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About That "Talk" with Your Parents...

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You're sexually active and your parents don't know or know, but aren't talking with you about it. You're thinking about sex, but need their help with birth control or your sexual health, or just don't feel right becoming sexually active without them knowing. Or maybe sex is just a huge elephant in the room with you and your folks. Whatever the reason, you want to -- or feel like you need to -- talk to your parents about sex, even if the idea of doing that makes you turn eight shades of green.

Talking with your parents about sex can be really hard, even if your parents are really open and start the conversation themselves rather than you starting it; even if your parents are totally supportive of your boyfriend or girlfriend and your sexual activities.

That you want to open this conversation with your parents shows a great deal of maturity on your part. Adults can have a lot of good, useful information and perspective about a lot of things, including sex and reaching out for that is great. Part of having healthy sexual relationships involves honesty about it in many of your close relationships, and not having the fact that you have a sexuality or a sex life be a dirty secret. As well, having the support of your parents in your sexuality can be a huge help to you, and not having sex be a big secret can be a serious relief.

That said, not all parents are able to come to a conversation about sex with their kids and teenagers with an open heart or an open mind. I’ll talk more about how to deal with these parents specifically further on down. If you are concerned that your parent might get very angry or even violent (physically or emotionally), skip on down to the end of this article. Otherwise, have a read and get ready to handle these talks like a pro.

Your parents probably want to talk with you about sex too, and they just can’t find the words to start the conversation!

I talk with lots of parents of teenagers who wish they could broach the subject of sex with their kids. Parents worry that their kids won’t listen or won’t care. Parents worry that their kids don’t know enough about sex or already know too much to be able to have a conversation with them. Parents worry that it’s too soon (“My kid isn’t interested in sex yet.”) or too late (“My kid has already started having sex.”).

But because you’re reading this, you know that it’s never too early or too late to start the conversation! So throwing your parents a bone, giving them an introduction into the conversation, is probably something they will really appreciate.

There are a couple of ways to start the conversation. You can ask a general, theoretical question: "Do you think sex is different for men and women?"

You can reference a current movie or song:

 "So it kind of bugs me that in that song “I kissed a girl” she says she had a drink in her hand and she lost her inhibitions and that’s why she kissed her. Like, what does that mean about whether she likes girls sober?"

Or you can talk about a friend (but make sure it’s a real friend and a real situation, otherwise your parents will think you’re actually talking about yourself!):
"Kari and Mark started having sex last weekend. They seem really in love and they’re being really responsible about birth control. Kari talked with her mom before they started having sex."

But making up your own starter or introduction to the topic, that directly fits you and your parents’ style, is probably the most natural way to start talking with your parents. Young people tend to be very creative: you can do this.

Talking with your parents about puberty, sex, and sexuality is different from talking with your parents about your sex life.

(Or: How to ask your parent for birth control)

Sexuality is a broad, broad topic. And it’s one thing to want to talk with your parent about it in the abstract. It’s another thing entirely to make it clear to your parent that you are either having sex or that you might have sex sometime in the (near-ish) future by asking for birth control.

It’s often hard to know how your parent(s) might react if they know you want birth control. In the best of all worlds, your parents will be happy that you’ve asked and help you find the method of birth control that works best for you. But not every parent is able to do that. Many parents will have lots of reactions to hearing their teenagers want birth control, and will go back and forth between trying to talk you out of having sex, being angry with you and setting down new rules, and finally helping you get birth control. Some parents will only be angry.

To find out where among these (and other) reactions your parents might have, start some theoretical conversations. Bring up a movie with a pregnant teen or mention a pregnant or parenting teenager you know, and say something along the lines of: "I wonder if she had asked for birth control if her parent would have gotten it for her?"

Sometimes parents will give a more accepting response to a theoretical question about birth control than a practical one about your desire for birth control, and you should be ready for that. But you should be able to figure out approximately what their response might be.


You and your parents might benefit by your bringing some of the pieces from Scarleteen to the table in your talks with them. For example, our Sex Readiness Checklist is a great one to go through with parents. If you're coming out to them, The Bees and...the Bees: A Homosexuality and Bisexuality Primer might be a good thing to have on hand. You might walk through Birth Control Bingo with them if you're going to discuss contraception.

If you figure out or know that your parent is not one who is going to be helpful in getting you access to birth control, there are other places that will. Most of the organizations you can call for information about sex -- you'll find some of them listed at the bottom of this page -- will either provide you with birth control or tell you where you can get it without needing your parents’ permission or telling them about it.

I'm 16 years old and I started my period when I was 13 but I didn't tell my mom. I really hate talking about things like this and I'm a very private person and always keep to myself. My mom is making me an appointment to go to a doctor and get checked out why I haven't started because she doesn't know. I am scared to death of doctors and I really don't want to tell my mom. I need to tell her in the next few days so do you have any ideas to make it easier for me telling her?

It can be really tough to open up a conversation that your mother expected you to have with her three years ago. In addition to telling her that you’ve started your period, which you don’t want to do, you are also going to be telling her that you’ve dealt with it on your own for three years now, and she might feel a little bit hurt about that.

Sometimes when we have a hard time saying things directly to our parents (or our friends or anyone else, really), it is easier to write them down. Write your mom a note, tell her that you’ve had your period for a few years now, and apologize for causing her worry. You can also tell her you feel like this is a very private topic, and one you only feel comfortable talking about in letters and notes.

Hopefully your mother will respect your privacy, but will talk with you in letters and notes about your period and other things about puberty and sex. It sounds like you are very shy about these kinds of topics. It can be very helpful – necessary sometimes – to talk about them sometimes with parents or doctors. So practicing through writing might help you feel a bit more comfortable if you do ever need to ask your mom or your doctor a question about something going on.

Me and my boyfriend are really close, we do everything together except real sex..we have been active in oral and manual. I have decided to have sex with him but I am scared to death of getting pregnant. My mom has said before she would put me on the pill but that was months ago and now I don't know how to bring it up again..HELP?

If your mom said she’d help you get on the pill, she wants you to come talk with her before you start having sex, and that’s great! Good for her for telling you before you’d already started and being willing to help. That was a brave step she took. And now it is your turn to take the next brave step and take her up on her offer.

Starting the conversation can be intimidating, though! So take some time and figure out exactly what you’re going to say. Write it out, practice saying it, and get as comfortable with the words as you possibly can. It’s probably best to stick with something simple and straightforward like: "Mom, I think I’d like to get on the pill like you offered a couple of months ago." It'd also be a good idea for you to ask your mother about you starting testing for sexually transmitted infections, too, since you may have been at risk for some of those already with the kinds of sex you have had.

Your mom might be surprised, but since she brought it up, it shouldn’t come a huge shocker that you’re trusting her to follow up on her offer, and chances are good she's going to be just as supportive as she was when she made that offer.

Additionally, you can let your mother know -- as I hope this is the case -- that your boyfriend is going to do his part when it comes to prevention of pregnancy and infections, too, by using condoms. You might feel a lot better with this conversation when you can outline the ways you already have or plan to take care of yourself in terms of your sexuality. This is your sex life, after all, not your mother's sex life, and sexual partnership is something that is an adult activity. Showing a parent that you're not asking them to take all the responsibility, but are just asking for help to do it yourself is often really helpful. It's a lot easier for a parent to be comfortable with their kid having sex when you have demonstrated that while their help is something you want and would benefit from, you're also able to manage much of this responsibility on your own.

Me and my boyfriend are sexually active and we both want me to get on birth control but I'm too afraid to ask my mom about it because I don't want her to suspect anything.

If you ask your mom for birth control, she will probably suspect that you and your boyfriend are having sex. Even if you dress it up as a desire to moderate your menstrual cycles or reduce acne, and even if your mom helps you get birth control for those reasons without asking if you are sexually active, your mom will still suspect that you are.

Now, it might be okay for your mom to know you’re having sex, and it might not be okay. Some moms would rather their daughters be on birth control if they’re having sex and so are willing to help them get it. Other moms are too tied up in their preconceptions about their daughters’ sexuality to help them get birth control when they need it.

