Talking to Teens about Sex

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Talking with pre-teens and teens about sex

May 2013

I am on a quest to figure out how to talk to my 12 and 13 year old about sex, particularly how to respond in situations, as well as share our family values. We have not had an open dialogue, and I feel that it's time. I have friends who started talking about sex and things related to it early because they wanted to prepare their kids before they are in a situation, so that they know how to handle it, and know where their parents stand on it.

My kids are on the shy side and have not been that interested in talking about it with us so they do not ask us questions. We taught them the birds and the bees when they were 6 and 7. What is age appropriate for a 12 and 13 year old? My kids are late bloomers, so they are only mildly interested in the opposite sex at this point.

There's a fine between talking about sex as a normal, healthy part of life yet not making it sound so fun that they want to go out and try it. I want to teach them abstinence through high school, with an emphasis on being ready, being in love, college priorities first, etc.. At the same time, I feel that I need to talk to them about oral sex, and why we don't want them doing it, since it's a lot more prevalent now than it was when I was a teen.

How do I start conversations about this? I know that car chats can be really good, but we are not in the car for very long, and I have a younger child who listens to everything we say.

Any suggestions welcome. I have called the school health person at my school to talk about this further, but wanted to get real advice from parents who have already been in our shoes. Anon

My children never asked many questions either. I would take them for a pleasant walk in the woods. We would chat about many things, then I would say: I want to talk a bit about sex and related issues. I would say my piece and get questions or discussion or Oh Mom. And I would also say that it's ok if they never want to bring it up or if it makes them uncomfortable, but that I would periodically bring it up because it is a part of our lives. That said, there are many sources of info now. Our middle school has just brought a new curriculum on sex to the science class, and I think this will be useful for my son. Also one of my kids was a voracious reader, and he read What's Going On Down There many times. Factual mama

This can be a hard conversation to start if it's not something you are comfortable with. There are some good books which you can read together and then leave lying around in their rooms (and watch the books move around the room ''all by themselves''). ; It's All Perfectly Normal is my favorite--great illustrations, wide diversity of people shown naked (and clothed), vis-a-vis body sizes/types, mobility, age, race, etc. It is matter-of-fact and also funny and celebratory about how our bodies work and all the fun stuff we can do with them. I think the other thing is to take your kids' cues about how much information they want at a given time. When my (now 16-y.o.) daughter would ask questions about sex when she was younger, I would ask what she thought, and then ask where she had heard what she interpreted. I often answered only the question she was asking, and would wait until another time to say more. Good luck and have fun. Tell It Like It Is Mama

Is Sex Ed in middle school appropriate?

March 2013

I have a 6th grader at Montera Middle School who still sleeps with her stuffed animal and watches children's educational programming on PBS. It seems that there is an 8 day program, appx 45 min per day that will take place during the school day this spring to cover sex ed topics that incude help in making safe decisions about sex, explaing anal sex and dental dams, hands-on how to use a condom, and how to check for expiration date of the condom, etc. More info can be found here:

While I applaud the efforts to reduce STD transmission and teen pregnancy, my daughter is just 11 1/2 yrs old and is just starting to show signs of puberty. Am I being unreasonable to think that this material might be a bit mature for her and that she might be better able to comprehend and process it when she is a bit older? If the school thinks the academically advanced 6th graders aren't developmentally ready for algebra next year, how can they be ready for hands-on condom practice with a model or learning about the intricacies of anal sex in a month or so? We have the choice to opt out, but I think it will be even worse for her if other kids attend, and then she hears things second-hand... What to do? signed- Am I being unreasonable?

We are in a different school district, but my kids had a very explicit sex and drugs education module in middle school. I was honestly a little shocked at how much was covered. I thought it was going to be b films with lame titles such as ''On Becoming a Woman'' or something. But no, it was condoms, AIDS, heroin, anal sex, oral sex, etc.

The benefit is that it is a scientific and rational approach, so your kid is getting the facts. Also, it forced some conversations between me and my kids that we might not have initiated otherwise. Lastly, there is NO sex ed in high school (at least in my town), so I am very grateful my kids got a good education before hitting the intense part of their teens.

