Young people need accurate information about sex and sexuality to negotiate sexual relationships safely and responsibly. Sexuality education should cover a broad range of topics, including the biology of reproduction, relationships, sexuality, contraception and sexually transmissible infections (STIs). The most influential role models for young people are their parents.
Research shows that young people want to talk with their parents about sexual health. Many parents are unsure of where to start or may feel uncomfortable about having these conversations, but avoiding the subject will not stop their children from having sex or keep them safe.
By being honest and open, your child is more likely to turn to you for accurate information and answers to their questions, reducing their risk of being in an unhealthy relationship, experiencing unwanted sex or an unplanned pregnancy, or getting a sexually transmissible infection (STI).
Young people are exposed to images and stories about sex through the media that can be confusing and confronting. They may also talk with their friends or look online for answers to their questions, but the information they take away will not always be accurate or positive.
Most young people (88 per cent) look for information about sexual health at some stage, with most turning to their mother or a female friend, using their school sexual health program and pamphlets, or talking to their doctor.
Research shows that talking to young people about sex does not encourage them to experiment sexually. It also shows that young people who receive comprehensive sexuality education have a lower risk of experiencing unplanned pregnancy and are more likely to delay their first sexual experience.
Sex education in schools
In Victoria, sexuality education is a compulsory part of the school curriculum and parents are encouraged to contact their child’s school if they want more information about the school’s program. Parents may wish to enquire about whether or not the program is pro-choice and if it delivers sex-positive messages.
Research shows that school-based sexuality education improves the sexual health outcomes of young people. Sexuality education is a way of providing children and young people with the skills and knowledge to manage their sexual wellbeing, and can provide the fundamental tools so they can enjoy healthy, responsible and satisfying sexual lives.
How and when to start sex education
It is normal to feel awkward or unsure when talking with your child about sex. Most adults feel this way when they start having these conversations, but you will become more confident with time and practise.
The easiest way is to start from a young age by using the correct names for body parts. It is important to answer your child’s questions honestly and directly when they come up. You are not expected to have all the answers. If you cannot answer a question, you can suggest finding the information together.
Preparing yourself for talking about sex
The first step in talking to your child about sexuality is to prepare yourself. You are not alone if you feel unsure, as many adults have not had comprehensive sexuality education.
Ways to prepare yourself for talking with your child about sex include:
- talking about the topic with your partner or other adults
- deciding what values and messages you want to communicate
- reading about current sexual issues
- organising a parent information session for you and your friends through Family Planning Victoria
- accepting that your child could have different views to your own
- remembering that the aim is to talk openly and honestly about the topic
- finding developmentally appropriate books to read with your child.
A positive approach to sexuality
The best sexuality education is ‘sex positive’. This involves:
- acknowledging that young people choosing to be, or not to be, sexually active is a normal and healthy part of adolescence
- recognising that adolescence is a time of sexual development and experimentation
- supporting the right of young people to develop healthy, respectful and consensual sexual relationships
- talking about sexual preferences in a positive way.
How to talk about sex
Sexuality education is a lot more than the biology of reproduction. It also involves:
- how to have a good, respectful relationship
- sexual feelings
- sexual pleasure
- personal values and beliefs about sexual relationships
- gender roles
- how to have safer sex
- contraception, including emergency contraception (the ‘morning after pill’)
- ways to be intimate without having sexual intercourse
- sexual problems
- sexual preferences
- how to say ‘no’ to unwanted sex and what to do if it happens
- what to do if you get pregnant.
It is important to talk with your child about contraception and how to practice safer sex. The reasons some young people do not use contraception include:
- lacking knowledge
- feeling unsure about how to access clinical services
- worrying that their parents could find out
- thinking that using contraception means they are promiscuous
- thinking that planning for sex takes away the spontaneity
- being under the influence of alcohol and other drugs.
Gender roles are a key part of sexual relationships. Young people learn about adult relationships by watching how their parents interact, which can then influence their own sexual relationships.
Young people need to learn that in a relationship, contraception is the responsibility of both partners. Young men and women should be given accurate information about contraception, STIs and unplanned pregnancy to help them make informed decisions.
Making decisions about sex
Young people need to learn how to negotiate sexual experiences positively and responsibly.
Ways to help your child make safe and informed sexual decisions include:
- giving them correct and clear information about contraception, safer sex and STIs
- encouraging them to talk about sex and its consequences with their partner
- coming up with ways to deal with unwanted sexual pressure, including peer pressure
- encouraging them to find answers to their questions about sex by directing them to reliable sources of information
- making sure they understand how important it is to practise safer sex (such as using condoms)
- always keeping the lines of communication open.
Ground rules at home
Most young people experiment sexually at some stage, and not allowing them to have sex at home will not stop them from having sexual experiences. You will need to decide on the ground rules about sexual behaviour in your home, which could include whether or not your child is allowed to have their partner in their bedroom or to stay the night. The best time to decide on these rules is when you are talking openly about sex.
Where to get help
- Your doctor
- Family Planning Victoria Tel. 1800 013 952 or (03) 9257 0100
- Family Planning Victoria’s Action Centre (for people aged under 25 years) Tel. 1800 013 952 or (03) 9660 4700
- Parentline Tel. 1300 30 1300
Things to remember
- It is normal to feel awkward or unsure when talking with your child about sex.
- Young people need accurate information about sex to negotiate sexual relationships safely and responsibly.
- Sexuality education should cover a broad range of topics, including the biology of reproduction, relationships, making decisions, sexual preferences, contraception and STIs.
- The most influential role models for young people are their parents.
You might also be interested in:
- Alcohol - teenagers.
- Contraception - choices.
- Parenting - communicating with teenagers.
- Reproductive system.
- Safe sex.
- Sex - are you ready.
Want to know more?
Go to More information for support groups, related links and references.
This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:
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Family Planning Victoria
Fact sheet currently being reviewed.
Last reviewed: August 2012
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