Parents Teaching Sex Education

  • Parents play a critical role in the overall health of their children, including adolescents’ sexual health. Most major sexual health promotion organizations agree that parents should be the primary sexuality educators for their children because research shows that teens who feel they can talk to their parents are less likely to engage in risky behaviors[1].

    Most parents (82%) are already having some conversation with their kids about sex.[2] What exactly this looks like varies drastically in both form and content. For example, parents may convey their values about sex outside of marriage but not talk about birth control. Alternatively, parents may rely on a single conversation to convey information as opposed to a series of talks throughout their child’s life.

    If working with parents, encourage them to do the following:

    • Keep the conversation ongoing. Ongoing conversations provides three major benefits. First, parents can reinforce and build upon the information they give. Secondly, it gives children the opportunity to integrate things they are learning elsewhere, whether in school or from peers, into the framework their parents have promoted. Lastly, it identifies the parent as a trusted person to talk to and ask questions of.[3]

    • Don’t shy away from the tougher conversations. Media provides a rich source of examples to tie into the sex conversations. It also lets parents be more in touch with the messages their children are receiving. To use two obvious examples, ‘Blurred Lines’ provided parents a perfect jumping point to talk about consensual sex while Teen Mom is a conversation starter about unintended pregnancy and safe sex.

    As a sex educator, you also can give students homework assignments that involve their parents. This may not take away all of the awkwardness for families, but it will give students an excuse to broach the topic, for the first or the fiftieth time.

    Remember: many parents support sex education in both school and the home. These tools help you as an educator guide the information they provide and pass along ‘best practices’ so they can have more effective and meaningful conversations, and relationships, with their children.

    For another look at parents and sex ed, check out this article from Time.

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    [1]  Martino, S. C., Elliott, M. N., Corona, R., Kanouse, D. E., & Schuster, M. A. (2008). Beyond the “Big Talk”: The roles of breadth and repetition in parent-adolescent communication about sexual topics.

    Pediatrics, 121(3): 612–618.

    [2] Planned Parenthood Federation of America. (2011). Let’s talk: Are parents tackling crucial conversations about sex? Poll finding fact sheet, New York: Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health, conducted by Knowledge Network.

    [3] Martino, et. al (2008).

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