On adolescent sexuality
Sexuality is part of who your child is and who they will become, and it develops and changes throughout their life. Being comfortable with their sexuality and sexual identity is essential for healthy development.
Sexuality is not just about sex. It’s also about how your child:
- He feels about his developing body.
- Make healthy decisions and choices about their own bodies.
- Understands and expresses feelings of intimacy, attraction, and affection for others.
- Develops and maintains respectful relationships.
Your child’s beliefs and expectations about sex and sexuality are influenced by their personal experiences, upbringing and cultural background.
You are the most important role model for your child. You can help by modeling and reinforcing values and beliefs about safety, responsibility, honest communication, and respect in relationships, especially by example.
Understanding adolescent sexual behavior, sexual attraction, sexual identity and gender identity
Most teens will experiment with sexual behavior at some point – it’s a normal, natural, and powerful impulse in these years. But not all teen relationships involve sex.
Teens are also maturing emotionally and socially. They may want romantic intimacy and ways to express love and affection. And they may also be curious about and want to explore adult behavior.
Some teens are sexually attracted to people of the opposite sex, some are attracted to people of the same sex, and some are bisexual. Some teens may not express any sexual interest.
Sexual attraction and sexual identity are not the same thing. Young people who are attracted to the same sex may or may not identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. They may identify as heterosexual or pansexual.
Sexual attraction is also different from gender identity, which is a person’s sense of who they are: male, female, both, or neither. Gender identity may or may not be reflected in a young person’s sexual orientation and choices of romantic or sexual partners.
Your child's sexuality may be different from yours or your expectations. Your acceptance is a key to healthy development and a good relationship with your child.
Promoting open communication about adolescent sexuality
Your child will learn about sexuality at school, talk about it with friends, and get information from the Internet and social media. But young people rely on the information they get from their parents.
Talking about sex and sexuality with your child will help them sort through the many messages they receive from other sources about sexuality. This will also help your child make positive, safe, informed decisions now and in the future.
These conversations may not feel comfortable at first, but you can make them easier:
- Taking everyday opportunities to talk about sexuality, for example, when you’re watching something on TV together.
- Letting your child know that you’re interested in seeing things from their perspective, for example, by asking them what they think about sexual identity.
- Being willing to talk about problems or concerns when your child brings them up, and reassuring them that they don’t need to feel embarrassed.
- Being honest if you don’t know the answer to a question; you can suggest looking for the answer together.
- Asking your child what he or she already knows, and then adding new information and clarifying any misconceptions.
- Using active listening skills.
It is normal for you and your child to feel uncomfortable talking about sex and sexuality.
Talking to your child about sexuality
Here are some ideas and strategies to make it easier to talk about sexuality with your child.
Start conversations early
There is no perfect time to start talking about sexuality, but conversations from an early age can help your child understand that sex and sexuality are a normal and healthy part of life. Early conversations can make later conversations easier.
Your child may ask you all kinds of questions, so it’s a good idea to check if you understand puberty, menstruation, contraception, wet dreams, masturbation, etc…Your child may ask you all kinds of questions, so it’s a good idea to check if you understand puberty, menstruation, contraception, wet dreams, masturbation, etc…
It can also be helpful to think about your values and beliefs beforehand to be clear and consistent with your child. For example, if your child is confused about their feelings about someone and asks you about same-sex attraction, responding positively and non-judgmentally is a good first step. Therefore, it’s a good idea to sort out your own feelings on this topic beforehand.
Talk about the really important things
There are some things that are really important for all young people to understand:
- Consent is essential to healthy, respectful and safe sexual experiences. Help your child know that getting and giving consent can be an engaging and enjoyable part of their sexual experiences. Ongoing communication is key to this.
- Safer sex” means protecting against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Your child can do this by using condoms if he or she is sexually active.
- If your child is sexually active, it’s important to get tested for chlamydia – this disease usually has no symptoms and is very common in young men and women.
- Your child can get advice about sexuality and sexual health from a number of places, including their family doctor. But remind them that they can always ask you any questions they want about it.
Choose your words wisely
It is important that the language and terminology is appropriate for your child.
Read your child’s cues
Watch for signs that it’s not the right time for a “big talk,” such as when your child is busy, tired, or distracted. You can always try again later.
It's a good idea to make ground rules clear to your child from the start - they'll understand your values and behavioral expectations. For example, one rule might be that your child treats others with respect and always checks for consent before and during sexual activity. But on other, less important issues, you can choose to negotiate with your child and set boundaries together, so they feel involved and heard.
Youth with additional needs
Talking about sex and sexuality is also important for children with additional needs.
Your child needs information that is relevant to them in a way that they can understand. When talking to your child with additional needs about sexuality, take your child’s needs into account:
- Decision-making capacity.
- The ability to think about the consequences of actions.
- Knowledge of boundaries, intimacy and intimate relationships, which will help you fill in the gaps and clarify misunderstandings.
- Understanding the risks associated with some behaviors.
Autistic teens develop sexually in the same way as other teens, but they may need extra help developing the social skills and understanding that go along with sexual development.