Discussing Sex with Your Teen | Center for Growth Therapy

Discussing Sex with Your Teen

Amanda , MSS, RYT200, CPRP, LSW — Associate therapist

Discussing sex with teens can be a stressful experience for families. We honor that families have different ways of viewing sex. The age that sex is appropriate for teens is up for debate, as some parents are okay with their teens having sex, and others are not. We understand that religious customs, as well as, family norms play a part in how the appropriateness of sex is viewed.

If you’re okay with your teenager having sex, and are open to helping them prepare for these experiences, this article is designed to help you think through questions that your teens can use to evaluate a potential sexual partner, so that they can have a healthy, positive experience. We put some extra emphasis on teenage girls, because they have unique vulnerabilities. However, this article can apply to all teens who need guidance in terms of what they’re looking for, and how to advocate for their needs and boundaries in the sexual realm.

We want to help you teach your teenager the skills necessary to have a healthy sex life. Some of these skills may also help to protect their bodies, minds and hearts. We also include questions for parents to inquire inwardly regarding their own education about sex and their bodies. This is helpful to reflect on as you consider having talks with your teens. It can be healing to figure out what you were taught and what you’d like to teach your teens about sex. Perhaps there were gaps in your knowledge and you want to protect your teens by arming them with information that you lacked growing up. Maybe you want them to feel more in charge of their bodies and more empowered to be firm in their boundaries and choices. At the Center for Growth, we understand this topic can be challenging. We offer teen therapy, as well as family therapy to help traverse topics like teen sexuality, and sex positive parenting. Call 215- 922 - 5683 x 100 to speak to one of our expert teen therapists, and expert family therapists, to set up a therapy appointment today. We have 2 locations in Philadelphia PA: Society Hill Therapy Office and Art Museum / Fairmount Therapy Office and in Mechanicsville VA: Mechanicsville Therapy Office and in Santa Fe NM: Santa Fe Therapy Office and in Ocean City NJ, Ocean City Therapy Office and we provide virtual counseling services in Georgia and Florida

Therapy for Teens and Families in Philadelphia PA, Mechanicsville VA, Ocean City NJ, Santa Fe, NM

Consent

Teenage girls are a vulnerable part of the population. They are highly affected by social media, unrealistic beauty standards and at higher risk for sexual assault than their male counterparts. Many teenage girls have trouble advocating for themselves and their bodies. Most teens have been exposed to pornography, which adds to the unrealistic sexual expectations of all genders. Consent is also not emphasized or typically given at all in the realm of pornography. Many teens are learning about sex from their friends, who might not be getting the most accurate information. There are many reasons to teach teens and tweens about consent, even if they (or you as a parent) are not ready to talk about sex itself. Many teens and adults are under the impression that consent is a “one and done” deal. This is entirely false. It’s imperative to teach your teen that consent should be on-going and enthusiastic. This goes from hand-holding, all the way to sexual intercourse. If they are uncomfortable with someone coming into their personal space, it’s important they feel empowered to say so. If they are engaging in a make-out session, but aren’t ready to go any further, it’s vital they know that they are not obligated to take things to the next level. If something doesn’t feel right to them, if their “yes” is not enthusiastic, we have to empower them to say “no.”

Therapy for Teens and Families in Philadelphia PA, Mechanicsville VA, Ocean City NJ, Santa Fe NM

Choosing Partner

It may feel a little uncomfortable at first if you chose to talk to your teen about what to look for when choosing sexual partners. There is something about this that may even feel taboo to some. However, helping your teenage girl understand that she has options and choices, and helping to guide her regarding what to look for, and what to watch out for, can save her unnecessary pain and suffering. In the following section, we will explore values to look for in sexual partners, as well as, provide self-reflective questions for parents regarding how you learned how to make choices in this realm, and what you’d like to teach your teens.

