Young people and sex: Seven tips for parents

Prepare yourself for questions, do not panic or shut them down

“Just because young people are asking these questions does not mean this is what they’re doing,” says Lorraine O’Connell, a sexual health education co-ordinator. “They’re just curious.”

Since starting work with Sexual Health West in 2008 she has seen a huge shift in parents wanting to talk to their children about sex and seeking advice, where once they might have avoided the subject.

“All the research is there to show if you start talking to children early about these matters, it reduces the age of first sexual activity, reduces teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections and they have better relationships because they can communicate.”

She has also seen young people start to ask more detailed questions, correlating with information they are seeing on the internet. Technology-related issues, such as sexting and sending of nude photos, is obviously a new area in recent years.


Parents need this information before children go into secondary school because that is when a lot of this stuff is coming up, says O'Connell, who contributed to Sex Educated by Grace Alice O'Shea. O'Connell works in schools with children and parents through Wiser, the educational arm of Sexual Health West, which has put a series of sixth class tutorials on its website that parents would find useful.

Seven tips for parents

(from O'Shea and O'Connell):
– Prepare yourself for questions, so you do not panic or shut them down.
– No matter what a young person comes to you with, do not overreact.
– Never refuse to answer a question. If something completely floors you, say you have to check it out and come back to them.
– If you do have a hasty, unhelpful reaction, go back and say "sorry, that was on me it wasn't about you".
– Don't get too tied up in "getting it right"; what is important is that you show empathy and open mindedness.
– Be open to learning from your young person – the sexual landscape you grew up in is probably very different.
– Seek support, be it from friends or experts.

Other helpful resources: the HSE website has a section for parents, as does, which is information aimed at teenagers before they have sex for the first time. Sarah Sproule runs workshops for parents on supporting children through puberty.

Read: Handbook to navigate today’s sexual landscape