough both to wait for a partner who is similarly prepared and navigate a healthy sexual relationship with them.

  • Lizzy

    I hope that what I have to say to them as teenagers is simply a continuation of their education because I have been talking to them about sexuality and their bodies all along. On that note, I would hope that they already had the biology of it mostly down. I would focus more on relationships, what is healthy and ok and what isn’t. How do respectful partners treat one another, how do you communicate openly with someone about your wants and needs? I would tell them that sex can be lots of things to lots of people and that my personal views may not hold true for them. I believe that it is best to wait until you find a partner that you care for and trust, and that at the very least you need to be able to honestly discuss safety. I think that sex carries with it a lot of emotions that they should be prepared for, but also know that because they will have grown up without the shame that I did, they may not have such complicated emotions about the whole thing. I want them to know that no matter what, they can talk to me. If they need to see a doctor, there will be no questions asked because their health and safety are what matter. I hope that my (future) children have good sex lives with people they trust and that they avoid disease, unwanted pregnancy, and emotional pain.

  • Truthspew

    I believe in grade appropriate sex education. In 3rd or so proper names for the genital anatomy would be good for a start, and also some information on unwanted touches, etc.

    At the 5th and 6th grade levels, talks on the changes puberty brings, sexual congress, safe sex utilizing contraceptives, birth control measures etc.

    The message would be hammered home in 9th, and 11th grades too.

    • Uly

      Why in third grade? As soon as they’re potty training they need words for those, so why not give them the correct words then?

      • Christine

        The problem with relying on parents to give the correct names is that a lot of parents don’t know the proper names for their body parts. In a Facebook moms’ group that I was part of, one woman posted that her daughter was complaining that “her ‘cookie’ hurt when [they] wipe her vagina”. (I may have posted a response that carefully used proper terminology).

        Personally, however, I feel that potty training is too late to start teaching them the names for their body parts. I’m fine with third grade for learning full anatomy, and proper names for the other sex, but you teach newborns what their body parts are called, you don’t wait until they’re 18 months old. Part of keeping young children safe is to teach them proper names for parts of their body, and to not make them taboo. It’s good to teach them that those are their private parts, but that doesn’t mean you can’t talk about them with the child. A lot of abusers rely on taboo to not get caught (and then benefit from children not knowing enough anatomy to describe what happened).

  • ecolt

    My boyfriend and I have both had some serious chats lately with his 12-year old daughter, sex being just one of the topics that’s come up. Even though she’s only 12, in her town they go into the high school in 7th grade, so next year she’s going to be dealing with teenagers four or five years older than her. Her mother is a religious nutjob, so we know that the only meaningful discussion she’s ever going to get on things like sex and such are from us.

    Our biggest focus really has been that, whether’s it’s sex or drugs or anything else, we want her to know that her body belongs to her. We’ve stressed that no one should ever make her feel pressured to do anything, and if someone is trying to pressure her into something she’s not comfortable with it’s proof that that person doesn’t really love her. And we’ve talked to her about peer pressure, and that she should never be made to feel like she has to do something just because other people her age are doing it.

    Her dad has talked to her about some of the dirty tricks people sometimes use to get girls to do things they don’t want to. He’s warned her about drinking and drugs, and how not only are they something she shouldn’t be involved with when she’s young, but also that they impair judgement and can lead to bad choices with sex and other things. His family has a history of alcohol abuse, as does is ex-wife’s, so he’s warned his daughter that just because something’s legal doesn’t mean it’s safe.

    We have touched on the safe part of sex with her, telling her that (while her dad hopes she’ll remain a virgin until about age 40) if and when she does start to experiment we want her to be safe and informed. We’ve stressed that a lot of the myths about sex are just myths, so you can get pregnant or get a disease your first time. As she gets older we’ll have the safe sex talk a bit more in-depth.

    I’ve stressed to her a lot that her worth lies in far more than her looks and her body. She has an amazing mind and I want her to value that. I’ve talked to her some about body image and valuing herself, and that if a boy values her only for her body he doesn’t really love her.

