Tips to Help Parents Answer Sex-related questions from Tweens & Teens

The one conclusion research presents that all parents need to understand: TALKING ABOUT SEX DOES NOT CAUSE A CHILD/TEEN TO HAVE SEX.  It is actually the opposite.  The more we speak openly to our children about sex, the less promiscuity and acting out from the kids.  So the answer is to talk, talk, talk about sex BUT in an age appropriate way.  To soothe your fear and discomfort with the topic of sex remember that we develop sexually from the moment we are born, and in this manner it should be approached like when you taught them to walk, eat, go to school, and bathe. Here are healthy sexual development markers:

Kinder-4th grade:

  • ·         Shows others their genitals.
  • ·         Interested in urination and defecation.
  • ·         Thinks others genital are “gross” or that they have “cooties.”
  • ·         Talks about sex with friends.
  • ·         Likes to hear and use “dirty” words.
  • ·         Compares genitals with peer-aged friends.
  • ·         Erections.
  • ·         Menstruation as early as 9 years old. (Best practice is to talk to them about   menstruation before it happens.)

Middle-school- adolescence

  •   The body matures faster than the emotional and intellectual abilities causing confusion.
  • Secondary sex traits like breasts and pubic hair begin in girls between 7 and 14 years of age and in boys between 9 and 17 years of age.
  • Males begin masturbating between 13 and 15 years of age.
  • The onset of masturbation for females is gradual.
  • The median age of first intercourse for boys is 16.9 and girls is 17.4.
  • At least one third of young women become pregnant at least once before they reach the age of 20.
  • About 73% of teens think sex is ok between consenting unmarried adults.
  • 2-10 % of the population realize their homosexuality in their teenage years. Due to negative societal attitudes about LGBTQ community, most gay, lesbian and bi-sexual teens suffer a great deal of emotional pain.
  • The most significant predictor of sexual intercourse between teenagers is alcohol and drug use, the presence of a boyfriend or girlfriend and poor parental monitoring.

To answer the question of what to say and how to say it, here is a handy list:

For tweens 8-11 years old:

  1. Arm your children with knowledge and self-confidence as it pertains to sex. Studies show that this will inform their decisions and direct their sexual destinies.  This age group needs to understand the biology of sex; yes, you have to talk about vagina, penis, and intercourse, as well as the future changes in their body as it pertains to puberty.
  2. Speak openly about your values and your expectations as it pertains to sex.  
  3. Continue to build their self-esteem. Due to the increase in conflict during the tween years it can be difficult to remember to continue to build up your child for all of their skills, kindness, and appearance.
  4. The cellphone is now part of the discussion when it comes to sex and safety.  It is recommended to not give a phone with data capability until a child is over 13 or is mature enough to not impulsively use the data plan.

For Teens 12-18 years old:
Continue to address what you did in the Tween years as well as what follows.

  1.  Inquire and be open to dialogue about their values and expectations as it pertains to sex for them and how they see it play out in their social group (this is a time to listen, not time to lecture).
  2. Use media and subculture to take the opportunity to tackle conversations about sex.  It’s difficult for adolescents to discriminate between what they think they should do and what they are actually comfortable doing when they are influenced by subculture.
  3. Speak honestly with children about partying.
  4.  Be “the house.”  Peers are the strongest influence on the values, attitudes and behaviors of adolescents.  
  5. Speak to them about their cellphone and how to use it. Speak about the temptation of posting or sharing racy/naked pictures.  This is the new form of flirting with the boy/girl you like.  It calls for a discussion not a “don’t do it.”  Wonder with them about the temptation and pressure to do it.  The male conversation is to not ask for the picture.  Wonder with them why they would want it and what it means about respecting someone they care about.
  6. Sexual assault primarily happens under the age of 18.  Talk about safety, consent and stepping in when they see that a peer is being inappropriate with someone.  This is a very important discussion to have with boys.
  7. Explain and speak about consent.  Role play.  A great site to visit for ideas is

This is a difficult topic but an important one.  Please speak to your children about sexual development, sex, and how to be in relationship.  They are listening.  They are wondering about it.  It is best for them to get the most information from you.

Originally published as part of the Ask Lina Series on Los Tweens + Teens.