Regardless of your beliefs, parents should encourage open communication and education about sex. This includes discussion of boundaries, consent and healthy relationships.
By the end of middle adolescence, physical puberty is usually complete and sexual thoughts, feelings and behaviors may expand further. This can be very revealing for teens and parents.
It’s Not Normal
The teen sexual development process is complex, and every child is different. It’s important for parents to understand what normal and abnormal sexual behavior looks like in their children, so they can help them navigate this complicated time.
It’s normal for teens to explore their bodies and sexual arousal through self-exploration and masturbation. This can also include experimentation with opposite or same-gender partners. It’s not a sign of problem sexual activity if a teen starts having erections, but it is important to teach them how to use condoms in order to protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as chlamydia.
Parents should keep an eye out for changes in their teen’s mood, attitude and behaviors that may indicate they are exploring or engaging in sexual activity. For example, if your daughter suddenly becomes very focused on her appearance and insists that she needs to wear makeup before leaving the house, this could be a sign that she is trying to attract attention from boys or girls. Similarly, if your teen starts skipping school or is no longer interested in their homework, it could be an indication that they are spending more time with their romantic partner than they should be.
Parents should also be on the lookout for signs of a relationship, such as sexting or other explicit messages to and from their children. They should be sure to talk with their kids about their relationships and make them aware that there are serious consequences if they are caught doing anything inappropriate.
It’s Not Safe
When it comes to sexual activity, some teenagers choose to abstain. This may be for a variety of reasons. Some are religious or have spiritual beliefs, while others want to avoid pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. Still others find that they are not ready to engage in sexual relationships at all. NBC News and People Magazine commissioned Princeton Survey Research Associates International to conduct a nationwide telephone survey of young teenagers (ages 13-16) about their sexual activity. A separate, complementary survey was conducted among parents.
Most adolescents begin to develop an interest in sex around age 12. This curiosity is often intensified by exposure to movies and music that depict sexually explicit behavior, as well as by the actions of older siblings and peers. Youth also have the opportunity to learn about sex from a wide range of media sources such as books, magazines and the Internet.
By the end of early adolescence, many teens will have experimented with sexual behaviors and masturbation. This sexual exploration can be with opposite or same gender peers and can involve mutual consent. It is also common for teens to experience a period of time where they have erections and masturbate frequently in order to satisfy their sexual arousal.
Teens who are sexually active will need to know how to protect themselves from sexually transmitted infections, as well as the emotional and physical ramifications of pregnancy. They should seek the advice of a medical professional if they have questions or concerns. It is also important to make sure they understand the responsibilities of sex, including abstaining from drugs or alcohol.
It’s Not Healthy
The decision to become sexually active at 13 is a huge one, especially for adolescents who may already be dealing with the emotional and social ramifications of puberty. The risk of disease and pregnancy are also very real issues for teens of this age. Whether a teen chooses to have sex at this age or not, it is important that they are informed of the risks involved so they can make an informed choice.
Adolescents’ knowledge of sex and sexual behavior is influenced by a wide range of factors, including family dynamics and values, school-based sex education programs, the availability of the Internet and publicly available written information, and peer influences. Peers are often a source of inaccurate and misleading information, particularly for girls who may be exposed to popular culture that depicts women as sex objects and men as sexual conquests.
The onset of sexual activity at this age can be a precursor to STIs (sexually transmitted infections), such as herpes, chlamydia, and genital warts (caused by HPV), gonorrhea, and syphilis. These can lead to both physical and mental health problems, including erectile dysfunction, infertility, and sexually transmitted cancers. It is important for parents to understand the process of adolescent sexual development so they can better support their children and intervene if necessary. For more information on this topic, please see the Working with Sexually Active Children and Young People Under 18 Flowchart (Documents Library, Flowcharts). Having healthy, open communication is a key factor in helping teens to navigate their sexual development in a safe and responsible manner.
It’s Not Necessary
While the media ensures that children and adolescents are exposed to sex earlier than ever before, it is not necessary for teens to be sexually active at this age. During mid and late adolescence, most sex occurs within dating or romantic relationships (with boys more likely to engage in casual relationships), and teen sexual activity is not usually consensual at this time.
The decision whether or not to have sex is largely driven by personal and societal values, and the timing of when sexual activity begins will vary according to gender and culture. It is important for parents to set clear boundaries with their children about what they consider appropriate behavior from an early age and to discuss these values regularly with them.
For a teen girl, it may be helpful to talk with her gynecologist or pediatrician about sexual health issues. She should be reminded that a Pap smear and pregnancy tests are important, and she should be encouraged to always use protection. If she is skipping school, it is important to find out why and have a heart-to-heart with her about her new relationship.
It is a very stressful time for parents to discover that their child is sexually active, and many fly off the handle or respond in an inappropriate way. Keeping calm and discussing this subject in a mature way will help your child feel supported and respected.