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What Is “The Talk?”
Some call it the tale of the “birds and the bees;” others call it “the talk.” Regardless of the name, it is almost always associated with feelings of awkwardness, anxiety, and uneasiness. “The talk” consists of a discussion between parents and their child(ren) about sex and sexuality. Many young people are so uncomfortable with the idea of asking their parents for advice on sexual topics that they turn to other sources for this information such as their peers, television shows, or pornography. Although these methods of learning may feel less awkward, they often offer sensationalized or inaccurate information and can leave one feeling more confused. Having an open and honest conversation with your parents about sex can be much more beneficial because they are experienced adults who have your safety and well-being in mind. They can be great resources for a variety of topics such as safe sex, birth control, and how to know when you are ready to become sexually intimate with a partner. However, we understand that not all parents are willing and open to discussing such topics with their children. Additionally, parents may not know the answer to every question. Nonetheless, having an open dialogue about sexual health and relationships can be helpful and can bring both parent and child closer together. This article provides resources and strategies for starting an ongoing dialogue about sex with your parents that is helpful rather than uncomfortable.
What to Talk About and When
Many people imagine “the talk” as a single conversation during which parents awkwardly attempt to answer the question “how are babies made?”. In reality, sexuality is complicated and involves many more factors than can be discussed in one sitting. Many parents are just as nervous about having “the talk,” as their kids. Therefore, you may want to take it into your own hands to start a dialogue. This section contains a list of possible topics to discuss with your parents, and suggestions for how and when to start these conversations.
- Puberty: From early adolescence to early adulthood, the human body goes through a series of changes that mark the transition into sexual maturity and adulthood. Some of these changes include the onset of the menstrual cycle and the development of breasts in females, and the growth of the penis and testicles in males. The onset of puberty varies from person to person. Puberty can be a confusing time for young people since their bodies are going through changes they do not recognize. Parents can be helpful in explaining these bodily changes and providing supplies, such as menstrual products. Parents can also provide books made for teenagers that explain puberty.
- When to start dating and sexual activity:1 All parents have different values regarding the appropriate time for their children to start dating or become sexually intimate with a partner. Some teenagers may find it frustrating, but your parents do have a say in these matters and it can be helpful to have a conversation to determine what their guidelines are before you start pursuing a romantic or sexual relationship. This can be a time to learn about your parents’ values and experiences, talk about the age of consent in your state or country, or to negotiate with them if you wish to start a relationship but worry that they may not allow it.
- Different sexual orientations:2 Mainstream media is saturated with images and depictions of heterosexual couples, which can be confusing for young people who are beginning to learn about other identities or may be questioning their own sexuality. All parents will have different views and opinions on LGBTQ+ issues, and it can be worthwhile to ask them questions. If you are questioning your sexuality, you can read our “Overview of Sexual Orientations” and “Process of Coming Out” articles for more information. These articles can also be great resources if you are simply seeking more information on the LGBTQ+ community.
- How to have safe sex: If you decide you want to become sexually active, it is crucial to learn how to do so in a safe and responsible way. This involves protecting yourself from sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and proper use of contraception if you do not wish to become pregnant. Many teenagers rely on their friends for this information, but parents are often a more reliable resource because they likely have years of experience as opposed to peers who are also at the beginning of their sexual journeys. Additionally, your parents can provide you with information on your family’s medical coverage and your options for obtaining contraceptives and STI testing. They can even go with you to the doctor’s office to get tested for STIs, get birth control, or get the HPV vaccine.
- Cultural, religious, and family values:1 Everyone has different ideas about the ethics and values surrounding sexuality. These ideas are heavily influenced by factors like your culture and religion, where you live, and your family. Talking to your parents about these values can be a good way to start a conversation about sexuality, and to learn about their expectations for you in the future.
At the end of the day, it is all about having a healthy and forward-moving conversation. Start off with a topic you feel most comfortable with and the conversation will organically grow on from there.
How to Start the Conversation
Even if you are comfortable talking to your parents about sex and know what you want to talk about, it can be difficult to break the ice and get the conversation started in the first place. The following are a few suggestions to help you start the conversation:
- You may want to think of a rough plan of what you want to say beforehand so you can feel more confident entering the conversation. You could even write some notes or questions down and refer to them as you go.2
- You can choose a movie or TV show to watch together that you know will spark the conversation. For instance, “Sex Education” or “Big Mouth” are good options if you want to start a dialogue about puberty or sex.2
- You can talk about different couples at school and then go on to ask what age your parents started dating.
- If you have one, you can mention something that your sex education teacher talked about and tell your parent that you have a question you would rather ask them.1
- It may be helpful to mention that you feel a little uncomfortable, but, you would like to have an honest and mature conversation.
- Use our website as a way to move into the conversation. It might be helpful to send your parents a link that you found interesting or discuss an article with them.
