It’s critical for dads to have the sex talk with their children early and to get it right. It’s not OK to leave the big talk to mom or to assume the teachers at school will take care of it. Think about it this way: the teenage brain is hard-wired to care about sex, so when you talk about it your teen will listen closely to anything you say. Don’t miss that opportunity!
I’ve noticed a few things dads get wrong when they try to have a sex talk with their teenagers. Are you making any of these common mistakes?
1. Don’t Avoid Your Own Sex Life
It can be awkward to talk to your teenager about your own sexual history. Dads often avoid discussing their personal lives when they are having a sex talk. However, vulnerability is actually a good thing. When you share something personal it will show your teen it’s safe to open up, too. Plus, “The Talk” is better understood when you have personal advice to touch on. Don’t be afraid to discuss your first time or instances when sex wasn’t the best idea. This can be useful and highly memorable advice.
2. Don’t Skip the Practice Run
When talking about sex, you have to be clear and specific so the lesson will stick. Nervous fathers are often too vague when addressing topics like anatomy and STDs because they don’t like going into these details with their children. This is a form of stage fright, and the best way to shake stage fright is practice. Become very familiar and confident with awkward words and concepts. Practice saying the most awkward things over and over 100 times each before you sit down with your teen.
3. Don’t Treat it Like a One-Time Event
Chats about reproduction and sexuality should be ongoing, starting from a young age. When a father breaches the subject for the first time, he should let his child know that the door is always open. As your teen encounters new questions or ideas around sex, you want to be there to continue the conversation. Studies show that teenagers often make bad decisions when they don’t get help from a trusted adult. Checking in regularly and demystifying the taboo around sex will teach your teen that it’s OK to come to you for advice.
4. Don’t Make the Sex Talk a Surprise
Don’t spring “The Talk” on your teen. Make sure to set the tone by warning your teen about the topic before you sit down for the conversation. Without a heads up, your teen can feel trapped or blindsided by a sudden exchange about a very personal subject. To give your teen time to prepare, try saying something like, “I’d like to talk about puberty and sex. It won’t take any longer than 30 minutes. Would you rather do it at 6 or 8?” Offering a small choice is good so your teen doesn’t feel powerless.
5. Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously
Yes, this talk will be awkward for both of you. But don’t deliver a stern or boring lecture. If you do, your teen will block out everything you say and disengage from the conversation. On the other hand, a little bit of lightness goes a long way. Be upbeat, make the talk pleasant, and adopt an easygoing manner so your teen knows that talking about sex is nothing they have to worry about. It’s OK to laugh at yourself and at the awkwardness of it all!
6. Don’t Wait Too Long to Give “The Talk”
The earlier, the better. Dads today need to compete with social media, school gossip and the natural sexual urges that arise in a teenager. Messages from peers are already shaping your teen’s opinions about sex, whether you like it or not. Get ahead of the curve and be proactive by talking to your children about sex early and often. If you’re wondering whether or not it’s too early to start having sex talks, then it’s time already. Start today!
The most important thing you can do as a parent is just to talk often about sex. You’re not going to get “everything” right, but don’t worry about that. On the other hand, you’ll never get anything right if you don’t try at all.
Yes, it’s going to be awkward. Yes, your teen is going to resist. Yes, you’ll want to stop. And yes, you still have to do it. It’s that important.
About the author
Andy Earle is a researcher who studies parent-teen communication and adolescent risk behaviors. He is the co-founder of talkingtoteens.com and host of the Talking to Teens podcast, a free weekly talk show for parents of teenagers.