    And we’ve told her many, many times that we want her to be able to talk to us and come to us with any questions. Her mom’s solution to any problem is to pray and tell the kids that “God doesn’t like that” so we want them all to know that their dad and I are here for them no matter how awkward or embarrassed they might be. My boyfriend acknowledged that there’s some stuff she’s never going to want to talk to her dad about, but luckily she and I have a pretty good relationship and she knows she can come to me with questions about “girl stuff.”

    And finally, we’ve told her that we’ll be here for her even if she is in trouble. Whether it’s sex or drinking or anything else, we would rather she come to us for help than be too afraid to. While we’re encouraging her to make good choices so she never finds herself in a bad situation, if she ever does she can come to us.

  • Mafrin

    Well, first thing- I’d never have “the talk”. I don’t think a one-off chat to a teen covers it.

    Age appropriate body and sex education is what I believe in, and I started it with my daughter as soon as she could talk. How? By teaching her proper names, instead of cutesy nicknames (I really hate those). I also try to be open and honest (appropriate to her age) whenever she asks me questions.

    The plan is to slowly and consistently build up her knowledge in such a way that she always feels she can talk to me about anything. It’s the exact way my parents raised me, and I fully intend to do the same.

    I also think it’s very important to talk about emotional health, as well as physical health. I plan to talk about healthy relationships, how sex is not like porn, and that masturbating is good for you. (Actually, kinda got a head start on that one- just don’t condemn them as children for “touching themselves”. I told her that there are appropriate times and places, and that it was private, but not “naughty”).

    Well, this is the plan at least :-)

    • Ellie

      I agree those cutesy nicknames do more harm than good. It makes it seem like those “things” the with cutesy names are something to be giggled at or embarrassed about. Embarrassment is not a healthy thing to link to our bodies or our sexuality.

      Sounds like you have a great strategy and your daughter will be stronger for it.

  • GemmaM

    I, too, would begin long before the teenage years.

    I’d say, don’t be afraid of your sexual feelings as they arise. Feel them and learn about them; get used to them alone before you act on them with another. Becoming sexual always involves risks, both emotional and physical — but the risk doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to do it. Sex is, for many people, an important part of life, and I hope you’ll find your way there if that’s what you want. It’s not my place to tell you when, or with whom to have sex. If you choose to wait longer than most people to get started, you’ll still get there in the end if you want to; I did. So don’t hold yourself back for anyone’s sake but your own — but don’t hurry yourself either. Take your time, whatever your time happens to be.

    People always have the right to say no, to any level of sexual activity. You should aim to never have sex with anyone who doesn’t wholeheartedly want to have sex with you, and you should expect the same level of respect from the people around you in return.

    I’d also give (or give a reference to) the standard information on avoiding pregnancy and STDs.

  • Ellie

    The truth. If you are honest, you show that you trust and respect your child enough to tell them the truth about sex, from the why’s to the how’s and the consequences, when you do this you are giving them ownership of their bodies and that is a powerful thing. If you respect them then they learn to respect themselves and make smart decisions. I don’t think that teaching abstinence only or making them feel like the changes that their bodies go through are linked to something scary and bad helps kids trust or respect themselves. That will only do more harm than good, they will grow up misinformed, scared and be at a higher risk for making poor decisions.

    I’ve seen this first hand in my own life. I was taught at a young age about sex. Nothing was held back, I was also taught my body my decision and don’t let anyone tell me otherwise. My good friend, being raised in a very religious household was not even taught the proper word “vagina”, she was told not to do it because she would then be labeled a slut and was pulled out of sex ed class in HS. By the time she was 17 she had had 3 abortions and was clueless about STDs and even more clueless about being respectful of herself.

    Knowledge is power, and by sharing it we empower our children.