Even though I was surprised by the content, in the end, I wrote a note to the science teacher thanking her for heading up the program, precisely b/c it isn't taught in high school.

As the parent of a teen who is young for her age, I understand your concern. A couple of thoughts:

First, I don't think you can compare not being developmentally ready for algebra with not being developmentally ready for sex ed. True - within 6th grade kids can be at very different developmentally stages, and it sounds like your daughter is at one end. However, that is not really the point. You don't have kids who aren't ready for algebra seeking it out regardless (but you sure do for kids seeking out sex whether they are ready or not!), and the consequences are not the same.

My opinion is that talking about sex, sexual decision-making, etc. is best started before they are into the throes of hormones, etc. That is when you want them to already HAVE the info and be comfortable with it. The more matter-of-fact it can be the better, and that is easier done when they're a bit younger and it's not so much an ''issue'' yet.

Will your daughter be exposed to topics and other kids' experiences that she doesn't know about, and you think she doesn't need to know about yet? Probably. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because it's a safe environment, there will be an adult response, and you have a ready-made ''in'' to discuss the topics yourself with her. I'm a strong believer of taking advantages of these openings whenever you can, because the opportunities come up less and less as they get older.

How comfortable are you with the way programs like this are planned at your daughter's school? Who are the staff involved? I would talk to the counselor, or whoever else you have a relationship with, to get more specifics. Hopefully they already know your kid and can understand why you have the concerns you do, but even if not, they're aware that or the developmental range at this age and hopefully have thought of how this will be taken into account. Will there be follow-up? Will there be school staff present as well? (I would guess this is a requirement.) Who can you talk to afterward if you have a concern?

You could also talk with someone at the program to find out specifics - even though the brochure and pr are focused on pregnancy prevention, I would guess that is not the only- or even central- message. Sometimes it's a funding issue, sometimes the way you get funding is to frame the message in a certain way. Hopefully it is broader than just pregancy prevention. parent of an older teen - who I still don't want having sex yet

I checked out the link you included and I agree with you. At her age and developmental stage a good puberty education would be more appropriate. Puberty education is different than the learning objectives for the group that's presenting. You might want to check with your school about this.

We had a WONDERFUL woman from Planned Parenthood to speak to the 4th and 5th graders and do a 4 week puberty education program. She was amazing, had been teaching this to younger kids for EVER and was on point, developmentally appropriate and approachable with the bigger questions.

I taught sex ed to 9th graders back in the day and found that there were more general questions about puberty and less about sex than I expected. While the sex ed topics and protection are IMPORTANT there are other aspects to be addressed especially at 12. Plus social management is a big piece of the puzzle as well. I haven't seen the movie ''Nightmare on Puberty Street'' but lots of younger kids seem to see that one too. Sounds like the program for your child should be more comprehensive at this stage and less ''scary''. Another mom

My 17 year old still sleeps with his bear. So what? It has very little to do with maturity. You are underestimating your child and her classmates. In the age of Internet they know more about sex than you can imagine. Formal class in school is a good idea. I think info about anal sex is an awesome idea so not partner can tell her , ''It is safe because you can't get pregnant that way. Mom of teen

It is far far better to teach this stuff too early than too late. What are the consequences of knowing about STDs when someone is very young? What are the consequences of knowing about sexual intercourse or dental dams? Some parents seem to think that it will destroy their innocence or cause them to grow up too fast. But research shows that the more information you give kids, the less need they have to experiment. The consequences of providing this information too late are dire: diseases, some difficult to cure or even deadly and teenage pregnancy, which causes problems of a different sort. Just let her take the class. You will both be glad in the end. Anon

I understand your concern about whether this curriculum is appropriate for your daughter and would hope that I can offer you some reassurance. As a school nurse in an Oakland middle school I am familiar with the Making Proud Choices curriculum. For starters I would alert you that you have been given some misinformation. i.e. the curriculum does not include teaching the ''intricacies of anal sex''. It does include a condom demonstration and the consent form gives you the option of not having your child participate in that particular activity.

