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The Birds and the Bees: Talking to Young Teens About Sex


“Birds do it,
Bees do it,
Even educated fleas do it.
Let’s do it,
Let’s fall in love.”
-Cole Porter

So. How did you learn about sex? My husband tells about coming home from school one day to find a book about “reproduction” (not sex) on his bed. Nothing was ever said about it. I, on the other hand, am part of a whole generation of girls who learned about menstruation and the mechanics of making and having babies from a movie shown after school “for girls only.” Little was said at my house beyond some hemming and hawing about whether I should go to the film. Friends of mine learned what little they knew from friends, some of whom had more enlightened parents, but most of whom had equally ignorant friends. Is it any wonder that most of us were more than a little confused?

Now that we have adolescents of our own, most of the parents I know are trying to do things a little better. We want our children to know the facts. We want our children to be comfortable with themselves as emerging sexual beings. We want our children to make clear decisions about when and with whom to have sex. Above all, we want our children to be safe.

As uncomfortable as talking about it may be, to duck out of the talk about “the birds and the bees” is just plain irresponsible. Whatever your personal values about sex may be — from sex as recreation to sex as sacred — it is simply true that sex too early and without adequate information can be emotionally damaging and physically dangerous. Young psyches can’t handle the emotional stimulation of sex. Young girls’ bodies are not meant to be pregnant. Young boys and girls are not ready to be fathers and mothers. And, sadly, young peoples’ impulsivity and ignorance often mean that they do not adequately protect themselves from disease, pregnancy, and exploitive sex.

Tips for Talking About Sex to Young Adolescents

  • About What To Say: It isn’t necessary for you to become a “sexpert.” It’s enough to be the kind of parent that a child can come to about questions and fears — about everything really — but especially about sex. Take your cues from your child about just how much detail she or he wants. Remember, this isn’t a one-time chat. Done well, it’s part of an ongoing conversation as your child grows up. If you find that you yourself don’t know the answers to your kids’ questions, be honest about it, get a book or two and find out together.
  • About How To Say It: Embarrassed? Talk with your partner. Talk to other parents about how they are talking to their children. If, after all this talking, you are still embarrassed, be willing to talk to your child about your embarrassment. Let your child know that you are embarrassed because sex wasn’t something people talked about when you were young but you wish now that it had been. Talk about wishing that both you and your child would be comfortable talking about something that is natural and important in intimate relationships.
  • About Love: Don’t forget about romance and love. Help your children understand that there is more to sex than mechanics and that, in fact, mechanical sex often leaves people feeling empty. Talk about the many wonderful gradual ways that people become intimate: flirting, talking, sharing, playing together, holding hands, pleasing each other, holding, and kissing as well as intercourse.
  • About Consent: Talk to both sons and daughters about “date rape.” As the mother of boys, I am concerned that they know how to ask for clear consent and that they know how to take “no” for an answer. I never want them to be accused of rape. As the mother of girls, I am concerned that they know how to keep themselves out of ambiguous situations and that they know how to say “no” clearly and assertively. I never want them to be vulnerable to rape. As the mother of both genders, I want my children to be able to make clear decisions about when and with whom they want to be sexual.
  • About Safety: Be clear with your children about how to protect themselves against pregnancy and disease. No, talking about contraception won’t make them more likely to have sex. And trying to scare them about AIDS and babies won’t prevent them from having sex. Teens have lots of misinformation. Some think that they won’t get pregnant if the girl is having her period when they have sex. Some think they can’t get HIV from oral sex. Some think that heavy petting is “safe.” Your teens will be safer and will respect you more if you tell them the facts as well as your worries. And, if you aren’t sure of all the facts, take the time to investigate those areas in which you yourself have questions.
  • About Decision-Making: Probably the most important part of your conversation is about how to decide when and with whom to have what kind of sexual experience. Talk about the many reasons that people have sex, both good — the expression of love and commitment, closeness, pleasure, fun, and starting a family — and bad — peer pressure, fear of losing someone, trying to make up for other problems in the relationship, or to have a baby to make up for not feeling loved. It’s vitally important to discuss your values and wishes for your child about when and why to add sex to a relationship. Kids who have really talked about and developed their own values are better able to manage the urges of their own bodies and the pressures from their peers.

Parents Are the Best Teachers

Sex is about intimacy, sharing, and being responsible for ourselves and the people with whom we partner. Loving parents are the best people to provide solid information, strong values, and positive role models as their teens struggle with this essential part of growing up.

The Birds and the Bees: Talking to Young Teens About Sex

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Marie Hartwell-WalkerDr. Marie Hartwell-Walker is licensed as both a psychologist and marriage and family counselor. She specializes in couples and family therapy and parent education. She writes regularly for Psych Central as well as Psych Central's Ask the Therapist feature. She is author of the insightful parenting e-book, Tending the Family Heart.

Check out her book, Unlocking the Secrets of Self-Esteem.

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2020). The Birds and the Bees: Talking to Young Teens About Sex. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 23, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 17 Jan 2020 (Originally: 17 May 2016)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 17 Jan 2020
Published on Psych All rights reserved.