A recent study investigated where teenagers get their information on sex and sexual health. Can you guess what the number 1 influence was? It wasn’t friends, and it wasn’t celebrities, and it wasn’t the internet… it was their parents and families.

What’s more, the study showed that parents and guardians greatly underestimate how much their discussions about sexuality impact their teens. Most assumed that the majority of information came from peers.

The upshot is: Teens are listening. So now it’s time to talk. You need to talk to your teen about sex before a friend or a movie gives them information that could be harmful or wildly inaccurate. Here are some tips on having that conversation:

1. Make sure your facts are correct. Your teen’s trust in you is undermined if you tell them something they find out  is untrue. You need to talk about more than facts- like values, experiences, and unanswered questions- but your facts should be spot-on. If you’re not sure about something, look it up!

2. Teenagers have sexual desires, a desire for intimacy, and curiosity about the unknown… just like the rest of us. Acknowledge the fact that it’s normal to think about sex, wonder what it’s like, and to think about how it might or might not fit into a relationship.

3. Teach your teen, regardless of their gender, that they have the right to say “no” to sex- to anyone, at any time. Teach them that it’s completely and utterly unacceptable to ever pressure or force someone to have sex- or to have sex with someone who is drunk or otherwise incapacitated.

4. Do you think your teen needs to abstain from sex? Tell them that, and tell them why. I can’t promise they’ll do what you’re hoping… but they’re more likely to, after a heart-to-heart (which is hopefully the first of many!)

5. Talking to your teen about preventing STDs and unwanted pregnancies  is not “giving them a pass” to have sex, it’s acknowledging that the consequences of sex can be dangerous or even fatal. Even if they end up making a decision you don’t agree with, do you want their future relationships, fertility, and health at risk?

6. Teens need to know that condoms are the only way to prevent STDs if one is sexually active, and that they need to be used for oral, vaginal, or anal sex. Discuss some of the consequences of STDs, and why it’s important for their future that they avoid them.

7. Condoms are the only way for sexually active teens to protect themselves from STDs, but in terms of pregnancy prevention they’re not ideal. Encourage your teen to research birth control methods that can be used in addition to condoms to prevent an unwanted pregnancy- or research them together.

8. Don’t assume that your teen is heterosexual- or, for that matter, that your gay teen will never be attracted to the opposite sex. Many teens have sexual experiences in opposite-sex and same-sex relationships. Discuss protection and sexual safety in all types of relationships.

9. If you’d rather (fill in the unpleasant task here) than talk to your teen about sex, try approaching the topic during a car ride. Many find this easier than a literal face-to-face.  If you’re really nervous, trying “practicing” by talking to your spouse, your friend, the cat… anyone who will listen!

10. This isn’t a one-time talk. We need to talk to teens about sex, safety, relationships, and values, and make it an ongoing dialogue. You don’t have to cover everything at once- there’s a lot to cover!  Make sure they know you’re open for questions. They may surprise you with one during a car ride one day!

There may be questions your kids are too shy to ask you. Here are a few links for accurate, accessible, and teen-friendly information:

Teen Health by Nemours

Palo Alto Medical Foundation

Planned Parenthood

And here are some links for parents who need more help with approaching and discussing the subject:

Mayo Clinic

Web MD

American Academy of Pediatrics

What have your experiences been having “the talk” with your teen? What’s worked well, and what hasn’t? How did your parents tell you about sex, and do you think the conversation(s) helped you make good decisions?