Talking to your teenager can be challenging at the best of times. Talking to them about sex -- well that sends them running out of the room.     It's not a topic many teenagers or parents want to talk about, but CHEO's expert in adolescent health says it's one that needs attention.

When Terrik Valcin's parents had "the teen talk" with him about sex, he says their approach could have used a bit of work. “They were just like "are you having sex?,” recalls Valcin.  “They didn't ease me into the conversation. They were just like are you having sex, yes or no?”

Talking to your parents about sex -- ranks as high up there in the 'awkward" category as being seen shopping with your mom or at the movies with your dad.

“I think it's going to be an awkward topic no matter what,” says teenager Kaitland Gorman.  “It doesn't matter how you approach it.” 

But she and her friends advise parents not to be too preachy.

“When parents talk about it, they shouldn't say what not to do,” says Gretha Conrads, “When they talk about it, they should be objective.”

So why talk to your teen about sex?  One good reason is because the number of cases of chlamydia in Ontario has increased 122% in last decade.  According to Ottawa Public health, Ottawa has one of highest infection rates and twenty percent of those cases are teenagers between 15 and 19 years old.

With sexually transmitted infections on the rise along with teen pregnancies, the sex talk has never been more important.

Dr. Mark Norris is a specialist in adolescent health with the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.  He says parents have to be open to the fact that their teenagers may be having sex.

“Certainly by the time kids are 15 or 16 years old, about 25% or 30% of youth are having sex,” says Dr. Norris, “By the time they're 18 or 19, two-thirds or three-quarters are having sex at that point.”

But Dr. Norris says just because parents talk to their kids about sex doesn't have to mean they condone it. “Most teens know where their parents’ values lie and I would encourage parents to make it known what their expectations are. Will that translate into an appropriate response from your teen? No,” he says.

20-year-old Melissa Angandeh would agree, “Parents should approach sex as something precious and not something you share with anybody,” says Angdandeh.  But any talk about sex must include a message about safe sex:  contraception and condoms. Dr. Norris says if kids are having unprotected sex, they need to get themselves checked regularly.

CHEO has additional information about adolescent and teen sexuality:

Common concerns parents have about adolescent sexuality:

  • Early onset
  • Increased frequency – kids doing it younger and more of it
  • Sexual exploitation - internet, date rape drugs
  • Unsafe sex resulting in increased STI’s
  • Teen pregnancy
  • Casual sex – friends with benefits, sexting

Determinants of Sexual Behaviour are:

  • Perceptions
  • Peer pressure
  • Modeling – sexual scripts
  • Media messaging
  • Self esteem
  • School and family connectedness

Reasons for teen sex

  • Love
  • Curiosity
  • Experimentation

Recommendations for parents

Even the most confident parent can dread having ‘the sex talk’ with their child. Having to explain the birds and the bees, talking about puberty and contraception can leave parents tongue-tied, but it is important to talk about sexual health with your teenager and to keep the lines of communication open. It shouldn’t be one conversation but an ongoing dialogue because, as kids grow older they may have specific questions about sex and sexual health, and if they don’t get the facts from their parents, they’ll get them elsewhere with more or less accuracy. As parents, we have a role to play to equip our kids with all the facts and with accurate information so they can make informed choices.

Additional info: