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Talking sex with young people

sex; sex education; sexuality; sexual health; relationships; values; teenagers; sexual responsibility; developing; rules; responsibility. ;

Young people learn about sex, sexuality and relationships from lots of different sources. They need balanced and accurate information that helps them to make informed choices, rather than be pressured by others.

Parents convey very important messages to young people though their attitudes and behaviour, whether they talk about sex or not. When you talk with young people about these things, it can strengthen your relationship and help them work out their values.

Importantly, young people learn they can talk with you about sensitive things.

This topic was developed by Parenting SA - A partnership between the Department for Education and Child Development and the Women’s and Children’s Health Network South Australia.


Why talk about sex?

Talking with your son or daughter about sex, sexuality and relationships is important because:

  • you have a big influence on the values they take on and how they relate to others
  • these are key things that young people are working out at this stage in their development
  • it’s a chance to give accurate, balanced information and discuss your family values
  • talking can strengthen your relationship and build trust – they will be more likely to come to you if they have a problem
  • young people have become more sexually aware as they are exposed to lots of information in the media from a young age. The media can give distorted ideas about sex and relationships and the information they get may not be correct. This could place them at risk. You can help them question what they see and hear
  • some young people are having sex whether we talk with them about it or not. Studies show that by the end of high school about 50% of young people have had sex. They need information to make decisions that keep themselves and others safe. However, be careful not to assume that your son or daughter is having sex, even if they are in a relationship

Young people with physical or intellectual disabilities need information about privacy, safety and sexual matters too. They can be more easily exploited so it’s important they know how to keep safe. Seek help from a professional if you need it.

Research shows that young people who receive good sexuality education:

  • delay having sex
  • have fewer unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.

Be a ‘tell-able’ parent. Be available, approachable and unshockable. Let your young person know this is a topic you are happy to talk about.

Tips for talking with young people

  • Understand your own feelings about sex. Your emotions can affect how you talk about things.
  • Think about the values you have held in your life and how they have affected you and others. What values and messages do you want to pass on?
  • Be aware of your own behaviour. Does what you do line up with what you say? Young people easily pick up on mixed messages.

Be aware of your own attitudes, feelings and values about sex. Don’t always expect your son or daughter to share them.

  • If you have particular cultural or religious beliefs, think about the best ways your son or daughter can get information that keeps them safe.
  • If you have a partner, talk about how you’ll approach things. Parents may have different views from each other.
  • If you are in a same‐sex relationship or are a single parent, think about someone of the other sex that your son or daughter can talk to for another view.
  • Know what you think about topics such as masturbation, homosexuality, contraception, abortion and sex outside a relationship. How will you handle different views to yours?
  • Learn about the sexual issues young people face today. You could watch TV programs, read books and magazines or search the internet. Talk with other parents for tips. Check with your school or local health centre for any sessions on youth sexual health.
  • Talk about sex and feelings in an inclusive way so that young people know they can come to you however they are feeling.

Young people who are attracted to their own sex, or both sexes often feel very different, confused and alone as they start to think about sex and relationships. The Teen Health topic Sexuality might be helpful.

  • Many young people are easily embarrassed. They might say they don’t want to talk about sex or know it all already. Tell them you are happy to talk with them at any time. Let them know you think it is an important topic.
  • Make sure they know where else they can get information and support.

Your son or daughter may not want to talk with you about these things. Make sure they have access to balanced and accurate information and someone you trust they can talk to. The Teen Health topics 'Are you ready for sex?'and 'Safer sex'  might be helpful.

Be approachable and ‘unshockable’

  • Try talking about these things in a relaxed and natural way. This makes it easier for everyone. If you find it hard, try talking when you are doing everyday things like travelling in the car or doing the dishes.
  • When expressing your views be prepared to listen and have a two‐way conversation. Try not to lecture.
  • You both may have very strong and different views. Try to be tolerant and reasonable. Having a good relationship with your child is more important in the long run.

Foster self-respect

Feeling good about yourself is very important in creating healthy relationships. Encourage your son or daughter to:

  • feel good about their body and know how it works
  • respect themselves and feel comfortable with their own values
  • feel confident to say ‘No’, or ‘Stop’ and to understand they should not put up with abuse or be pressured to have sex.

The teen topic Are you ready for sex may be useful for them. It talks about the pressure on young people and how they might handle that pressure.

Focus on healthy relationships

Sex education in the past often focussed on the physical aspects of sex. However, sex is also about sexuality, gender, relationships and being a whole person. It’s important for young people of both sexes to understand that:

  • feelings, caring, mutual respect and safety are all part of a healthy relationship
  • being male or female can sometimes make a difference to what sex means
  • some young people will feel attracted to the same sex, or both sexes, and it can be a time of experimenting and exploring sexuality. It is important that parents are aware of their own feelings about same sex attraction. If you think this may be hard for you to cope with, try to find someone you both trust that your young person can talk to. TheParenting SA Parent Easy Guide Young people who are gay, lesbian or bisexual may be helpful here.
  • they don’t have to stay in an abusive or unhealthy relationship.

