Most parents wish they had the courage to bring it up. Some teenagers wish they did too. It's the sex talk—that all-important, if not entirely uncomfortable discussion about the birds and the bees. Don't leave it up to your child's friends; high school locker rooms are riddled with myths and false information. Instead, have an open and frank discussion about sex that will equip your child with the knowledge to make the best decisions for him or her. Here are a few issues to discuss.

Human Papillomavirus Vaccine

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine. This vaccine guards against some high-risk HPV strains that cause genital warts and cervical cancer. However, even with the vaccine, it is possible to contract the virus. There are more than 100 strains, of which the vaccine only protects against the four strains that cause more than 98% of cervical cancers.

Learn more about HPV.

Birth Control Options

Thousands of young women become pregnant each year because they did not use or did not know how to properly use birth control. Most people know about birth control in pill form. It is composed of one or two hormones that prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg. The pill is affective, but it does not protect against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs); condoms should also be used to lower STD risk. In addition to reducing the risk of unwanted pregnancy, some hormonal birth control options could have other benefits, including:

  • improved acne
  • less body or facial hair
  • reduced menstrual pain or cramping
  • reduced risk of ovarian cysts
  • protection against ovarian or uterine cancer
  • reduced risk of infertility

There are also documented side effects of hormonal birth control, including an increased risk of blood clots and weight gain.

Sometimes teenagers are too embarrassed or afraid of how their parents will react if they ask about birth control. If the discussion is too emotional, or you don't feel comfortable, make an appointment with your child's pediatrician or the family physician. Keep in mind that your child might not be comfortable discussing birth control in front of you. It might be best to allow your child to talk to a doctor while you aren't in the room.

Learn more about choosing the right birth control option

Safe Sex

As if unintended pregnancy wasn't scary enough, teens account for nearly half of all new STD cases, though they only make up about a quarter of the sexually active population. Birth control can prevent pregnancy, but to guard against herpes, chlamydia, gonorrhea, and other STDs, it's important to stress the need for a condom with every sexual encounter.

According to research, teenagers often don't view oral or anal sex as actual sex, and while you can't get pregnant from either of those forms of sex, they harbor just as many risks in terms of disease and infection.

Get more in-depth information on STDs.

Peer Pressure

Having an open discussion with your teen will allow you to address any concerns he or she may have about the physical aspect of sex. What might be left unaddressed is the emotional aspect. Many teens may feel ridiculed by friends or peers for their sexual practices. In some circles, it may be popular to abstain from sex, so if they make the decision to have sex, friends may hurt their feelings or make them feel guilty. In other circles, sex is commonplace, but your teen may not want to have sex yet. Talk with your teen about the emotional aspect of a physical relationship and help to work through the feelings about his or her decision.

Sexual Orientation

Adolescence is a time for sexual and emotional discovery that may include the development of romantic relationships with members of the same sex. This makes many parents uncomfortable, but homosexuality is a reality that should not be ignored or stigmatized. It's important to keep your child's feelings and emotional health at the forefront of this issue. Imagine the stress and anxiety a teen might go through as he or she worries about the risks of 'coming out' to family and friends who may be hostile or disapproving.

Studies have shown a high prevalence in depression, alcoholism, and suicide among gays and lesbians. Experts attribute this trend to negative parental and societal pressures, and to unhealthy emotions—especially during a person's formative teen years. If you are uncomfortable or disapproving of same sex relationships, it is important that you remain open and nonjudgmental as you learn more about your child's thoughts and feelings.