Please bear in mind that there is a huge range in every type of development among 6th graders. That's part of what makes both living and/or working with them both challenging and so enjoyable. No matter what end of the developmental spectrum our kids are at, the topics covered in the MPC curriculum are very engaging for all the students. And, more importantly it gives parents a very easy opening to discuss these difficult topics that even the most ''enlightened'' of us often find so hard to talk about with our children. You can start the conversation with your daughter by asking her what she thinks about taking the class. You may be surprised by her response. Lastly, please call Jesus Verduzco (510 481-3789) who runs the program, if you have any questions or concerns. He will be happy to answer all your questions, I'm sure. Lori

Book About Tween Boy Changes

March 2010

Does anyone know of a good book about the changes a boy goes through as puberty sets in? Seems there are dozens about girls and what happens they approach menarche, but boys also mature. When will their voices deepen? When will they grow armpit hair? What kinds of emotional changes will hormones cause for them? What kinds of social pressures loom for them with all of these changes? How does one best parent through the changes? Thank you! anon.

There is an Our Bodies, Ourselves book for teens that I got my son (who is now 14). I liked it because it discussed changes and issues for boys as well as girls. I think boys should be educated on the changes girls go through as well. As with girls, there is no set time frame for transitions. In my son's age group, some kids still look like youngsters and some are towering guys who already look like they are midway through high school. Berkeley Mom of tween boy

Two great books:

It's Perfectly Normal by Robie H. Harris, illustrations by Michael Emberley (for both genders)


'What's Happening to my Body?' Book for Boys, Lynda Madaras.

I got my now-thirteen-year-old son these books after I realized he was surfing the net for information about sex (he googled 'sex' -- guess what he got?). And he loves these books. He keeps the Harris book at close hand all the time. Both books espouse progressive (typical Bay Area) attitudes toward sexuality, just so you know. It was perfect for us. another mother of a growing boy

Look into 'It's Perfectly Normal: A Book About Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health', by Robie H Harris. It's frank, very informational, and unsilly, while maintaining a sense of humor. anon.

Healthy sex ed. books or DVDs for teens

May 2009

I would like recommendations for positive books, DVDs for teens who have all the basics but now need more explicit sex ed. Much thanks. concerned mom

I found several good books for my teen son. One is an Our Bodies, Our Selves for teens. Very matter of fact and covers lots of ground. The other is a black covered paperback called ''100 Questions You'd Never Ask Your Parent'' by Elisabeth Henderson and Dr. Nancy Armstrong. I thing he devoured most of it at the first sitting. It has answers to questions about pot, alcohol, smoking, stds, slang about sex, contraceptives, etc. all in age appropriate short answers. Health Educator Mom

I've been working with teens and parents for over 12 years. There are a number of great resources out there, but I think I need to know more about the age of your child and your own perspective on teenage sexuality before I would hazard a recommendation. Absent that, I would say that the most important resource your child has is you. Parents forget (or don't know) that they are the most important voice in the life of their child, even in the high school years. Every study in the last decade confirms this. You still have great influence. Don't abdicate your own voice too soon! Feel free to email me offline if you're interested. Erik

Our Bodies Ourselves is excellent. They put out both a teen version and a larger, more complete edition. Brenda

Pre Teen Boy Book about Sexuality

Nov 2008

I am looking for a book to give my nephew about his body and changes it goes through in puberty. He is almost 13, and very interested in sex, I want him to have a resource that is informative. PreTeen Boy Auntie

I highly recommend 'It's Perfectly Normal' by Robie H. Harris, illustrated by Michael Emberley. It was recommended to me as a resource by a friend who does puberty education (aka 'sex ed'). The illustrations are excellent, and the two characters - a bird (who wants to know all about sex) and a bee (who is pretty embarrassed by everything) are an informative hoot. Our now 13-year- old son found it a good resource, and I'm not afraid to leave it out where our six year old can read it, too. The author does have a separate book for ages seven and up titled 'It's So Amazing' but so far I haven't gone that route since I've been able to answer the six year old's questions. Deborah

