Talking about sex and relationships

Being open and honest about sex is an important way of helping your teen have safe and happy sexual relationships when they're ready. Try to stress that sexuality is a healthy part of who we are.

Young people learn about safe sex at school. Relationships education has been compulsory for all pupils receiving primary education and relationships and sex education (RSE) for all pupils receiving secondary education.

It’s good to reinforce how important it is to protect themselves and others from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancies, but it’s also good to talk about the positive things, like being in a loving, consensual relationship.

Here’s some teenage relationship advice for parents and tips on how to talk to your teenager about sex and relationships.

Pick your moment

A good time to have these conversations is while you’re doing something else. It could be when you’re going for a walk, doing the dishes, or cooking tea for example

Little and often

Smaller frequent chats are much better than sitting down for ‘the talk’. Your teen is more likely to take on board what you’re saying if they don’t feel like it's one big lecture. You could use things that come up on programmes or films you watch together, or things happening in the news, to help start a conversation.

Be positive, not confrontational

Focus on why things like consent and respect are so important when it comes to sex and relationships, rather than telling them what not to do. They might feel ashamed or embarrassed about their feelings or actions and will be more likely to talk to you if you keep things positive. They may be defensive about their feelings and experiences, so don’t go into these chats all guns blazing, as this might put them off engaging with you.

Respect their privacy

If they don’t want to talk, give them space. As long as they know you’re there for them they may come to you at their own pace.

Talking to your teen about their sexuality and gender identity

Our sexuality means who we are attracted to. Sexuality and sexual attraction can be quite complex and if your teen has a different sexuality to you, you might be worried about finding common ground. But it’s important to engage with them positively so they know there is nothing wrong or shameful about who they are attracted to.

Gender identity is different to sexuality. It refers to what we feel our gender is inside. We may feel that we are the gender recorded at birth (this is called being cisgender) a different gender, neither or both.

Until they tell you they are, or might be, LGBT, try not to make any assumptions about your teen’s sexuality and gender identity. You can talk about being gay, bisexual, trans or non-binary in a positive way, so they feel comfortable talking to you about it.

Young people who are LGBT+ can find it harder to access information about their rights and how to stay safe, so it’s important to point them in the direction of reliable, trustworthy information, like Brook.

Talking about sex online

For young people today, a huge part of sex and relationships happens online. Their first sexual experience may well be online. This could be anything from sexting, getting or sending nudes, or seeing porn.

As a parent it’s important that you’re aware of what happens online, as well as just having a good understanding of what life is like for young people online. It might feel like a world you don’t understand, but there are lots of resources out there to help parents. The more you understand, the better placed you’ll be to help them have a healthy attitude to sex, online and offline.

Childline has resources on sending nudes and sexting you could look at together. Click here to find out more.

Talking to your teen about sharing nude photos

We may not want to believe it, but sharing nudes is a very common part of growing up for some young people.

Let your teen know that they can always talk to you about this. But you could also explain that if a nude image or video of them is ever shared online, they can use Childline’s Report Remove tool to report it themselves, if they really don’t feel they can tell you about it. The Internet Watch Foundation will then review the content and work to have it removed if it breaks the law.

It’s also important to remember that the possession of indecent images of children under the age of 18 is a criminal offence – you can find out more about sex and the law on the CEOP website.

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