  • OurSally

    Once I was talking to my two, who were young teens at the time. And I said, sex is what makes babies. One said to me, have you and papa ever had sex? And I took a deep breath to tell them all they wanted to know, and the other one interrupted and said, of course they have, twice, there are two of us!

    Actually they seem to have picked it all up in school, but then we live in Germany. I am glad to see the son keeps condoms in his wallet. They don’t seem to have learned the guilt thing.

  • Caitlin

    I would teach them the OWL curriculum:

  • FlightedChemist

    I was raised in a pretty conservative Catholic family, attended all Catholic schools, and I think it goes without saying what MY “sex-ed” consisted of. Don’t have sex. Condoms let diseases through, so they’re useless. Don’t have sex. I didn’t know that there was such a thing as masturbation until half way through high school (it didn’t cross my mind that women could do this until I was in college, and the girls who did those things were sluts…), and I had NO idea that there were OTHER “couple” activities that were possible in lieu of “the deed”. I didn’t even “tongue-kiss” with a guy until I was 21 and the first time I understood what it meant to feel sexually attracted to something, I was 20. I had successfully turned it off.

    I’ve been lucky enough to meet an incredibly patient man who’s helped me through a lot of my fears and insecurities, but I definitely feel like I cheated myself out of a lot of perfectly healthy experiences as a youngster and ended up with a whole mess of complexes about sex and my body as a result.

    I can sum up what I want to tell my future kids in just a few statements.

    1.) I’m going to teach them about masturbation. I’m going to take my daughter to a classy sex store, and we’re going to have an open, honest chat about why I’m entirely in support of this activity. With the shame removed, the act of “Self-love” is a wonderful expression of self respect. It can do wonders for self esteem and body image, and it really helps get teens ready for the day they decide to try things with a partner. It’s incredibly relaxing, it’s healthy, and it doesn’t have to carry with it an air of secrecy and dirtiness. Guilt and shame with masturbation are taught and deeply ingrained, and that’s not right or fair.

    2.) I’m going to tell them about all kinds of sex right away, and why they might be better alternatives to the real thing- at least until they’re sure they’re ready. Vaginal sex takes planning and commitment in my experience, and I don’t think that 17-year-olds are always completely capable of the foresight that I’m glad I had going in at 23. They’re more likely to miss birth control pills, they’re more likely to “forget” to use a condom, and thus, they’re more likely to get into trouble. I think it’s important for them to know that there are other, less risky ways to give and receive pleasure. As someone wise once told me, no one ever got pregnant from a hand job.

    3.) I’m going to be completely honest about my experiences. I want them to understand that whatever their normal is, it’s okay. It took me a long time to get there and part of me thinks I’ll never be quite as uninhibited as someone who wasn’t raised with my background. I want to give my kids tools that I never had, and I definitely think they’ll make better decisions for it.

  • Anna

    I think there’s no subject more conductive to producing hysteria than mentioning teenagers and sex in the same sentence, and I think that’s insane. Adults have sex all the time, adults would be insensed by being told that they should stop having sex because there are some small, manageable risks associated with the activity (adults also drive cars a lot, and cross streets, and use stairs, and take baths and showers, and accept the associated risks without batting an eye), yet they somehow expect teenagers (whose sex drives are usually stronger than adults), to play by an entirely different set of rules (generally aimed simply at preventing as much teenage sex as possible). Teenagers, apparently, should be warned in the strongest possible terms of all the dangers of sex (such as that THE ONLY100% certain way to avoid STIs and pregnancy is sexual abstinence), have their information regarding sexual topics restricted in some way (take your pick: their sexual anatomy and that of the opposite sex, reproductive biology, sexual orientation, sexual relationships of other people/fictional characters, erotica/pornography, etc), and told to wait as long as possible (until marriage, until they find the person they really love, until they are “ready”, fill in the blank). If you are a teenager, it’s actually pretty difficult not to form an impression that the only sex that the adults around you would be happy with you having, ever, is reproductive sex within marriage, and at least not until your mid-twenties.

