The 'Big Talk' About Sex May Not Be Enough

teenage sex

OK, moms and dads, try this quick child-rearing quiz: When it comes to sex, your teens want to learn the details from:

a. their friends.
b. the latest hot movie.
c. you.

You'd probably be stunned to learn the right answer is "c" - at least according to a recent national survey of more than 2,000 teens and their parents.

"This may surprise a lot of parents who fear that, when it comes to sex, they have lost their children to peers and popular culture," says Bill Albert, director of communications and publications at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. "But the simple message from the study is that, whether parents believe it or not, teens want to hear from them about sex, intimacy and relationships."

"Our survey clearly shows that parents have an incredibly important role when it comes to their children's sexual decision-making," Albert adds.

The study also found that:

  • 93% of the teens and 95% of the parents said it's important that teenagers be given a "strong abstinence message from society" - which includes their schools, their doctors and influential adults in their lives. At the same time, six out of 10 teens believe they should have information about - and access to - contraception.

  • Eight out of 10 teens said they felt pressure to have sex. But a gender divide clearly exists. Teen-age girls said they felt pressure mostly from their partners, while teen-age boys overwhelmingly said they felt pressure from their friends.

  • Teens don't have an accurate picture of their peers' sexual behavior. More than half the teens -54%- overestimated the percentage of high school students who've had sex. This is significant, Albert says, because teens who believe their friends are having sex are more likely to have sex themselves.

  • Discussing abstinence while also providing teens with information about contraception is not a "mixed message," according to 74% of the teens and 70% of the adults.

Despite recent declines in its teen pregnancy rate, the United States still has the highest rate of teen pregnancy among developed nations: Four out of 10 girls get pregnant before age 20, studies show.

These figures clearly indicate that the messages parents are giving their children are inadequate - too little information, too late, Albert says. So when should parents start talking to their kids about sex? And what should they say?

"There's no magic number in terms of age, but the reality is, if your child's body has physically matured, chances are good they're also having sexual thoughts and feelings," says Dr. Jonathan D. Klein, a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on adolescent medicine.

And contrary to popular belief, talking to teens about sex shouldn't be a one-shot event.

"Parents should forgo having 'the big talk' and instead have ongoing discussions about sex with their children," says Klein.

Parents should also enlist the help of their child's doctor. A family doctor or pediatrician can provide parents with guidance on when to broach the subject of sex, and how to have effective discussions.

In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recently released new guidelines on sex education for children and adolescents. The guidelines note that pediatricians are in an ideal position to provide sex education and information about pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, while offering advice and support to parents.

When talking to teens about sex, Klein offers these suggestions to ensure effective discussions:

  • Be clear about your family's values and morals.
  • Be honest and let your teen know that you're available to answer any and all questions.
  • Be approachable and open-minded, even if you disagree with your child's viewpoint.
  • Use appropriate terminology and avoid slang expressions for anatomy, masturbation and other sexual matters.
  • Utilize sources in your community, including the library, videos, books and brochures. Remember to preview materials before giving them to your child.

Next, are more details about talking to your teenager about sex.

next: Talking to Your Kids About Sex

APA Reference
Staff, H. (2008, December 28). The 'Big Talk' About Sex May Not Be Enough, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Last Updated: March 26, 2022

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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