Developing Healthy Teen Sexuality: Ages 12 years to 21 years


The teen years are often relationally very difficult for both parents and their kids (when I say often I mean I don’t know a single teen family that is not struggling!)

Teens are seeking to establish themselves outside of their family unit while parents are working hard to keep them close. This push and pull can case a lot of tension and confusion and parents often get the message that they don’t have a voice with their kids. But take heart, parents, your teens actually need more guidance than ever before, especially when it comes to their sexual development and helping to establish their view of a healthy teen sexuality. 


Ways to get through to your teen:

1. Be quick to listen and slow to speak:

A teen needs to know that their voice, feelings and experience matters. Taking the time to listen and empathize with your teen’s experience before rushing in with answers will help create safety between you.

2. Introduce some gray:

Black and white answers are very appropriate for small children as their brains have not developed the ability to understand nuanced concepts. By the time you have a teenager, they will want to know more than just YES or NO. For example, you can help them to understand that while their sexuality is a beautiful and healthy thing, there also need to be boundaries and responsibility taken to make sure they are protecting their safety and wellbeing. Help your teen to know what while sex can be a pleasurable thing, there can also be pain and discomfort and does not happen “perfectly” right away (this is helpful for them to know regardless of whether you are hoping for them to wait until marriage). This will also help dispel some of the mysticism of sex. It is often idealized and then people can get very disappointed or feel shame when sex does not live up to all of the hype.

3. Share honestly about your experience:

Often times we set limits for our kids because we don’t wanting them making the same choices we did as teens. If this is the case for you, when you are talking about this, take the time to connect with them in a meaningful way. Share with them places of pain for you and choices you wished you made differently. Share with them what would have been helpful for you to know and be the support to them you wish you had in that season of your life.

4. Setting firm boundaries where necessary:

Teens are going to be exposed to a lot of sexual influence and it is our job as parents to protect them from what can be potentially harmful. Social media and the internet have made this even trickier and it is important that not only have reactive but proactive conversations about what is safe and what is not. Be sure to communicate that boundaries come from a place of love and desire to support their safety and wellbeing. Despite some potential pushback, your teen will actually be thankful for the clarity of boundaries. If you come across something you’re concerned about, opening the conversation in a way that does not trigger their defenses will be your best bet to getting through to them; something like “Hey honey, I found ______ and I’d like to talk with you about it” instead of “Are you having sex?!”.


What is happening and what to do

A teen’s body is continuing to grow and develop sexually and their romantic interests are starting to get more serious. Many of them will want to start “dating” and may want to start venturing into sexual experiences. The weight of the choices they are making about their sexuality increase which is what makes parental involvement so crucial. Having honest conversations about STD’s, pregnancy, sexual abuse/harassment, boundaries, pornography, etc. are all part of helping your teen have a sense of the responsibility that is necessary with sexual activity. Making these conversations open and inviting your teen to express their ideas and experiences will help create an safe environment around the topic. For example, if you are hoping for your child to be abstinent until marriage, invite them to talk with you about what they think abstinence means. Ask them how they came to those conclusions and empathize with them knowing that abstinence is the harder choice. In addition, when parents are able to have peace about their own sexuality, they are more free to share from a meaningful place rather than just laying down a set of rules and regulations. This creates connection between parent and child.


Teens and Masturbation

Masturbation, in this case, self stimulation with the goal of orgasm, is a very common sexual expression at this age. Regardless of your position on the topic, the best chance your child is going to have at a healthy understanding of masturbation is by having open communication with them about it. Because it can be such a taboo topic, many people even into adulthood believe deceptive myths like that it causes blindness or hair to grow on your hands. These scare tactics will only cause shame and guilt in the long run. Instead, it’s important to have honest conversations with your teens about masturbation so that they have a positive understanding of their sexual desire. Help them to know that the sexual urges they are having are a very normal part of growing up. You can also help them to understand what is motivating the urge – Is it loneliness? Sexual feelings towards someone? Simply sexual arousal? By helping them to understand what is behind the urge you can help them steer towards a healthy and responsible use of masturbation and/or healthy alternatives for self soothing and sexual expression.

 

Other questions and issues that may arise:

  • Finding your teen looking at pornography

  • How old were you when you first had sex?

  • How does a person catch STDs?

  • How do you feel about sex before marriage?

  • Why does the girl, most of the time, get blamed for teenage pregnancies?

  • Why is sex bad in the teen years?

  • What do you feel about abortion?

  • Dressing provocatively

  • Listening to crass and sexually explicit music

  • Sharing sexually explicit things over social media