    Here’s what I think teenagers (all of them, without exception) need to be told about sex.
    a) They need to be given accurate factual information about STIs, their symptoms, if any (mostly so they can recognize them, just in case), and methods of prevention. Also, they need to be given concrete information on how to get STI screenings in their area, in the most practical terms possible: you make an appointment with such-and-such (here’s the number), you go here (take this bus). If possible, help them navigate the system the first time.
    b) They need to be given accurate factual information about pregnancy and contraceptives. They need to be given condoms (yes, all of them, even homosexual females, just in case they are feeling experimental one day). Girls should be taken to a doctor and supplied with hormonal contraceptives — they don’t have to start taking them, but they should have a six-month supply of the pill stashed somewhere where they can control their own access to it at all times. They should be supplied with at least two doses of emergency birth control in the same manner, and instructed in its use.
    Furthermore, adults have sex for a multitude of complex reasons, and even if we are not always comfortable with some of these reasons, that is still the reality. Teenagers need to be explicitly acquainted with these reasons. I’m going to be an idealist here and say that, given that teenagers are basically beginners at sex, and, since I think most people would generally agree that it’s good to make sure that young people who are new to something that is likely to be important to them for the rest of their life, are introduced to it in the most gentle and secure way possible, I would follow up with the following advice to every teenager, no matter their gender and sexual orientation, about how to best go about starting to have sex:
    1) Plan ahead — resist the urge to have sex for the first time (ever, or with a new partner) on the spur of the moment. Think it over and be prepared, that way you will be less likely to be unhappy about your decisions.
    2) Choose wisely — it’s impossible to always make choices that you will not come to regret later, but try, to the best of your ability, to choose partners you trust, respect, and like as people.
    3) Know your mind — there are many conflicting cultural messages about when it is ok to have sex with another person: when you are married, when you are really in love, when you reach a certain age, when all your friends do, etc. Ignore them. The right time to have sex with someone else is when you are sure you really, really want to have sex with that person (and when they feel the same way).

  • Angelia Sparrow

    My list, which has been covered at various times with all my kids, got long.

  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    As most everything has already been covered… I just want to mention I recently started to watch Lacy Green’s yoputube sex+ channel on sexuality, body image issues, … and I think it might be a good resource for some kids of this generation who might find youtube vids more appealing than books =)

  • victoria

    I have three bedrock principles regarding sex as far as my kid is concerned:

    1.) Any sexual activity you choose to participate in needs to be actively desired by both partners. Your partner’s “no” is absolute and so is yours.
    2.) Any sexual activity you choose to participate in needs to be in concert with your values and the values of your partner.
    3.) Any sexual activity you choose to participate in needs to be handled with respect for your physical health (including but not limited to prevention of pregnancy and protection from STDs) and the health of your partner.

    Of course there are lots and lots of specifics that go along with those three — Which sexual activities can cause pregnancy? How can you communicate clearly with a partner? How can you recognize someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart? What should you be doing in terms of sexual health beyond using condoms? How can you tell if something’s wrong? What if you want to change your mind? What if you’re not sure what you believe? Is it wrong to have certain feelings? What if my beliefs and the beliefs of someone I love don’t align? — but I think in the end almost everything that can come up in terms of sexuality can be drilled down to one of those three principles.

    As a purely practical matter I would encourage my daughter to wait until after finishing high school to engage in any activity where pregnancy is a possibility. That’s because the chances of something going wrong are higher (younger teens don’t have access to some of the most reliable forms of birth control and have higher error rates with things like the Pill and condoms; the younger you are the greater the chance there’s a power disparity between you and your partner; you’ve had less time to figure out what’s normal and what’s not for your body) and if something does go wrong the stakes are higher. But just like her adult career and religious beliefs, I recognize it’s not my call, and it’s prudent to make sure she has appropriate information when she’s likely to need it.

