Expert tips for talking to your daughter about sex

Are you that mom who would rather stick an icepick through your eye than talk to your teen girl about sex (seriously, it doesn’t have to be that bad!)? Or maybe the idea of sex conversations makes you squirm a little. We need to talk, girlfriend!

First, let’s talk about why you need to have the conversations. Notice I said conversations. This really should be an ongoing conversation that starts in preschool. But if you are behind the 8 ball, and even if you fear that your daughter may have already had sex, take a deep breath. It’s going to be okay. It’s time to talk.

Click here to ask anything anonymously.
The reason why research has demonstrated that abstinence programs have not been successful (teens who participate in abstinence programs do not abstain at any higher rate than those who don’t) is because programs are concentrated, short-period intensives. Adolescent sexuality lasts long after the abstinence program is finished. If ongoing conversations aren’t happening at crucial times, one program won’t be enough to tackle the pressures and desires your daughter is experiencing on a daily basis.

So, now that you know an abstinence program isn’t going to save you, it’s time to get really comfortable talking about sex—all types in all different ways (intercourse, oral, masturbating, transgenderism, homosexuality)—I hope I didn’t make you squirm. Many moms may feel that discussing these deep topics would expose their child to something they didn’t already know. News flash: our media-drenched culture has already taken care of that job, or it will soon. She needs to hear it from you first, and often. She needs to hear your viewpoints and opinions.

I know you may feel terrified. Sometimes our fears regarding sex conversations with our daughters are connected to our own sexual history—first experiences, influences, heartbreaks, mistakes, etc. You want something very different for her. Take another deep breath because it’s going to be okay.

Here are 7 tips when you need to talk to your teen girl about sex:

1. Your daughter is not you.

I know it seems like I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but when it comes to emotionally-charged subjects like sex, it’s easy to assume that our daughters are like us and we fail to recognize that she is a different person, with different life experiences, which means she sees the world through a different lens than you do. Encourage her to talk about her thoughts and opinions. Please note that she will not feel comfortable sharing them with you if she feels that you can’t handle it. Listening to and acknowledging her opinion does not mean that you agree with it or consent to unhealthy behavior. Ask more questions. Get to know her thoughts, and she will be more open to hearing yours. Remember: our kids don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.

“Remember: our kids don’t care how much we know until they know how much we care.” Dr. Zoe Shaw

2. Tell your daughter your story.

This may seem scary. I know. I’m feeling you. It’s easier to let your daughter think that you had very little sexual urges, desires, or temptations and that you were a virgin until your wedding night and lived happily sexually after. The reality is that humans are sexual beings throughout our lifespan and sex (even in marriage) can be awkward and messy and beautiful and miraculous. This will be your daughter’s experience as well. Prepare her.

Many women feel that sharing their sexual bumbles or failures would be hypocritical. Sharing your humanity with your daughter is the most loving and authentic gift a mother can give her child. Authenticity breeds connection and trust. And don’t fear that if you have made mistakes that it gives her license to go out and do the same. Make it clear that they were mistakes that you want her to be able to avoid. It is also important that you share from a place of wisdom, and you share about your past, not present, sexual experiences. This creates healthy boundaries. If you have not fully dealt with an issue, you need to seek help before you share because your daughter is not your friend or your therapist. You need to be her rock, not vice versa.

3. Books are a great starting point.

There are some great books on teen sexuality. But books alone won’t cut it. Our parents may have given us a book and said, “Here. Let me know if you have any questions.” That wasn’t the best method back then, and it sure as heck isn’t going to work now. Our daughters need us as a sounding board. Use books as a starting point. Give her a book and let her know that you have read it already and feel that it may be good for her to read. Tell her that after she reads it, you would like to talk about it. Afterward, share your thoughts and opinions and ask about hers.

4. Use real facts.

Don’t over or under exaggerate the facts. Use the statistics as conversation starters. For example, you can honestly ask your 15-year-old daughter if she knows that most girls her age are not having sex. You can also honestly tell your 17-year-old daughter that over half the girls her age are sexually active1, and ask her what she thinks about that. Ask if that seems to be representative of her friends and why she thinks that may or may not be.

5. Trust that she hears you.

She may stay silent most of the time. She may roll her eyes or cover her ears. I promise she hears you. She is taking it all in. You are planting seeds with your words. These seeds will either promote future conversations or shut them down. It may not seem like it, but your teenage daughter wants to please you. If she sees that you are upset, she will learn that she can’t go down that road with you and she will stop talking. Our children are still predominantly influenced by us. And newsflash: the strongest influences on thoughts and beliefs are often never spoken attitudes and beliefs that our parents have. Parents communicate these thoughts through body language—what we are or aren’t willing to talk about and the way in which we talk about the issues.

6. Control your emotions, girl!

Freakouts push her away. Garner up everything you learned from your high school drama class and act like you are cool and collected. If she knows you can handle what she throws at you, she will feel more grounded and safe. Decompress and vent to a trusted friend or family member after difficult conversations, without violating your daughter’s trust. You need some support to get through this tough time too.

Freakouts push her away. You need to be her rock, not vice versa.

7. Finally, if she is already having sex, don’t forget that she is still your baby.

She needs you now more than ever. It’s not too late to help her make healthy decisions. One mess up does not have to determine the rest of her life. Give yourself a time out and don’t respond immediately out of emotion. It’s okay to express disappointment in the decision, but it is imperative that you don’t express disappointment in your daughter as a person. It’s important to let her know that it will be harder now to abstain from sex, once she has already started down that path. Set healthy boundaries that respect her, your home, and family by not allowing her any time alone with her boyfriend—anywhere. Kids can get pretty creative when they want to have sex, so this may require more adult supervision during times when you previously trusted her to be alone.

I know it is tempting, but don’t try to get rid of her boyfriend. That is a mistake that won’t work! This isn’t really about her boyfriend at all. It is about the choice she made. If you are successful in getting rid of him, not only will you have damaged your relationship with your daughter, but she will eventually find another boyfriend and have sex with him, too.

Your daughter needs to have a gynecology appointment to get tested for STDs. I know this is hard, but it is also important to make sure she has condoms (and is taught the safest way to use them) in case she ever makes this decision again. Condoms don’t just prevent pregnancy, they also save lives. Many parents feel that giving their children birth control is encouraging sexual behavior. If your daughter has already had sex, it increases the likelihood that she will again and helping her protect herself, even in the midst of a bad decision, is not giving her permission. Give her some grace, but be firm. You two will survive this together.

No one said that life with a teenage girl was easy, especially when it comes to talking about sex. Communication is key! These are great actionable tips that you can put into practice to make the road a little less bumpy for both of you. You and your daughter will get through this time and will look back on the strong relationship you have built as a result. Sometimes our own emotional baggage can get in the way of following through on these steps. Again, it’s important that if you are struggling in this area to reach out and get some help yourself—that doesn’t make you weak. In fact, it makes you strong.