Encouraging a healthy perspective on sex in teenage boys

March 2006

hi everyone, i was wondering if others had advice and recommendations for resources on how to encourage a healthy perspective on sex for a teenage boy. my son is 15 and has several times, ordered porns online (they are blocked now) and we have discussed the problems i have with many of the situations the movies portray sex and the male/female relationships in them. i'm pretty sure he doesn't get what i'm talking about.

mostly, i want to encourage him to develop a healthy understanding of sex, but i'm at a loss as how to help him. he has the our bodies/selves book and that's about it.

in both my experience and my partner's, we found out about sex on the street, on the playground etc. and nobody helped us - is this it? but these days they have so much more access to sex - movies, pictures/online porn, extreme sex etc. i don't know what to do to counter this deluge of information (mis-information). thanks for your help

Good Vibrations (on San Pablo) has a wide selection of books about all aspects of sexuality, including those oriented towards adolescents and teens. Plus, the staff are knowledgeable about the books and can help steer you towards the ones that can best answer your and your son's needs. Good luck--you're doing a huge service for your son and his future partners. GV fan

I suggest going to the Good Vibrations bookstore on San Pablo (hope they are still there!). They have a whole section of books for children and teens about sexuality -- there is a lot more out there than the book you have. I was in there a few years ago and found a great looking book for my son -- he is now only 11 but the book looked so great I bought it and have been keeping it to give to him when he is a few years older (I think 15 was about right). It has some humor but also addresses all subjects in a very straightforward yet ''hip'' way. If I could remember where I tucked it away I would get you the title, but I can't find it. Hope I find it before he turns 15! In any case, you will find something right for your child and yourself. Planned Parenthood also has a whole seminar about talking with teens about sex. Check out the SF or Shasta Diablo affiliates. That's all I can offer at this point, not having ''crossed that bridge'' yet with my own sons. Share your concerns

Our family has tried to be proactive about discussing different teen issues around sex, gender, and relationships (and I believe a discussion about porn must include all these topics), but it's been quite helpful to have both my preteen daughter and teenage son also having these conversations at both of the Unitarian Universalist churches we've attended-- in Kensington and in Oakland. The ''Our Whole Lives'' curriculum, used at various times in the children's/youths' age span, gives them a chance to have these discussions in a supported and respectful environment with adults other than their parents, and with age peers. kd

To the Mom looking for healthy male teen sexual perspectives: There is a wonderful book for teen aged boys by Howard Schiffer available at that addresses many aspects of sexual development/relationships and is written with a lot of heart and practical advice. You can read parts of it on the web before purchasing. I have not found anything that comes close to this in terms of straightforward sex talk that embodies the values we want our boys to have. Hope this is helpful. Another concerned parent of a teen boy

Interesting responses to this post but for my son (14 yo) they would have totally missed the boat. My experience is that I can educate him, talk to him about all the issues (including porn and its pros and cons) and he still wants to see it. It is not an education issue, it is a hormonal issue. Truthfully, mys son is a very sweet, sensitive kind guy. I have no doubt he will treat his girlfriends well when he decides to have one. So, as much flak as this will get, I have to say I let him have Maxim magazine. Not literary, he likes the pictures! He would like a Playboy but I am not there yet. I spoke with a number of Dads who are great guys who all said they looked at this stuff and survived. They said, go ahead and get it for him. I am a feminist and where I might wish he didnt want to look at this stuff, he does want to.

I do believe that my son will be(and is) a great human being. He treats women, kids, men and animals with respect and love. I couldnt be a more proud mom (ask my friends). Ok, hollar away! anon

Talking to 11-year-old daughter about sex

December 2006

I've always been very open with my daughter about sexual information. But now that she's a pre-teen (11) and menstruating, I'm alarmed that she seems to have forgotten much of what we talked or read about a couple of years ago (''It's So Amazing'' by Robbie Harris was helpful then). Whenever I try to bring up the subject now, she cringes and says, ''Mom, I don't want to talk about that!'' I know there are other books, but how can I introduce a discussion or a new book when my daughter seems so resistent and embarrassed? I don't want to wait till she comes to me, in case she doesn't, nor to get information from her peers. How do I strike a balance that says, I respect your feelings, but here's information you really, really need to know?
Want to Be More Open than My Own Mom Was

