Supporting positive sexual behaviour

Supporting positive sexual behaviour

As teenagers' interest in sex develops, you can support them to develop their understanding of positive sexual behaviour. Here’s some tips on how to start an ongoing conversation.

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Teenage sexual development

When and how a child or young person develops sexual interests will depend on lots of things, such as when their pubertal development begins, their life experiences, and what’s expected within their culture and family.

Positive sexuality

Whatever the case for your child, you can support them so that any sexual encounters they do have are respectful, informed and desirable for everyone involved.

Positive sexual encounters (across the full range from kissing, to messaging chats, to sexual intercourse) have a few things in common:

Shared enthusiasm – people only do things they are both enthusiastic about, without any force, persuasion or trickery involved. There are mutual positive emotions and an absence of negative ones. It is always OK to withdraw at any stage from sexual activity, and signals to this effect are responded to and respected.

Equality. Sexual activity takes place in equal relationships, in which people are equally able to agree to, say no to, and withdraw from the activity without fear of negative consequences.

Empathy. Before, during and after, people think about, care about and respond to their own and the other person’s feelings.

Communication. People check in with one another about their feelings and preferences.

Knowledge. They have a clear awareness of who the other person is, Both people understand, their approach to the sexual encounter, and any risks it might involve. There isn’t any deception or withholding of relevant information.

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There are certain sexual situations in which its much harder to follow these principles – these include those involving:

  • Alcohol or drugs
  • Sending sexual images
  • More than two people
  • Between people who have only recently met

… so these scenarios are best avoided.

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Talking about it

Talking with your child about positive principles for sex helps them to…

  • Reject sexual activities, habits, conversations etc that could harm themselves or others 
  • Choose sexual activities that are positive and safe for themselves and the other person
  • Come to you if something is bothering them  
  • Develop positive sexual self-esteem          

 Avoiding the topic increases the chances that they will…

  • Hide things from you that are hurting them
  • Develop harmful ideas about sex
  • Give in to pressure to behave in ways which harm themselves or others

Some tips

  • Have conversations with your child about what positive sexual activity involves, covering the points discussed above.
  • Start having these chats as early as your child learns about sex, and certainly if and when you sense their sexual interest might be developing or their puberty is beginning.
  • ‘Little and often’ is more effective than ‘The Big Chat’. Explore their views, for example by using films or TV soaps, or imaginary scenarios rather than taking a lecturing approach.
  • Don’t let embarrassment stop you. In these chats you’re showing that it’s normal and important to talk about sex – this will help any embarrassment to subside and make it easier for your child to bring up any things that are bothering them in the future – and parents of teenagers often depend on their child’s openness to know what’s going on in their lives!
  • Spend time together, and model in your own life the values of respect, equality, empathy and communication in relationships. This will provide a powerful counter-point to any alternatives your child is exposed to in other parts of their life.

ParentInfo.org provides further information about talking to your child about sex