Talking to Kids About Sex

Dear Dr. Melanie,

I found condoms in my daughter’s drawer when I was putting her clothes away. She’s only 16 and promised she wouldn’t have sex yet. I don’t want her to think I snoop through her room, but I do want to find out whether she’s having sex. What do you suggest? — Shocked Mom


Dear Mom,

The good news is that your daughter has condoms. Seriously. She’s either planning ahead to have safer sex; she’s having sex with protection; or she’s hiding condoms for a friend who is practicing safer sex. These are all signs that she’s being responsible.

If you routinely put your daughter’s clothing away, she knew the dresser wasn’t a great hiding place. My guess is that on some level, she wanted you to see the condoms. You can use this as an opening to talk with her about the pleasures and risks of teen sex.

Avoid being confrontational, i.e., “Are you having sex?” or “What are you doing with condoms?” Instead, say, “I was putting away your clothes and noticed condoms in your drawer. I am proud of you for taking precautions, but I’d also like to talk to you about how to make choices that are both physically and emotionally safe.” Then, set a time for that conversation – later than day or the next morning, perhaps – so she has time to get over the surprise of your discovery.

Encourage your daughter* to limit her number of sexual partners in order to decrease exposure to sexually transmitted infections. Limiting partners has another advantage, which is that it provides less fodder for embarrassment or regret later.

All teens should know about and have access to over-the-counter contraceptives. Condoms break periodically, so it makes sense to use a back-up method like spermicide (jelly, foam, film, vaginal suppository, etc.) or a prescription option.

Mention that condoms should be used with any intercourse activity (oral, anal or vaginal) to decrease the risk of sexually transmitted infection.

Teens face pressure to have sex, and sometimes they need permission to stop once they start. Assure them that a caring partner will respect your teen’s decision, and if the respect isn’t there, the relationship should probably end

*Parents should talk to sons, too!