Your child's developing sexuality

For some parents, accepting that your child is growing up and developing their own sexuality can be difficult. Many parents describe the following reactions:

  • The shock at discovering their child is thinking about or having sex. Fear and worry can lead to reacting “in the moment” rather than allowing time and space to think about a considered response
  • Feeling that their child is too young and emotionally ill-prepared to be having sex, leading to concerns about their child’s mental health, alongside fear of pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • A belief that their child is being pressured or coerced into sexual activity
  • Finding it awkward to speak with their children about sex or struggling to know how to initiate a conversation
  • On discovering they are sexually active, wanting to shut things down by forbidding their child from seeing a boyfriend or girlfriend

Facts to consider

We know that adolescence is a time when young people will form strong emotional ties with those outside of their family unit, which can feel like pulling away. Whilst these steps towards independence are natural and healthy, research shows that many young people want to be able to talk with their parents / carers about sex and sexual health. 

In order to feel confident in having calm conversations on what can be an emotive subject, you may wish to consider the following points:

  • Most young people in the UK do not have sex until after they are 16
  • Whilst it is illegal for two under 16s to have sex, it is unlikely that police would charge young people over the age of 13, unless there was evidence of coercion or a power imbalance between the two parties
  • If children under the age of 13 are engaged in sexual activity, police and social workers would become involved
  • Most young people over 13, will be legally entitled to access condoms from trained professionals, and other contraception from medical professionals, without parental / carer knowledge or consent
  • STIs can be transmittable through non-penetrative sexual activity, whether between same -sex or heterosexual partners
  • Many STIs are easily tested for and treated, but they are also easily transmitted. Testing is extremely important, whatever the age.
  • Only condoms can protect from both pregnancy and STIs

Speaking with your child about sex and relationships

Adolescence is the beginning of adulthood. As children develop, they become aware of themselves and others as sexual beings, alongside many other aspects of what makes us human. This interesting and challenging time is further complicated by exposure to sexual imagery and expectations – often conflicting and contradictory- in advertising, soap operas, music and social media. Normalising talking about sex and relationships with your child will make it easier to prepare for what may lay ahead in terms of answering questions or addressing issues. No matter how your child presents, it’s likely that they will be feeling confused and extremely uncertain and, as their trusted parents they will be listening to you, whatever they might say to the contrary!

Here are some tips on talking to your child about sex and relationships:

  • Start early! Conversation can be tailored to the age and understanding of the child, but by removing the taboo around this topic, children and young people are more likely seek help and guidance from a parent / carer when they most need it
  • Little and often. Sometimes sitting down to have “the big talk” just causes embarrassment on both sides and messages get lost
  • Avoid shaming language – even when talking about other people in relation to sex and relationships – it might put them off speaking with you when the time is right
  • Try not to over-react. It may seem like the worst thing in the world to find out that your child has had sex – but imagine how bad it is for them to have you find out! Catastrophising will likely just push them away.
  • Don’t take it personally. If you teenager is having sex, it is usually not to try and shock or annoy you, nor is it a sign that you are a bad parent. By avoiding this thinking-trap, it’s easier to have a calmer conversation with your child.
  • Be realistic. Even before Romeo and Juliet, young people have been defying parents and carers who forbade them from seeing each other. It’s important to have boundaries and ground rules but talking with your child and getting to know their partner is more likely to promote a healthier attitude towards sex and relationships going forward.