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Teens and Sex: How The Talk Has Changed for the Better Over the Years

I grew up in the conservative Christian purity culture of the 1990s in a small Midwestern town. My parents modeled a healthy marriage with strong communication, regular date nights, and long-term commitment, even through challenging times. Our conversations centered on boundaries and expectations. We didn’t talk much about feelings or relationships. And we never talked about sex.

Reflecting on my upbringing with my wise mom friends reveals that my situation at home was not at all unusual. Some of my friends wore purity rings, and we were all blatantly taught that sex outside of marriage was wrong.

“I think my parents just assumed we would learn about sex through osmosis maybe,” my friend Emily shares. Many of our parents followed this same philosophy. But now, many of us see the importance of having these important conversations with our teens, even when the conversations are awkward. Here’s how to have The Talk.

Sex Education at Home

We have open conversations, and we have them often.

The prevalent goal with my mom friends is to have open conversations with our teens about sex and dating. “I try to make them feel like it’s okay to talk about their feelings around dating,” my friend Paula says.

My friend Traci states something similar, “We have conversations about relationships and sex fairly often with our boys.”
We accept that we might not be their top choice.

If our child feels more comfortable talking to their other parent or an aunt or older sibling, we try not to take it personally. Instead, we’re thankful our kid has someone else in their life that they trust and can talk to openly.

I, for example, grew up with older siblings, and I felt most comfortable talking about relationships with my older sister. She didn’t live at home when I was in high school, but she knew the name of my long-time crush, and she was always just a phone call away.

My friend Emily had a similar experience. “Luckily, I had three much older and wiser sisters that made sure I knew the facts and the resources and how to set boundaries with my boyfriends,” she shares.

We choose our approach (and tone) carefully.

We all know sex talks can be awkward and tone matters when we’re communicating with our teens. One of my mom friends finds a matter-of-fact approach works well when she talks about sensitive topics with her teens. “I remember explaining wet dreams and masturbation to my kids. And was like, ‘No big deal, very normal, all okay, just make sure you clean up please,’” Sarah shares.

Our family’s go-to communication mode is Office-level sarcasm and cringe, so I’m not surprised that my teens often use this same tone when talking about sex and relationships instead of engaging in a serious heart-to-heart on these topics. Still, their occasional (perhaps inappropriate) joke indicates they know I’m open to these subjects.

My mom friends agree. “Sometimes sarcasm is the only way to get through,” Emily confirms.

If you’re like me, fumbling words when you talking about heavy matters, consider the power of the pen. My friend Meegan shares a successful technique she uses: “I actually wrote out what I wanted to say to disarm it a bit. I asked my daughter to read what I wrote while we were next to each other, and she devoured my words. After that, it was easier to talk. I’m happy with how it went.”

We talk about choosing a partner, consent, safety, and respect.

Many of my wise mom friends grew up with parents who were controlling about their choice of partner for various reasons—religion, race, ethnicity, sexual preference, and more—but now my friends opt for a different approach.

“My husband and I both make sure our kids understand that we’re totally fine with whomever they decide to date. Their choice of partner is their business,” Paula states.

We talk about teenage birth control and the decision to become sexually active.

Conversations about birth control and sex are also more open now than when we were growing up.

“I made damn sure my girls knew that birth control should not be left up to their partner,” Emily says. “On the sex topic, I told my daughters and son that the decision to have sex is a big one and not to be taken lightly. Don’t do it early in a relationship, and be sure your partner knows what you want and don’t want before deciding to have sex. Respect for boundaries is a must, no means no—even if the answer was yes 10 minutes before.”

We’re creating healthier expectations and boundaries for our kids.

“I love how this generation of kids seems to understand boundaries (no means no) way more than was ever discussed or taken seriously when I was a kid,” my friend Jenifer shares. “I still remind my kiddo that she has all the power and rights to make her own choices for her own heart, mind, and body.”

Freedom of choice and a healthy understanding of sexuality are two important concepts I wasn’t taught when I was growing up, but now—even if we fumble through some awkward conversations—it’s what I want for my teens.

Kimberly Witt is an Iowa transplant placing roots in St. Paul, Minnesota. With the help of her husband, she is raising two amazing teenage sons who were born in Ethiopia. She enjoys writing, running, and (surprisingly) helping her sons with math homework. Find her at

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