These are just a few suggestions for initiating a conversation, but you should use whichever way feels most comfortable to you. Feel free to come up with your own ideas, or use a combination of our suggestions.
Listen to Each Other
You may not always agree with your parents, however, no matter your relationship with them, it can be greatly beneficial to listen to their input during this type of conversation. Be respectful and do not be afraid to ask questions. Their knowledge and opinions can be incredibly useful and full of valuable information. Additionally, there is a direct positive correlation in a young person’s sex and romantic life with how open the dialogue is with their parent.5 Parents can be a great source of knowledge when it comes to understanding what a healthy relationship looks like and what to expect whether it be puberty, arousal, or orientation. These will put you on the right path to being more educated and confident. In order to have a proper conversation, you have to be willing to be open and attentive and not attack their responses. If there is something that your parents say that you disagree with, let them know your thoughts on this issue, but do so in a respectful manner. Try not to get angry. Having a difference of opinion is okay and may help remind your parents that you are maturing into an adult.
Do Your Own Research
Many kids think that their parents know everything. However, parents are only human and can hold false and even dangerous beliefs. Along with talking to your parents, it is important to do your own research about the topics that you discuss. Always remember that even though your parents may give you valuable insight into important topics, your body is your body. Ultimately, you decide what you want to do with it.
What if I Can’t Talk to My Parents?
In some cases, parents are not open to talking to their children about sex or sexuality. There can be many reasons for this. Some parents may have been raised in a home where sex was a taboo topic and they never had “the talk” with their own parents. If so, they might believe it is unnecessary to have this talk with their children. Other parents may have strong traditional or religious views that are accompanied by the expectation that their children abstain from sex until marriage. Some parents have a hard time accepting the thought of their child being sexually active and would rather avoid this topic altogether. Furthermore, some cultures around the world discourage sex before marriage or open conversations about sexuality. If you live in one of these areas, attempting a discussion about sex may make your parents uncomfortable or even upset. Whatever the reason may be, it is important to recognize cues that indicate whether your parents would be open to having this talk with you before initiating such a conversation.
For example, if your parents have consistently told you that you are forbidden from watching kissing and sex scenes during movies because they are filthy and set a bad example for you, it would not be unreasonable to assume that your parents have a strict attitude towards discussing sexual topics with you. If you feel that bringing up a discussion about sex will upset your parents, lead to punishment, or create conflicts within your household, it may be wiser not to initiate “the talk” with them and instead seek information from another source, such as books or reliable sex education websites such as our own.
Another option is to talk to a trusted adult, such as an older sibling, family friend, or guidance counselor, who is willing to provide you with information while keeping the conversation discreet from your parents. Make sure that this person is trustworthy and has sufficient education in the topic you are consulting them about. For example, an older sibling may be best suited to give advice about dating and relationships, while a school nurse or doctor would be better equipped to provide information on contraception and STI prevention.
If you live in the United States, Planned Parenthood is another excellent resource for anything to do with sexuality. This organization has health centers around the country that can provide accurate information and services such as STI testing, birth control, and emergency contraception. If you are not located near one of these health centers, there is a chat feature on their website where you can talk to a health expert and get your questions answered.4
Finally, the Sexperts team at SexInfo Online would love to provide support and answer any questions you have! Our website offers an abundance of information on topics related to sexual health, love, and relationships. Do not hesitate to reach out to us if you are struggling to find answers to any questions or relevant concerns. We want to make sure that any questions you have about sex-related topics are answered, especially if you find that all your other resources are lacking. To submit a question or concern, please visit our question forum here: Ask the Sexperts or read our FAQ page.
Although it may seem daunting, having “the talk” with your parents about sex can strengthen your bond with them and allow you to begin your sex life free of fear or confusion. Having conversations with trusted adults will help you make safer decisions and be more comfortable with sexual intimacy. In fact, teenagers who talk to their parents about sex are statistically more likely to have safe sex and less likely to get pregnant.1 It may be tempting to turn to peers or pornography when you have questions, but these sources are likely to provide you with inaccurate or unclear information. Next time you have a question, try asking your parents for help. They are experienced adults who care for you and want you to be safe in all aspects of your life, including sexuality.
- “Talking to Your Parents.” American Sexual Health Association. August 2013.
- “Talking to your parents about sex.” girlshealth.gov. Office of Women’s Health. May 2015.
- Parenthood, Planned. “Should I Talk to My Parents About Sex?” Planned Parenthood.
- Parenthood, Planned. “Online Chat.” Planned Parenthood. Last Updated: 30 January 2018.
- Dalenberg, Wieke G., et al. “Young People’s Everyday Romance and Sexual Experiences in Relation to Sex-Related Conversations with Parents: A Diary Study in the Netherlands.” Sex Education, vol. 16, no. 6, Nov. 2016.
Last updated: January 21, 2020