  • Christine

    I’m not sure this quite counts, because it’s something I want to discuss in general to deal with drinking, drugs, hooliganism, doing well in school, etc as well as sex. But I want to make sure that I discuss peer pressure, and how it affects our perception of what we want with my kids (BEFORE they’re teenagers). And not just the usual peer pressure talk, but going into details like the studies about people conforming to what they THINK their peers are doing, which is often much more harmful behaviour than what their peers are actually doing, and in doing so they drag the average down. Because frankly, without talks like that, I don’t expect anyone, not just teenagers, to be able to accurately figure out what they actually want.

    Sure, teaching “yes means yes” (and also no means no, because it allows for someone to change their mind) is good, but I don’t want a “yes” coming from “well everyone else is doing it, so obviously I should be ok with this” or “I don’t want to be a little kid, so I’ll say yes” or “I want him/her to think better of me, so I’ll say yes” or anything else. Because as much harm as can be done with the teaching, “no sex until marriage” can be a convenient out to the desire to be just like everyone else. (This obviously doesn’t work if “no sex until marriage” is passed on in rule-based a way that implies that everyone does their best to get around the proscription.)

  • Kathy

    Here’s what I have told (and still reiterate) my 18 yr old daughter and niece. First, I’ve always been honest with them–there’s no hiding that I had sex as a teen, since I was 19 when I had my daughter. Second, I did NOT wait until she was a teen to start talking to her about sex. I always answered her questions honestly, and at her level. (There were things that I felt weren’t age appropriate and told her that we’d talk about it when she was older.) When she did get a little older, I told her that sex changes a relationship and it’s very important that she is very sure before she takes that step. I also tell her that she should not ever let anyone pressure her into doing something she doesn’t want to, and that I will always be here for her.

  • Highlander

    I think I would tell boys and girls some different things and some of the same things. To both I would tell them that sex is something most people enjoy and it was something I hope they enjoy as well, however there are risks and there are ways to mitigate those risks. I would tell them that I would prefer to help them mitigate the risks than help them deal with consequences but if they don’t feel comfortable coming to me, then I would tell them where to find resources where they can go. I would tell them that their partners are people and they should be respected and cared for. I would tell them that delaying sexual activity is something they should do, not because of some moral code, but because it allows them to gain the wisdom and experience to make good choices. I would tell them it’s OK to be confused about their sexuality and gender. I would tell them that their partner should make them feel happy most of the time, and if they don’t then they should speak up, if the behavior doesn’t change they should get out of that relationship. If their partner makes them feel scared, or ashamed or unhappy then they may be in a relationship with someone who loves themselves more than they love you. I would tell them that love and jealousy do not belong together. Love is trust, jealousy is a lack of trust. They cannot be in the same relationship.

    To the boys I would tell them that “No,” does not mean “I need to be convinced”. I would tell them not to be afraid to ask a girl to dance or for a date, but not to be upset if they are told no.

    To the girls I would tell them that their value as a person does not reside between their legs and anyone who tries to make them think it does is not someone they want to be with.

    There are probably other things I would say as well, but they aren’t coming to me right now.

  • Niemand

    1. Sex is fun.
    2. Sex is harder than it looks to get right. There are emotional and physical issues that complicate sex ranging from compatibility to what each of you think that it means to babies and STDs. Make sure you and your partner(s) have the same basic values and assumptions before you get too involved.
    3. Condoms protect against some things. Vaccines against others. But no protection is absolute. And nothing protects against the emotional consequences except talking things through.
    4. Advise specific to women who are attracted to men: Don’t have sex with a “pro-life” man. It doesn’t matter if you’re pro-life, if you would never have an abortion under any circumstances, etc. Don’t do it. A man who will tell you what to do with your uterus will tell you what to do with your vagina. Find a man with the same values as you, but not one who is willing to force his values on you, no matter how much you agree with him.

    • Rae

      I’d give similar advice to “pro-life” men who are attracted to women: If your reaction to your partner getting an abortion would be “she killed my son/daughter”, then either don’t have sex at all, or get a vasectomy and freeze some sperm to play it safe. Those should be acceptable sacrifices in order to save your offspring’s life, right?

