The Conversation

How to Start the Conversation About Sex and Growing Up

Contrary to popular belief, teens want to hear what their parents or guardians have to say about sex, sexuality, and relationships. However, many parents are unsure or afraid of how to approach the subject or start the conversation.

In a 2010 survey, 46 percent of teens said that parents most influenced their decisions about sex. By comparison, just 20 percent said friends most influence their decisions. Six in 10 teens (62%) wished they were able to talk more openly about relationships with their parents [1] .  

Talking to your tee about sex should be an on-going discussion, not a one-time chat. Conversations about sex and sexuality should start early and happen frequently throughout the teen years.

Look for teachable moments to begin conversations about sex. Be open and honest as you discuss information. The more comfortable and open you are, the more receptive your teen will be in return. Remember, teens are receiving messages about sex from their peers, tv shows, music, the internet, and movies. It is important that they also receive messages about sex from their parents or guardians.

1. Albert, B. (2010). With one voice 2010: America’s adults and teens sound off about teen pregnancy. Washington, D.C.: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.  

Door Closers and Openers


Door Closers

Don’t slam the door on “the talk.”  When engaging in conversation with your teen, it is important to avoid comments that shut them out.  Door closers like the ones listed here may express judgment or disinterest, and create barriers to effective communication: 

  • “Where did you HEAR that?” 
  • “Wait until your Dad gets home!” 
  • “Why are you asking me that?” 
  • “You’re not old enough!” 
  • “I’ll tell you when you need to know!” 

Door Openers

Even if you’re nervous about “the talk,” be sure to listen to what your teen is asking and approach the topic in an open and inviting way. The following comments or phrases suggest you want to discuss the subject further:

  • “I’m glad you asked me that question.” 
  • “I do not know, but I can sure find out.” 
  • “Do you want to talk about it?” 
  • “It is okay to feel confused.” 
  • “It is normal to wonder about that.” 

Creative conversation starters

  • What is the difference between dating, going out, and hooking up?
  • How many sexual partners in a lifetime is too many?
  • How many is it OK for your sexual partner to have had?
  • What do people tell you to get you to do what they want?  List at least ten.
  • How old do you think someone needs to be before they have sex?
  • How long do you have to be going out with someone before you have sex?
  • What are your deal breakers?
  • What are your deal makers?
  • What do you need from me to make smart decisions?

Conversation Do's and Don'ts


  • Don't talk about your personal experiences. 
  • Don't say "back in my day..."
  • Don't shut the door to further discussion. 
  • Don't preach. 
  • Don't be shocked or appalled. 


  • Listen. 
  • Ask open-ended questions. 
  • Be honest. 
  • Ask for clarification on terms you don't understand. 
  • Set limits. 
  • Share your values. 


Where to go for more information:

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy

Advocates for Youth

Top 10 Tips for Talking to Your Teen

  1. Encourage communication by reassuring kids that they can talk to you about anything. 
  2. Take advantage of teachable moments. A friend’s pregnancy, news article, or a TV show can help start a conversation.
  3. Listen more than you talk. Think about what you’re being asked. Confirm with your child that what you heard is in fact what he or she meant to ask.
  4. Don’t jump to conclusions. The fact that a teen asks about sex does not mean they are having or thinking about having sex.
  5. Answer questions simply and directly. Give factual, honest, short, and simple answers. 
  6. Respect your child’s views. Share your thoughts and values and help your child express theirs. 
  7. Reassure young people that they are normal—as are their questions and thoughts. 
  8. Teach your children ways to make good decisions about sex and coach them on how to get out of risky situations.
  9. Admit when you don’t know the answer to a question. Suggest the two of you find the answer together on the Internet or in the library.
  10. Discuss that at times your teen may feel more comfortable talking with someone other than you. Together, think of other trusted adults with whom they can talk. 

Source: Advocates for Youth