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Real Conversations About Relationships and Sex

Family talking in car

Just thinking about talking with your kids about sex and sexuality might make you uncomfortable. Don’t worry. You're not alone. Here, real parents share their sometimes awkward -- and sometimes funny -- experiences.

TMI: Learning to Always Clarify the Question
Tallahassee, FL

Out of the blue in the car one day, my 12-year old in the back seat said, “Mom, where do I come from?” Thank goodness it was not face to face and we were stopped at a light. I launched into this very detailed talk about eggs and sperm and the uterus when he said, “No, Mom…I mean what city I was born in.” It taught me a lesson: always ask, “Can you tell me more about what you need to know,” before I jump into sex ed 101.

Reality Check: Using Media to Start a Conversation
Rochester, NY

My 13-year-old daughter came home with a magazine that had photos and articles about all these teen moms who are now on reality shows. I saw it in the side of her backpack and when I asked her about it, she said that a friend had loaned it to her. It gave me the perfect opportunity as we were getting dinner ready to talk with her about what she thought about teens who get pregnant. She said that she thought it “was dumb.” I asked her why it was dumb and she replied that you couldn’t be on the swim team if you were pregnant, and I thought this was the perfect time to tell her again that I hoped it didn’t happen to her, that she had so many other things to do as a teenager. But if she ever felt close enough to someone to consider having sex when she was older, she could come to me and we would make sure she had birth control. Surprisingly, that led into questions from her about birth control causing cancer, so I went on the Internet and found research that proved that wasn’t true and we talked about it together. I was really pleased with myself and it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be to talk about it.

To learn more about the side effects of different birth control methods, check out this Birth Control Fact Sheet from HHS's Office on Women's Health.

It Takes a Village: Banding Together To Facilitate Open Dialogue
Fayetteville, GA

Even though we’ve been open and honest about sex with our two young teenagers and told them they can come to us with questions at any time…they never seemed to want to ask questions. They kept saying they had sex ed in school and already knew everything. I talked to our minister about it and he said the congregation was offering a 12-week sex and relationships education course for youth and would I like him to talk with them and see if they would like to participate. They agreed reluctantly but at the parent night before the course started, there were about 20 sets of parents there with their teens, and I think it gave them a much better feeling about being involved. It was the best thing I did because they didn’t just talk about the biology and the facts, they really encouraged discussions about decision making and relationships and I felt like my kids were getting so much more than they were willing to talk to me about or they got at school. And… they had homework assignments that we completed together that really did open up conversations for all of us. Their older brother who was 16 learned a lot from them as well.

Classified Information: Mastering Teachable Moments
Cincinnati, OH

There have recently been a lot of ads on TV about birth control methods, and MTV has been running a number of ads and shows about HIV prevention and using condoms. I was really embarrassed when they came on and didn’t know how to react with my teenager in the room. I talked to my sister, and she had been to a parenting class where these were described as “teachable moments,” and that I should use them to ask my son about what he thought about sex, birth control, and HIV. The first time after an IUD ad came on, I spoke up and asked if he had ever had discussions in school about birth control and condoms. He said yes, all the methods of birth control had been talked about by the school nurse in a class and he learned a lot about condoms. He then asked me if I had used condoms. Wow!!! I was a little shocked at the question, but replied that I hoped that if he decided to have sex that I wanted him to always use condoms, and told him I wanted him to understand how important it was to protect himself and his partner from HIV, and that I respected his right to make his own decisions privately as I had done. I also told him that I hoped we could always talk about things like this because I didn’t have a dad to talk to. I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my sex life with him at 15.

To learn more about contraceptive methods and condoms, visit OAH's Contraceptive and Condom Use page.

Body Language: Using Anatomically Correct Terms
Baltimore, MD

I grew up with parents who never talked to me about anything to do with sex. It just wasn’t done. So when my 6th grader came home using some slang words for his private parts, I was astounded. First I asked him where he had heard those words and he said “my friends.” Then I asked him if he knew what they meant. He was able to tell me the correct body part names. I told him that in our family we used the right names for body parts and I didn’t want him to use the slang words.

Great Expectations: Sharing Your Beliefs
Grand Forks, ND

In our family, I’ve taught my two girls that I hoped that they would wait for marriage to have sex. It’s important in our family and with our values. However, I am smart enough to know that they will make their own decisions. So what I’ve also told them is that if they choose differently, my expectation is that they would have sex with someone they really care about and someone who cares about them, that they always use protection against pregnancy and diseases, and that they can honestly respect themselves afterward. I hope that was the right thing to say.

Total Eclipse of the Heart: Value of Love
Vacaville, CA

This was one of the hardest questions I ever had to talk with my teenager about. She asked me “How do you know when you are in love?” I had noticed that a boy’s name was doodled on a lot of her papers and she was spending a lot of time on the phone with a boy who used to be just a play pal. We had a great conversation about different kinds of love like family love and romantic love, and about how important it was to care for others and how special it was to be loved by someone else. It was a great conversation and I tried to share with her that she might have a number of times when she felt like she was in love with someone and it was a wonderful feeling. I also told her just because you think you love someone, your self-respect and values should always be first. No one should ever ask you to do something to prove your love. See how one mother handles the topics of sex, teen pregnancy, and contraception.

To learn more about romantic relationships, visit OAH's page on Dating.

Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on March 13, 2017