    • Niemand

      Oh, another thing. There are some people who don’t like sex much. You probably won’t be one of them, but if you are, don’t worry about it. It’s not something wrong with you, just something different about you. I hope it goes without saying that you may be attracted to men or women or both and none of those is “wrong”.

  • Danielle

    I’d just make them watch every Laci Green video.:)

    My opinion is to start young. Masturbation and consent even before practicalities like condoms and birth control.

  • Giliell

    Put my reply into a blogpost:
    6 ways how sex is like food and one way it totally isn’t:

  • sara maimon

    if i had a daughter I’d tell her not to have sex until she really, really desire it physically.
    Girls don’t need to be taught about love and trust- they’re overinundated with those messages already. They’re often pressured into exchanging sex for love.

  • sara maimon

    if i had a daughter I’d tell her not to have sex until she really, really desire it physically.
    Girls don’t need to be taught about love and trust- they’re overinundated with those messages already. They’re often pressured into exchanging sex for love, confusing sex with love and so forth.

  • Cara

    1. Consent. This basic aspect of sexual ethics is I think the most important thing to teach about sex. Describe what it means to give consent, to get consent, and the gray areas and complexities and some techniques for dealing with them—the general rule is that if you’re unsure about consent, ask, and if you’re still not sure after asking, back off. Discuss consent in the context of sex while intoxicated, with alcohol or anything else. Before anyone protests that consent is simple, it is sometimes but not always, particularly for teenagers who aren’t as experienced at reading nonverbal cues. Everyone should ask before kissing someone, touching certain parts of their body, penetrating them, or doing other sexual things with them, but it’s not possible to ask explicitly about every maybe-sexual touch or implication, especially with how personal and quirky sexuality can be. It’s possible to teach what’s unambiguously wrong, but teaching about smaller mistakes and how to recover from them requires more than saying, “Don’t this,” and “Do that.”

    2. Safety and mechanics. Teenagers need a reasonable grounding in the biology of pregnancy and STDs, to counter persistent myths. This should go beyond statistics, even though they’re necessary to quantify risks, to specific scenarios and sex acts and what they imply for pregnancy and STD transmission. Discuss contraception, emergency contraception, and abortion and STD prevention and treatment. Teach the physiology of human orgasmic response and how it differs based on anatomy and from person to person. In particular, cover vaginal versus clitoral orgasms in a non-judgmental descriptive way, talk about female orgasmic response, and mention things teenagers often worry about like anorgasmia and premature ejaculation. Explain how to perform common sex acts, including anal sex, safely and pleasurably.

    3. Pleasure and problems. Describe how sex can be fun—pleasure, orgasms, emotional and physical intimacy—and how it can go wrong—abuse, cheating, jealousy, manipulation, and heartbreak. Give examples of negotiating sex. Talk about monogamy and polyamory. This isn’t technical knowledge and can’t be taught as such, though it can be informed with information like descriptions of what abusive romantic relationships look like. The goal would be to situate sex in the wider context of relationships and to explain how to find healthy, functional sexual relationships while avoiding unhealthy, dysfunctional ones. I doubt it’s possible to really teach this, but maybe provoking teenagers to think about it and arming them with some ideas of what healthy and unhealthy look like might help.

    4. Diversity and exploration. Explain that some people know what they want and that’s okay, while some people don’t and that’s also okay. Talk openly about the diversity of human sexuality, not in detail but enough to reach the kid thinking silently they’re weird for liking X that liking X is alright and maybe some other people like X, too. Obviously, it’s most important to discuss gender orientation, but it’s almost as important to cover variation in bodies, ranging from how much variation there is in penis size and vagina shape to trans and intersex bodies. Discuss desires that can’t be safely or ethically realized in the real world and why not, while emphasizing the difference between having a desire and acting on it. Point out that everyone has to decide for themselves what they like, what they don’t like, and what to do about that, and that experimentation isn’t necessarily wrong.