Therapy for Teens and Families in Philadelphia PA, Mechanicsville VA, Ocean City NJ, Santa Fe NM

Self Exploration

First, it can be helpful to encourage your teen to explore their own bodies so that they understand what feels good for them before getting involved with someone else. However, it’s also fine for teens to engage in body exploration after they’ve become sexually active. Developing a deep connection with the body, and what feels good via self-pleasure is an on-going venture. We are always changing, and there’s so much to discover about our bodies. This is normal, natural and can enhance the sexual experience for teens and adults alike. It’s hard to express what feels good to a partner if you have not yet explored what feels good on your own. As a parent, how do you relate to procreation as well as self-pleasure? Who spoke to you about this, how did you learn about it? What are your cultural, ethical, religious and moral values around procreation and / or sexual pleasure? What advice would you give to the younger version of yourself? How did you learn to identify what you would wish for yourself as well as what feels good for you? When did you have your first orgasm? Is orgasm even important? Do you feel comfortable having conversations about your body? What has impacted that? In the area of self-pleasure, what gift do you want to give your teen? How do you want your teen to relate to their own body? We don’t advise having conversations about your sex life with your teenager, but self-reflection in this arena may help you to stay connected to yourself and the experiences you’ve had pertaining to sex and self-pleasure. This might deepen the experience of talking with your teen about it. And even if you have all the answers, make sure you take some time to reflect on the world your child is being brought up in. The pressures they experience are likely to be different than the ones you were raised with (Internet, Covid, just to name a few).

Therapy for Teens and Families in Philadelphia PA, Mechanicsville VA, Ocean City NJ, Santa Fe NM

Values in Sexual Partners

As we move into the values section, keep in mind that these are only a few examples of what you might communicate to your teen about what to look for in a sexual partner. With your wisdom, we are certain there are many more values to be communicated with your teen.

Values and Self-Reflective Questions for Parents

Value: Find a partner who will not forfeit your pleasure.

It’s helpful to teach your teen that when it comes to sex, both partner’s pleasure should be held in equal importance. Because of socialization, boys have been taught that sex is something “they do to girls”, versus an experience both parties are having. In particular, teenage girls, and adult women, are more likely to miss out on experiencing orgasm than men. It’s imperative to help your teenage girl understand that her pleasure should be a priority, and not forfeited once their sexual partner feels fulfilled.

Questions for Parents: How did you learn how to pick sexual partners? What has been the most important quality in a sexual partner for you? Did anyone talk to you about pleasure? What was your sex education like? Did you learn from schools, families, friends? Did you always value pleasure, or was pleasure more of a journey for you? Did you have bad experiences with partners who forfeited your pleasure? How did that make you feel? What is the gift that you’d like to give to your teen?

How to Start the Conversion:

Maybe you’re watching TV with your teen and the both of you witness a sex scene. In addition to asking your teen the basic questions like do you think they have a healthy relationship? Was their consent? How realistic is the sex scene? Are they using birth control? What would happen if a pregnancy occurred? In the midst of all the typically more comfortable questions you can then include questions around pleasure such as: Do you really think the person is experiencing pleasure, or are they putting on an act? Is pleasure even important? Is the show valuing the male orgasm in the same way as the female orgasm? You can also ask, do you think the person’s first sexual experience resulted in orgasm? Another way to address the concept of pleasure is by incorporating the discussion around pleasure into everyday activities. When your teen is playing a sport, or engaged in the arts, ask them what feels good about it. Are they savoring the experience of crossing the finish line after running a race, or are they enjoying every brush stroke they’re making on a canvas while creating art? Encourage your teen to slow down and save enjoyable activities. If they’re taking a bath, do they have their go-to smell good products? What is it like for them to sink in and enjoy the moment with their various senses? Encourage them to embrace pleasure beyond the context of sex


Value: Find someone who communicates, asks questions and accepts the word “No.”

It’s helpful to teach your teen that communication is the key to a good sex life. And there will be some partners who are better able to communicate than others. It’s important that potential partners ask questions, and that they value consent as something that’s on-going. Remember, if your teen is having a make out session and that’s as far as they want to go, it’s important they find someone who is able to listen, accept no as an answer and not continue to pressure for more. It’s important to explain to your teen that when it comes to sex, everyone has different bodies, and communicating what feels good, and what doesn’t is the process of developing a more enjoyable sexual relationship, one where both people’s needs around pleasure are respected and understood. This also ties back into self-pleasure, and encouraging teens to find out what feels good on their own, which can ultimately help them more easily express themselves and their desires to potential partners.

Questions for parents: When did you find your voice in the bedroom? How would it have been different if you knew about the importance of communication from the onset of becoming sexually active? Do you remember experiences where you “grinned and beared” what was happening? Have you felt like sex was happening to you? What have your experiences been like since you’ve felt more sexually empowered, directive and assertive? Did you have a hard time saying no as a teen? What impact did that have on you? Pertaining to this value regarding communication, what gift would you like to give to your teen?

