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How do I tell my parents I'm thinking about having sex?

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Updated June 19, 2009

Question: How do I tell my parents I'm thinking about having sex?
My partner and I are at the stage where we are seriously considering sex as a next step. We both live at home with our parents and neither of us is keen on the idea of discussing sex with our parents as we assume that their eyes will fall out of their sockets if we so much as mention the word sex. I don’t want them to freak out, but if anything goes wrong when my boyfriend and I have sex, I don’t want them to be completely oblivious to the fact that I have actually been sleeping with my partner. Do you have any suggestions on how I could try and discuss this with them without being totally humiliated?
Answer:

First off I want to say how great your process sounds. Talking with people, in this case your parents, can help a lot when trying to make a decision or figure out how you feel about something you feel is significant. It’s not that they’re going to give you some earth shattering news, but sometimes just talking through an issue helps you figure out where you stand in a different way. Now for some suggestions...

The first person I turned to with your question is Dr. Miriam Kaufman. Miriam spends a lot of her time talking with both parents and teenagers about sex. She’s also the author of Easy for You to Say and several other books that deal with youth and various health issues. Here are some of Miriam’s thoughts on your situation:

The first thing is to remember that your parents have had sex, and likely still do, so they do get the fact that people like to do this. Sex is a pretty private thing, and not something that most of us want to discuss with our parents, but it is good that you don't want to be skulking around about this. If your parents aren't abstinence-only people who have asked you to take a virginity pledge, they will not kick you out because you are thinking about sexual activity.

Many people choose to tell one parent first, so if you are closer to one of your folks, or feel that one of them is less judgmental than the other, then consider starting with him or her.

Having said that, you might want to hit them with a hypothetical first (e.g. "There's this girl at school who's had the same boyfriend for quite a while, and she told me that her mother would kill her if she had sex" or "Susan sleeps over at Jim's house every weekend, what do you think of that?")

Also, instead of talking with your parent about sex, you might want to discuss birth control. Your parent will get the message, and will be happy that you are being responsible.

Miriam also wanted me to tell you that you might want to talk with your parent about the new HPV vaccine and ask if their insurance covers the cost.

I have a few thoughts to add to Miriam’s. You mention that you don’t want to be humiliated. It might be worth thinking about what you’re afraid will happen when you talk to a parent, and then imagining how you might respond in that worst case scenario.

If you have no idea how your parent is going to respond, you might want to stick with Dr. Kaufman’s suggestion about making this about a friend. You can even raise the subject in terms of something you learned in school or saw in a movie. Having a more general discussion about sex in our culture can be a safe way to start, and gauge your parents comfort level and general attitude.

Another possible way to broach the subject may be to ask the parent you feel more comfortable with about their first romantic and sexual experiences. Obviously you’re not asking for details here, but you might ask them how they knew they were ready to start being sexual with partners. This won’t work with a lot of parents, but some might enjoy the opportunity to talk about their own past, and may even share experiences that can help you with your own decision. Again, you need to gauge this for your own parents. If your parent seems interested in talking about this, but expresses confusion as to where to start, you can always point them to this link about talking with your kids about sex.

In the end it would be good if you can remind yourself that you can’t control how your parent is going to respond. You may be able to be mature about your sexual decisions, and you may do a great job of laying out your thinking and planning to your parent. But in the end they may respond in a completely inappropriate and irrational way. If this is the case, you can still feel good about your ability to bring this up with them, but you need to not take responsibility for their reaction. Whether parents like it or not, at some point we all assert our own control over our lives. This is a healthy part of growing up and becoming an adult.

As one final point, which is slightly off topic, I want to point out neither you, Dr. Kaufman or I are being clear about what we mean by “sex”. I’m assuming (but could be wrong) that you and your partner are having different kinds of sex play already (from flirting to kissing and cuddling to any number of other things) and that you’re talking about having intercourse. If this is the case then I want to point out that you’re already having sex, This doesn’t make it less of a big deal to you, but sometimes it can help to realize that sex isn’t just intercourse, and even though we put a lot of emphasis on it in our culture, sex really is a continuum that you’re already on. This doesn’t really help with your question about parents (since I’m not recommending you start this conversation by saying “oh I already have lots of sex!”) but I thought it was worth pointing out since the only way we’ll ever challenge the supremacy of intercourse is by cheering on all the other sexual things we do.

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