Preparing young people for healthy sexually active lives

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The important role of parents

What do our children need for happy, safe sexual lives?

Would our approach to sex education be different if we assumed it was our job to prepare children for happy, safe sexual lives?

Rather than trying to stop them having sex at all costs, what if we asked ourselves:

  • What do they need to know to have happy, healthy and safe sexual lives?
  • What are the choices that lead to them having fulfilling sexual lives?

If you don’t know the answers to these questions (and many of us don’t) then probably neither do they.

And it’s the absence of this conversation with young people that leads them to take sexual risks.

What’s love got to do with it?

Part of growing up is forming your first strong attachment to somebody else - somebody who is not the parent!

A young person’s first relationship can force new questions for the family about how much freedom they are allowed and how they manage their intense new feelings.

Your child needs to know they do not have to have sex even if they are truly-madly-deeply in love.

It is their right and choice to take their time. In fact sex is better when you wait until you feel ready (really!).

Research shows that the younger you are, the more likely that sex is uncomfortable and the more likely that it is regretted.23

Young people also need to know that not everyone is doing it, although some are. About half of Australian high school students are having sexual intercourse, which means half are not!2

What’s good about sex?

If we acknowledge that sex can be a happy, pleasurable experience, we will be better able to 'sell' that it's worth waiting for, rather than something to rush into.

If parents only talk about the downsides of sex, like sexually transmissible infections (STIs), then young people will switch off.

If responsible adults acknowledge what's good about love and sex and relationships then we can teach young people what to aim for.

It’s important that young people are told somewhere along the line that a sexual relationship can be a pleasurable and happy thing, and that it is worth waiting for the right conditions. 

The research tells us that young people can have happy experiences of sex, without negative consequences, if the conditions are right.

Most Australian young people report that after their last sexual encounter they felt extremely/a lot:2


All the things that we hope for them! 


Kim: “When my children start experimenting with sexual behaviour, I want them to really enjoy it, I want them to have positive experiences and I want them to feel empowered. And, I want to make sure that it’s healthy, it’s safe, they’re not pressured into it, but at the same time you don’t want it to happen too young.”

Jo: “So it’s about more than just knowing the facts of life.”

Kim: “It’s about being strong, assertive, respecting yourself and other people.”

Parents of girls aged 14