Help young people know the signs of unhealthy relationships, e.g. controlling behaviour, threats or violence, put downs, jealousy, or feeling worthless. Help them work out what to do.

It is important to talk about relationships and feelings as well as the physical aspects of sex. Stress the importance of mutual respect, consent and safety.

The Teen Health topic 'Are you ready for sex?' might be helpful

Teach sexual responsibility

Encourage young people to be sensitive, responsible and safe about sex.

  • Sexual responsibility is equally important for males and females. Be careful not to encourage different expectations.
  • Talk with young people about what they want from a relationship before they start dating. Thinking about this before the heat of the moment can lead to better decisions.
  • Make sure they understand about consent to have sex. Consent means freely agreeing to sexual activity, and taking responsibility for ensuring the person you want to be sexual with is comfortable and agrees to go further. If someone is asleep or so intoxicated they don’t know what’s going on, then they are not consenting. Pressuring or forcing someone to have sex is a crime.
  • Know what the law says about how old you have to be to consent to sex. In South Australia the age of consent for sexual intercourse is 17 years for both males and females.
  • Talk about the risks of using alcohol and other drugs. Being under the influence of alcohol or drugs can increase the risk of unsafe sex and others taking advantage of you.
  • Teach them how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections, how to avoid pregnancy, about emergency contraception and what choices they have if there is a pregnancy. The Shine website has a lot of information about these topics  http://www.shinesa.org.au/ 
  • Let them know about regular health checks ‐ pap smears for women, testicular cancer checks for men, and Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) immunisation for both women and men.

Having open, two‐way discussions about sex, sexuality and relationships helps young people sort out their values.

Give accurate and timely information

There’s no right or wrong time to talk about sexuality. Be guided by your child’s interest and answer their questions honestly.

  • If you don’t have the answer, say you’ll try to find out and get back to them, or help them find out.
  • Make sure young people have information about what they really need to know such as where to get condoms and how to use them.
  • Encourage young people to get advice from a health professional when they need it. Offer to go with them but respect their decision to go by themselves, to have you wait in the waiting room, or to take a friend.

It is never too late to start talking with your young person about sexuality. They may feel too embarrassed to raise the topic so you may need to raise it.

Work together on tricky things

Talk about what’s OK in your home. For example, if your young person’s girlfriend or boyfriend stays overnight is it OK for them to sleep together? Some parents feel fine about this, others don’t. What are the views of the other young person’s parents?

  • If you feel OK about having them sleep over, talk with your family ahead of time about what would work for everyone. Do this when family members are open to talking about it and there’s time to talk it through. Remember what the law says about the age of consent.

Most of all, young people need your love, understanding and support rather than lectures.


Parenting SA A partnership between the Department for Education and Child Development and the
Women’s and Children’s Health Network. South Australia
Ph: 08 8303 1660

Parent Easy Guide 68 -  Talking sex with young people 

Parent Easy Guides are free in South Australia.
© Government of South Australia.

Want more information?


There are many books for parents and for young people. Have a look through ones in your local library or book store to see if there are ones that will help you and your teenager.

For parents

SHine SA Booklet ‘Talk it like it is’. A guide for parents on communicating with their children about life, love, relationships and sex

Department of Health, Government of Western Australia ‘Talk soon. Talk often’: A guide for parents talking to their kids about sex’, 2011

Department for Education and Child Development, South Australia

Parenting SA

Raising Children Network
For information on talking with children and young people about sex

Family Planning Queensland
Fact sheets for parents on communicating with children about sex

Parents Supporting Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays in South Australia
Phone 8369 0718
Support for parents and their gay, lesbian or bisexual children; resources including ‘Closet Space’ DVD or video

For young people

SHine SA

  • Sexual Healthline
    Phone 1300 883 793
    Phone 1800 188 171, 9am-1pm, Mon to Fri for a confidential service providing advice on a range of sexual health matters. Interpreting can be arranged free of charge
  • Website:
    Information on sexual health, including for young people with a disability
  • SHine SA Clinics
    Phone 1300 794 584 to make an appointment at Woodville, Hillcrest, Davoren Park, Salisbury, Marion or Noarlunga. See website for drop-in times and fees.

Kids Helpline Phone 1800 55 1800
Counselling for children and young people 5 to 25 years anytime

Phone 1800 737 732
Sexual assault, family violence, counselling

Reach Out Information for young people on sex and relationships

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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