I also have an 11 yr old daughter who doesn't want to talk. I just say, ''there are some things I need to tell you so I can give you my perspective.'' Granted it's a (brief) lecture, not a conversation, but I also end by asking if she has questions (not yet!) and saying that she can always come talk to me. I also got her the American Girl book ''Care and Keeping of You'' keep talking, even if it is one way for now

My son also did not want to talk to me about this topic, which is standard behavior for a preteen. I bought a couple of books -- ''It's Perfectly Normal'' is one -- and left them on his bed without making a big deal about it. There are many times when I walk into his room to find these books open, as he has been seeking answers on his own. I have made it clear to him that I am open to questions and discussion any time, and he has asked a few questions, but he mostly pursues his independent study. I think that at this age when they are finding their own way and intensely private, it is important to respect that while at the same time letting them know that you are available as a resource. Anon

''Our Bodies, Our Selves'' comes in a kid/teen-friendly version that is very informative and straight forward. If she keeps it in her bookshelf in her room then she can sneak peeks at it when you are not looking and get useful information. A woman friend gave that book to my daughter when she was around 11. I would also just keep talking about things when they come up and even when they don't. My theory is, if I just keep talking eventually something will sink in! And remember, Condoms, condoms, condoms!!! Even though she's far from being sexualy active you can still talk about safety. You can bring up AIDS in a way that's not talking about sex at all, and slowly turn the conversation to other STDs, etc. I also stress that sex is more than just a physical thing, it's a psychic thing and talk about how that's not really covered in all the TV shows. They just focus on the physical. Just keep talking! mom of teen

I'd suggest giving your daughter a book that she can read on her own, if and when she wants the information. My mother gave me ''Our Bodies, Ourselves'' when I got my period and I never read the whole thing, but I did use it as a resource. At Good Vibrations, there's a sex education section where you can browse and see if you think they are appropriate. A good pre-teen/teen book for girls is ''Deal with It! A Whole New Approach to Your Body, Brain and Life as a Gurl'' from the website. Good luck! anon

Books about puberty for girls

Nov 2006

My 9 year old is showing first early signs of puberty. Any recommendations for accessible and sensible books on puberty/development for her to read? Though she's showing physical changes of development, she's not excited about this new stage of life at all.. A mom who's not quite ready..

A friend with an older daughter recommended the book, ''The Care and Keeping of You'' published by American Girl Magazine. I gave it to my daughter at age 10. You can get it at the library first if you want to check it out. It covers all kind of things about the body from taking care of your hair to discussing the changes the body goes through, etc... It's very matter of fact and not scary. She has been reading it at her own pace and comfort level. Hope this helps Martha

Try ''It's Perfectly Normal'' in paperback, can't remember the author or publisher. Appropriate for pre-teens. My daughter really enjoyed the panel cartoons of the egg and sperm journeys anon

Books for 12yo boy about puberty

Oct 2004

I am looking for the ''Our Bodies Ourselves'' equivalent for a 12 year old boy - any suggestions? thanks

I've come across two books that might be helpful: What's Happening to my Body? A Book for Boys (Lynda Madaras), and The Guy Book (by Mavis Jukes). Though not exactly like Our Bodies, Ourselves, they were both really great. To give credit where it's due: these were recommended to me by Margaret, the children's specialist at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books in SF. A Mom

At my library I recommend all three of these for boys on the cusp of adolescence:

The what's happening to my body? book for boys : a growing-up guide for parents and sons / Lynda Madaras, with Area Madaras

It's perfectly normal : a book about changing bodies, growing up, sex and sexual health / Robie H. Harris ; illustrated by Michael Emberley

What's going on down there? : answers to questions boys find hard to ask / Karen Gravelle, with Nick and Chava Castro -- Children's Librarian

''what's going on down there'' was great for my son at that age. He was very (predictably) curious about all things related to his body and sex and the book was very appropriate for his age. I got the renewed our bodies book but will wait to give that to him when he enters high school.

