How Teenagers Learn About Sexuality

By S.R. Becker
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The availability of online pornography and potentially deadly sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) makes it crucial for parents to teach their children about sex. However, teens often learn from their friends -- sometimes incorrectly -- long before their parents sit them down for "the talk." The more accurate information kids learn about their bodies, the better their chances of protecting themselves from STDs and unwanted pregnancy.


Teaching their kids about sex is the parents' job, no matter how uncomfortable it might be. Most parents want to protect their teens from getting STDs or getting pregnant, and by taking their daughters to get the human papillomavirus (HPV) shot or birth control, they can do so. HPV shots also help prevent genital warts in boys. Although some teens have access to birth control services without parental consent, parents often learn that their kids are sexually active when they ask for help getting birth control. Talking to kids about the importance of self-respect and methods of protection from the time they're young is crucial.


Although some schools promote abstinence-only education, many provide comprehensive sex ed. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 96 of American teen girls and 97 percent of American teen boys receive some form of sex ed in school. Girls report more often than boys do that they first learned about birth control in a high school sex ed class. A study by professor Rebecca Maynard at the Penn Graduate School of Education found that abstinence-only sex ed does not increase the age at which teens first have sex, which means that receiving birth control and disease-prevention information still is crucial to preventing pregnancy and STDs.


Anyone who has ever been in a high-school locker room knows teens talk about sex and the workings of their bodies. They often feel far more comfortable sharing their sexual experiences with each other than with their parents; many teens don't want their parents to know they're sexually active. However, the information teens receive from each other might be inaccurate. They might share rumors about sex rather than facts. If teens have to rely on their friends for accurate birth-control information, they might end up misinformed and pregnant.

The Media

Unfortunately, teens receive a lot of exposure to and misinformation about sex from the media. Online porn changed everything; with the proliferation of free sites, chances are good your teen has at least seen a little. According to, teens report that they primarily get their information about sex from the media. Both boys and girls have media-informed ideas about how their bodies should look and perform, which are usually inaccurate. Giving teens access to websites and TV shows that present accurate information helps them make confident, responsible decisions about their sexuality.