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Healthy sexuality

​The strategy is simple: Tell the truth — that is, that sex and sexuality are pleasures as well as responsibilities.

Start talking

As children are exposed to new ideas and experiences, it can be hard to know what to say. Nobody has all of the answers; what is most important is to keep your conversations going. The discussions are about more than just sex — they are about puberty, changes in bodies, sexual desires versus sexual actions, and knowing and understanding healthy sexuality. Conversations about it should be about aspects of sexuality that are not sexual, as well.

The question then becomes, what is your role as a parent in that process? The stages of healthy sexuality listed in this section will help you navigate that role as your children go through this learning process so they can better understand what healthy sexuality looks like.

Deepen the conversation

Even if conversations about sexuality feel overwhelming, the first 20 seconds are the most difficult. After that, conversations become easier.

We know that many young people engage in sex. Even those who are not will likely experience a wide variety of reasons to make them think they should, such as:

  • When they fall in love; perhaps they believe sex will help build a relationship.
  • As their bodies are changing, they may experience sexual desire, and they may also begin to learn that others see them as sexually desirable.
  • Ongoing pressure from peers and the media, which often links sexual activity with maturity, attractiveness, or love.
  • As a means to cure or distract from insecurity, loneliness, or other feelings related to feeling disconnected from people.

So what can a parent or adult caregiver do? How can you help children not just make sense of these pressures and feelings, but also make healthy decisions when they do have sex? How can you help them make decisions that will help protect them and their partners from sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancy while still recognizing the benefits of healthy sexuality?

Although we recognize that while many of us might agree parents should be honest and accessible to their children to talk about sexuality, it can be difficult to figure out how exactly we can do that. The following questions, adapted from the Parents’ Sex Ed Center at Advocates for Youth, provide some initial guidance as to where to start:

  • Assess your own values:

    • How do you expect men and women to act?
    • How should people behave when they disagree?
    • How should decisions be made in a relationship?
    • How do you feel about love and sex?
  • Think about how you learned and practice communication. Recognize that to communicate openly with your children, you must be able to talk openly in your own adult relationships and be sensitive to your own feelings. Ask yourself questions such as:

    • How do I expect children and adults to communicate to each other?
    • Am I satisfied in my own relationships?
    • Am I able to express affection?

Additional resources

Specifically for children