He said he never knew he could read 175 pages in a week! ha now we know! he also said it clarified things he had heard about but wasn't sure or had heard wrong information in there about.

It is fun, has cartoonish type pictures coupled with clear information. i think i bought it on for a good price too! good luck! here we go!

Single Mom with 11-year-old boy - when should we talk?

March 1999

My 11 year old son is at the age of curiosity about sex and girls. I am a single mother and I am not sure at what age boys need to have a serious talk about puberty and sex. He is not shy about asking me questions but I hesitate in answering some inquiries. I am afraid my son is growing too fast.

I am the mother of two sons 14 and 7. I understand your concerns about your 11 year old. Around that time my older son discovered soft porn on the Internet and pretty much made a part-time summer job of surfing the sites until I checked in on him and cut him off. I was lucky to have a husband to calm my fears of raising a sex maniac. He said it was normal and had the technology been there he would have pulled the same stunt around the same age. They worked out a solution of locked up soft porn in a mens area. My part was to talk to him about girls being human beings and the reality of airbrushing i.e. what he is seeing is NOT real. I still try to jump on any gender bashing or the like. Your son will probably grow up respecting women much more for having a single mom who cares. I have the challenge of being the only representative of the femalegender in my home when my growing up experience was in an all girl home. So talk - talk honestly and ask for male help when it goes beyond your comfort level. The important part is to keep communication open. It proved true for us when my son got in too deep with an older teenager - it was mom who he shared his concerns with. And the good news was he had been listening all along.

You should be glad that your son is asking you instead of obtaining this information from friends. Neither of my girls have asked me much about sex. I believe you should answer all of his questions. He'll get the information whether you tell him or not. This way you have control over what you tell him.

If he's expressing curiosity about sex and girls, then the time to talk is now. If you don't answer his questions, he'll look elsewhere for answers. You can't keep him from being curious and slow down his growing up, he'll just be misinformed. You want him to feel as comfortable as possible coming to you for advice and information, and not pick up that you're not comfortable with his growing up. This is your best hope of influencing him. We really can't control our children's lives, and the world around them, to the extent we might like to, we can only control how well we handle our own interaction with them.

As a mother of two teenagers and a precocious 7-year old, my advice is that it's not too early at all to answer your 11-year-old's questions about puberty and sex. Some of the girls, at least, in his class at school have undoubtedly begun puberty. Congratulate yourself on raising a son who is not too shy to ask you these questions! Answering his questions frankly will not, I think, cause him to grow up too fast. The myths kids can learn from their peers if they are not getting straight information elsewhere can be dangerous.

Regarding the 11-year-old boy and sex -- when I took my ten year old for his check-up, his pediatrician (at Kaiser) suggested taking him to a class called growing up male (there's a growing up female class as well). It's a class for pre-teens and their parents that puts out the sex/development information (from both the male and female point of view) for kids in a straight-forward, educational manner. It's run by Planned Parenthood, and given at Kaiser, for both members and non-members. My husband just took our now almost 11 year old (there were moms there with their boys) -- my husband said it was a really good class, and my son didn't say it was awful, and he actually said he learned something -- which for him is a pretty good endorsement. You can get information about it by calling Kaiser's health ed dept, or maybe by calling Planned Parenthood directly. Good luck.

I'd like to put in a word for two books regarding sex that are written for the teenage audience. One is Dr. Ruth Talks To Kids by Dr. Ruth Westheimer (New York: Macmillan, 1993, 96 pgs). The sub-title is Where You Came From, How Your Body Changes, and What Sex Is All About. I gave this book to my son when he was 10. (Remember those Now You Are 10 booklets for girls?) Now that he is a sophomore in high school, his health class is reading Changing Bodies, Changing Lives by Ruth Bell and other co-authors of Our Bodies, Ourselves and Ourselves and Our Children (New York: Vintage Books, 1998, 254 pgs). I wish I could have had these two books on my shelves when I was growing up. -- Bonnie