Healthy Living

Talk to Your Kids About Sex and Healthy Relationships

A father and son walking together.

The Basics

Overview

Talking honestly and openly with your kids about sex and relationships is important — and it's never too early to start. Your support can help them make healthy choices and avoid risks as they grow up.

It may be hard to know where to start, especially if your parents didn’t talk to you about sex when you were growing up. The following tips and strategies can help.

What do I say?

Kids have different questions and concerns about sex at different ages. As your children get older, the things you talk about will change. Remember to:

  • Talk early and often — you don’t have to fit everything into 1 conversation!
  • Be ready to answer questions — children’s questions can tell you a lot about what they already know
  • Listen carefully to your kids' opinions, even if you don’t agree
  • Try using things that come up on TV, music, or social media to start a conversation
  • Be honest about how you're feeling — for example, if you're embarrassed or uncomfortable, it’s okay to say so

Will talking to my kids really make a difference?

Parents are the most important influence on a teen's decisions about sex and relationships — even more important than friends, siblings, or the media. Most teens say that it would be easier to make decisions about sex if they could talk openly and honestly with their parents.

Teens who talk with their parents about sex are more likely to put off having sex until they're older. They're also more likely to make healthy choices, like using condoms to prevent pregnancy and STDs (sexually transmitted diseases), if they do choose to have sex.

Bodies and Puberty

When is the right time to start talking?

It’s never too early to start talking to children about their bodies. Be sure to use the medical names for all body parts and explain what they do. These resources can help:

What do I tell my kids about puberty?

Puberty is when your child's body starts to develop and change into an adult body. Puberty is different for each child.

Puberty can be a confusing and overwhelming time for many children. You can help your kids by:

  • Telling them that puberty is a normal part of growing up
  • Sharing facts to help them understand their changing bodies and feelings
  • Talking about your own puberty experiences when you were growing up

As your kids get older, they may be less likely to ask you questions. So it’s a good idea for you to start conversations with them.

Gender

What if my child has questions about being a boy or girl?

The important thing is to believe what your child tells you about their gender — and let them know that you love and accept them no matter what.

Some kids act or feel like they're a different gender than the sex that's listed on their birth certificate. For example, a child who was assigned male at birth may feel like a girl, not a boy. And some kids don't feel like a boy or a girl.

When kids act or feel like they're a different gender than their birth sex, it's called being "gender diverse." Some kids may feel this way from very early on, while others may start to feel this way during puberty or as they get older.

Get more tips for parenting a gender-diverse child.

Healthy, Respectful Relationships

How can I help my kids build healthy, respectful relationships?

Start conversations about what healthy and respectful relationships look like. This helps your kids form realistic expectations for their relationships with sexual or dating partners. 

Talk about the importance of consent in all relationships, including sexual relationships. And make sure to model healthy and respectful relationships for your children.  

Families have different expectations about when and how kids can start dating. Talk about your family expectations for healthy relationships before your children start dating.

Learn more about healthy relationships. You can also share this resource about healthy relationships with your kids.

Talk about different kinds of relationships, including relationships with opposite-sex and same-sex partners.

When you talk about sex and relationships, don't assume your teen is only interested in opposite-sex relationships. Some teens may be interested in same-sex relationships or identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.

No matter what, it's important to let your children know that you love and accept them. Lesbian, gay, and bisexual teens whose parents are supportive are less likely to be depressed — and more likely to make healthy choices about sex and relationships. Find out how you can support a lesbian, gay, or bisexual teen.

Pregnancy and STDs

What do I tell my teen about preventing pregnancy and STDs?

Make sure your kids have the facts they need to make healthy decisions about their sexual health. This includes information about pregnancy and STDs like HIV and chlamydia.

Even if you don't think your teen is having sex or in a dating or romantic relationship, talk with them about ways to prevent pregnancy and STDs.

Tell your teen about different kinds of birth control. It's also important to make sure your teens know how to use condoms to prevent STDs — even if they're also using another method to prevent pregnancy.

Check out these resources to learn more:

Ask your kids where they get information about sex, relationships, pregnancy, and STDs.

Make sure you know where your children are getting health information. Some sources of information may be more accurate than others. 

Encourage your child to talk with their doctor about sex.

Doctors can be a trustworthy source of information about sex, pregnancy, and STDs. Next time you bring your child for a doctor visit, ask if they’d like to spend a few minutes alone with the doctor to ask questions. 

Take Action

Start Talking

Kids need information from an adult they trust. Use these tips to start a conversation today.

Talk early and often.

Start having conversations about your values and expectations when your kids are young. That way, they'll get used to sharing information and opinions with you. This will make it easier for you to keep talking as they get older.

There are lots of ways to talk to kids about sex and relationships. Try having lots of little conversations instead of 1 big talk. And remember, if you’ve been putting it off, it’s never too late to start a conversation about sex.

Get tips on how to:

Start small.

Try not to give your kids too much information at once. Give them time between conversations to think. They may come back later and ask questions.

Practice active listening.

Active listening is a way to show your kids that you're paying attention and trying to understand their thoughts and feelings. Try these tips:

  • Nod your head and make eye contact to show that you're interested in what they have to say.
  • Repeat back what your child says in your own words. For example, “What I'm hearing is that you're feeling frustrated with our rules. You feel that you're old enough to make your own decisions.”

Get more listening tips for parents.

Ask and Answer Questions

Ask questions.

Give your kids time and space to talk about their feelings and thoughts. Ask for their opinions. Be sure to listen, even if you don't agree.

Try asking questions like:

  • Have you talked about puberty, sex, or relationships in school? With friends? Do you have any questions?
  • When do you think it’s okay to start dating or having romantic relationships?
  • When do you think a person is ready to have sex?

Always take your kids' values and opinions seriously. This shows that you respect what they have to say — and it can help them feel more comfortable talking to you.

Be ready to answer questions.

When your kids ask you questions, ask them what they think first. Their answers will tell you more about what they're asking and why. This also gives you time to think about your answer.

Do your best to answer questions honestly and correctly. If you don’t know the answer to a question, it's okay! You can say, “I’m not sure. Let’s look that up together.”

Keep in mind that kids get information about sex from lots of different sources, like friends, the internet, social media, and TV. They may get conflicting information, which can be confusing. That’s another reason why it’s important for you to answer questions as clearly and accurately as you can.

Conversation Tips

Use media to start a conversation.

Kids see and hear messages about sex every day in the media — like on TV, in music, and online. When something comes up in a TV show or song, use it as an opportunity to start a conversation with your kids.

Talk in the car or in the kitchen.

It can sometimes be easier to talk about sex if you're doing something else at the same time. Try asking a question when you're driving or cooking dinner.

You can still show that you're listening by nodding your head or repeating what your child says to you.

Be honest.

It’s okay to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. Be honest about how you're feeling. Remember, when you're honest with your kids, they're more likely to be honest with you.

Talk with other parents.

Keep in mind that you're not the only parent thinking about how to talk to kids about sex and relationships. Ask other parents how conversations with their kids are going. You may be able to get useful tips and ideas.

Talking to other parents is also a great way to learn more about the messages other kids are getting about sex and relationships.

Content last updated July 20, 2022

Reviewer Information

This information on teen sexuality is adapted from materials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Office of Public Health and Science.

Reviewed by:
Division of Adolescent and School Health
National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB
Prevention Centers for Disease Control and Prevention