If you have the first kind of mom, what luck! It is probably best to be straightforward with her and just say straight out: "Mom, can you help me to get birth control pills?" She might be surprised, and she might react negatively at first because of her surprise, but she’ll come around.

If you have the second kind of mom, who wouldn’t be able to look past the sexual activity to see that you are being responsible about the potential outcomes of your choices, you might need to turn somewhere else for access to birth control. Often condoms are easier to get than the pill because they don’t require a doctor’s prescription and there are some places that will give them to teenagers for free.

Here’s the most important thing to remember about parents: They usually want you to be the happiest, healthiest person you can possibly be.

What your parents want for you will tend to come from the best place within them. They think long and hard about you and what is best for you, and they try to make that happen. Problems arise when what your parents think is best for you is different from what you think is best for you. Sometimes you are absolutely right about what’s best for you, and occasionally your parents might have good input or perspective. So if you disagree about something (like your sexual activities with your boyfriend or girlfriend), it’s probably worth re-thinking your position, taking what your parents have to say into consideration, just as you would with your best friend’s opinion.

However, the fact is that sometimes parents have a really, really hard time seeing their children grow up and accepting that they’re not actually children any more. When your parents can’t accept your growing up, they probably aren’t going to give you the best advice or support.

But...

Your parents might not always be the best adult for you to talk with.

You are probably the only one who can really know this. Whether your parents are the right adults or not has a lot to do with your relationship with your parents, what their beliefs are about sex, what your beliefs are about sex, and whether all of those things put together comes out to good, deep, meaningful conversations or angry fights.


If and when we are talking about more than conflict or a fight, but a situation in which you may be in danger physically or emotionally at home sue to sex, please understand that breaking your parents rules or wishes about sex does not ever make any kind of abuse okay or justified. If you are deeply worried that you will be in danger if your parents discover you are sexually active -- or your household is already abusive in other ways -- please seek out help. You can do that by disclosing what is going on or what you fear may happen to a safe adult at school or your job, a friend's parent you know is safe or by making a call to your local social services office or police station, if needed.

If your parents aren’t the right ones to talk with, there are other adults who will support you, answer your questions, and make sure you have access to whatever help you need to have safe sexual activity.

Finding just the right adult for you to talk with can sometimes be hard, but if you look closely enough, hopefully there is an adult who you might not have thought of before ready to support you through this transition. Some of the non-parent adults teenagers find to talk with about sex includes older siblings, aunts or uncles, parents of friends, school nurses, teachers, youth ministers and many others.

In many places there are organizations which will talk with you and help you learn about healthy sexuality. In the US and Canada, Planned Parenthood is in many places, and has a free phone number for you to call if there’s not one near you (1-800-230-7526). In the UK, Brook also has many offices and a confidential helpline (0808 802 1234). Some other hotlines which may be helpful to you are:

  • The Emergency Contraception Hotline: 1-888-NOT2LATE
  • The Gay and Lesbian National Hotline: 1-888-843-4564
  • The CDC National STDI and AIDS Hotlines: 800-232-4636
  • The National Sexual Assault Helpline: 1-800-656-4673
  • LYRIC (for queer youth): 800-246-PRIDE
  • Boys Town National Hotline: 800-448-3000

You can also check out the many listings at Scarleteen in our resource sections (in the box near the top left of every section and page) for a world of resources available to you.

The most important thing to look for in this person is someone who will listen to you talk openly and honestly without making judgments about you and who will help you find your own answers to problems rather than trying to give you their answers. This person might be hiding in plain view, someone you just hadn’t thought of in this context before. One way to find out if someone is open and can be a support for you would be to open up a conversation with them about sex in a general or theoretical sense (like the examples above). If they mostly listen to what you have to say rather than doing lots of talking themselves, ask more questions than they answer, and listen closely to what you say and your opinions, they might be just the adult you’re looking for.

written 04 Mar 2009 . updated 28 Jan 2014

Information on this site is provided for educational purposes. It is not meant to and cannot substitute for advice or care provided by an in-person medical professional. The information contained herein is not meant to be used to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease, or for prescribing any medication. You should always consult your own healthcare provider if you have a health problem or medical condition.