Ways to teach boundaries to your teen: Look for opportunities to praise your teens when they’re clear about what they want and what they don’t want. Perhaps they are sure that they want to go to bed early because they have a test the next day, and they are decidedly not attending an afterschool meeting. Praise them for their wise, autonomous choice. Encourage them to make choices, and respect their yes and no, within reason, of course. When you see your teen using their voice when eating food, playing sports and when they’re with their friends expressing likes and dislikes, notice that and call it out. If your teen confronts a friend about behavior that’s upsetting to them, or they decide to stop seeing someone who makes them feel bad, acknowledge and encourage them to keep setting boundaries- draw attention to boundary setting that’s already happening! Now that your teen is used to thinking about boundaries, it will seem more natural when you talk to them about boundaries relating to sex and relationships.

Value: Find someone you feel comfortable with, someone you can laugh with and talk to easily.

Regardless of commitment levels, sex is a vulnerable act. It’s important that your teen feels comfortable with a potential sexual partner. This comfort may manifest as your teen feeling comfortable in their own skin around a potential partner, maybe they feel confident and self-assured around the partner. Your teen might experience someone as trustworthy, someone they’re able to laugh with and feel safe with.

Questions for parents: In your experiences, what has sex been like when you’ve felt comfortable and at ease with someone versus anxious and unsure? How were you able to tell the difference between someone you felt comfortable with versus someone you didn’t? Has the quality of sex been dependent on how safe you feel with someone? Have you ever felt unsafe during a sexual experience? What was that like? Based on the knowledge you have after reflecting on this value, what is the gift you’d like to give your teen?

How to Help Teens Understand the Value of Feeling Comfortable with Potential Partners: Draw attention to friendships and existing relationships that your teens feel comfortable in. Friendship is a great way to practice choosing people you want to be around. Ask your teen what makes their close friendships great! Are they filled with humor, fun and does your teen feel safe with their friends? Can they trust friends to keep secrets, and to be there for them when they need them?

And remember, what you model as a parent is going to set the tone for what your teen thinks is normal. Are you laughing with your partner? Are you kind to each other? Diplomatic and able to model healthy conflict resolution? It’s also helpful here to talk to your teens about your own experiences feeling comfortable in relationships. Perhaps you have a friend that you’ve known for years and you feel comfortable telling them what’s going on in your mind and heart. Or you can tell your teen about how much you trust their other parent, or your significant other. You can tell them that you want them to pick someone they feel comfortable with. You want them to be able to be open and honest with their potential partner.

Therapy for Teens and Families in Philadelphia PA, Mechanicsville VA, Ocean City NJ, Santa Fe NM

There’s so Much More to Talk About:

There are many other issues that are important to consider for sex positive parenting. Some of these topics include: birth control, doctor’s visits, pro-life/pro-choice stances, relationships, marriage, dating rules. Part of sex positive parenting is talking about risks, vulnerabilites and the purpose of sex- not just about what feels good. Matters of puberty, body-changes, emerging mental health concerns, gender and sexuality are all topics to be discussed during the complex time of teenagehood. When thinking about sports, you aren’t just walking about the fun aspects of playing on a team. You are looking at ways of preventing injury and protecting your teen. Regardless of the rules and complexities, sex done well feels good.

Conclusion

Talking to teens about sex can feel difficult, however, the pay off is that it increases the liklihood that they will make informed decisions about sex and sexual partners. Helping your teen understand that they have choices, and that consent is something that should be enthusiastic and on-going can lay the groundwork for them to have healthy sex lives not only as teenagers, but through young adulthood and beyond. At the Center for Growth, we understand that talking to teens about sex can be challenging. We offer teen therapy, as well as, family therapy, to help address teen sex and sexuality and to assist parents in having challenging conversations. Call 215- 922 - 5683 x 100 to speak to one of our expert teen therapists, and expert family therapists, to set up a therapy appointment today. We have 2 locations in Philadelphia PA: Society Hill Therapy Office and Art Museum / Fairmount Therapy Office and in Mechanicsville VA: Mechanicsville Therapy Office and in Santa Fe NM: Santa Fe Therapy Office and in Ocean City NJ, Ocean City Therapy Office and we provide virtual counseling services in Georgia and Florida

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