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All children have sexual feelings. These feelings are a normal part of growth and development.
Talking about sex can be awkward, but the earlier you start
the discussion, the better prepared your child will be to make safer decisions
about it. And your child may be better able to deal with peer pressure and media influences as he or she gets older.
If you are unsure of how to begin such a conversation,
use everyday situations as an icebreaker. Use examples on TV or a teen's
pregnancy to start a discussion. You can practice talking about sex with your partner, a friend, or another parent. If you feel that you can't talk to your child about sex, ask your doctor, a trusted aunt or uncle, or a religious leader to do it. If you wait for
others—friends, school staff, or another adult—to address sex, you do your
child a disservice.
Movies, TV, music lyrics, music videos, websites, and more can affect how your child thinks and behaves.footnote 1, footnote 2 Talk to your child about how the media can have an impact on him or her. Be aware that children
have easy access to many websites with sexual or pornographic content. Keep
the computer in a shared area where you can see what your child is doing
they are sexually active or not, children need help to make responsible choices
about sex. Talking about sex does not encourage sexual activity in children.
Some studies show that talking openly and honestly about sex can prevent
teenage pregnancy.footnote 3 Having an open, honest
relationship with your child will largely depend on the quality of the
relationship you have built to this point.
The best time to begin
the discussion about sex is when your child is in elementary school. A good way
to start is to admit that talking about sex may be awkward, but that your child
should not ever be afraid to ask you questions. Discussing sex and sexuality
with your child is not a one-time conversation, though. As he or she grows and
matures, your child naturally has questions about sexuality. The more you can
give guidance, the better prepared your child will be to make responsible
Your local library, church or synagogue, or
organizations such as Planned Parenthood will have information to help you talk
to your kids about sex and family life issues.
As children enter their teen years, they begin to have more
interest in dating, and many become sexually intimate with a partner. Almost
half of adolescents will have had sexual intercourse by 10th grade. And by 12th
grade, a little more than half have had sexual intercourse.footnote 4 Teens face a lot of peer pressure to have sex. So if your teen is not ready to have sex, he or she may feel left out. Help your teen understand that many teens decide to wait to have sex.
Keep talking to your child about healthy relationships and safer sex. Studies show that when parents talk openly about sex, their teens are more responsible in their sexual behaviors.footnote 5
Planned Parenthood and other
groups offer counseling and classes you can take with your child to discuss
sex, dating, and other important issues.
It's important not to make
assumptions about what your child knows or doesn't know about sex. Your child
may know something or nothing about sex. He or she may or may not know what the
terms sexual activity and sexual intercourse mean. Start by explaining these
terms. Make it clear that sex does not just mean vaginal sexual intercourse.
Oral sex is becoming more accepted among children. In general, children do not
think of oral sex as "sex." They think of oral sex as a safe way to enjoy some
of the benefits of vaginal sex with less risk of feeling guilty, getting a bad
reputation, or going against their own values and beliefs.footnote 6 Also, some children don't understand that it is possible to
get a sexually transmitted infection (STI) from having oral sex.footnote 6
Anal sex is another sexual activity that may take place without the child fully
understanding the risks of STIs, such as HIV.
Help your child
understand the risk of STIs and other possible effects from engaging in sexual behaviors. For example, some children may not realize the
emotional aftermath that sometimes results from having sex. Help your child
think about what makes a relationship strong. Talk about what it means to truly
care for another person.
Masturbation is a topic few people feel comfortable talking about. But it is a normal and healthy part of human sexuality. Talk about it in terms of your values.
Two-thirds of all sexually transmitted infections (STIs) occur in people who are younger than age 25. STIs affect both males and females. Consider talking about why teens have a high risk of getting an STI. Talking about condoms and
other forms of contraception is often based on family values and attitudes.
Even so, it's important to make sure your child understands how to avoid
STIs, how pregnancy
occurs, and how to avoid an unwanted pregnancy, be it by abstinence or the use
of condoms and other
birth control methods. For more information about STIs, see the topic Sexually Transmitted Infections.
Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends several strategies to help prevent
unplanned pregnancy. The AAP supports having programs in place that help
children delay becoming sexually active. The AAP also recommends that children
learn about contraceptive methods and be able to get them easily. This includes
emergency contraception methods.footnote 7
Sexual abuse is any type of sexual activity that is done against a person's will. It can be nonviolent abuse (such as being forced to look at sexual pictures), unwanted or forced sexual touching, or violent sexual assault (such as attempted rape or rape.) The attacker may be a stranger, someone you do not know well, a close friend, or a family member.
child information about date rape and abuse is important. About 10 out of 100 adolescents
have been physically hurt by a dating partner.footnote 8
Talk to your child about the
For more information see the topics Sexual Abuse or Assault (Rape) and Domestic Abuse.
A child's interest in
sex and sexuality can range from none to a lot. It's natural and healthy for a
child to explore his or her sexuality as long as his or her behaviors are
balanced with other aspects of life. A child's sexual behaviors vary, based on
his or her age and environment (both in and out of the home). In some cases,
it's clear that sexual behavior is no longer natural and healthy and that a child
needs help from a doctor or counselor.
Talk to your child's doctor
if you are concerned that your child:footnote 9
American Academy of Pediatrics (2009). Policy statement: Impact of music, music lyrics, and music videos on children and youth. Pediatrics, 124(5): 1488–1494.
Hagan JF, et al., eds. (2008). Promoting healthy sexual development and sexuality. In Bright Futures: Guidelines for Health Supervision of Infants, Children, and Adolescents, 3rd ed., pp. 169–176. Elk Grove Village, IL: American Academy of Pediatrics.
Ahern NR, Kiehl EM (2006). Adolescent sexual health and practice: A review of the literature. Implications for healthcare providers, educators, and policy makers. Family and Community Health, 29(4): 299–313.
Sass A, et al. (2014). Adolescence. In WW Hay Jr et al., eds., Current Diagnosis and Treatment: Pediatrics, 22nd ed., pp. 117–157. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Jellinek M, et al. (2002). Talking to your teen about sex and sexuality. In Bright Futures in Practice: Mental Health, vol. 2, tool kit, pp. 127–131. Arlington, VA: National Center for Education in Maternal and Child Health.
Halpern-Felsher BL, et al. (2005). Oral versus vaginal sex among adolescents: Perceptions, attitudes, and behavior. Pediatrics, 115(4): 845–851.
American Academy of Pediatrics (2005). Policy statement: Emergency contraception. Pediatrics, 116(4): 1026–1035.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2012). Understanding teen dating violence fact sheet. Available online: http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/TeenDatingViolence2012-a.pdf.
Cavanagh Johnson T (2007). Understanding Children's Sexual Behaviors: What's Natural and Healthy. San Diego: Institute on Violence, Abuse and Trauma.
Other Works Consulted
American Academy of Pediatrics (2001, reaffirmed 2005). Sexuality education for children and adolescents. Pediatrics, 108(2): 498–502.
Anderson MM, Neinstein LS (2008). Adolescent sexuality. In LS Neinstein et al., eds., Adolescent Health Care, 5th ed., pp. 533–553. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Brown JD, Strasburger VC (2007). From Calvin Klein to Paris Hilton and MySpace: Adolescents, sex, and the media. Adolescent Medicine: State of the Art Reviews, 18(3): 484–507.
Cromer B, et al. (2011). Adolescent development. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., pp. 649–659. Philadelphia: Saunders.
Hillman JB, Spigarelli MG (2009). Sexuality: Its development and direction. In WB Carey et al., eds., Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics, 4th ed., pp. 415–425. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
Kellogg ND, Committee on Child Abuse and Neglect (2009). Clinical report: The evaluation of sexual behaviors in children, Pediatrics 124(3): 992–998.
Maehr J, Felice ME (2006). Fifteen to seventeen years: Mid-adolescence—Redefining self. In SD Dixon, MT Stein, eds., Encounters With Children, 4th ed., pp. 565–598. Philadelphia: Mosby Elsevier.
Oringanje C, et al. (2009). Interventions for preventing unintended pregnancies among adolescents. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (4).
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerSusan C. Kim, MD - PediatricsJohn Pope, MD - PediatricsSpecialist Medical ReviewerLouis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics
Current as ofAugust 21, 2015
Current as of:
August 21, 2015
Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics & John Pope, MD - Pediatrics & Louis Pellegrino, MD - Developmental Pediatrics
To learn more about Healthwise, visit Healthwise.org.
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