Advice for Sexually Active High Schoolers

It can be a bit of a startling revelation for adults to find out that teenagers in their life are sexually active. I don’t even like that teenagers are legally allowed to handle food at restaurants. Now, this? But as a person of influence in a teenager’s life, your primary job is to help them make good decisions.

That means approaching the conversation as calmly and productively as possible. In this article, we talk about how parents and guidance counselors can talk to high school students about sexual activity.

Make Decisions

I’m pretty sure they already doing that, you think, as you begin moving the mouse toward the little x at the top of your screen. Well, sure. But there is a difference between making a decision as things are picking up, and, say, several hours before when you’re in a calmer frame of mind.

When a person is in the moment, it’s very easy to make decisions that they otherwise wouldn’t have. This could mean forgoing precautions that they know are important. It could also just mean taking things a little bit faster than they wanted to originally with this particular person.

Of course, high school students don’t necessarily need to plan to the point that spontaneity completely exits the equation. They should, however, be in a steady frame of mind as they make certain decisions. What boundaries am I comfortable with? How will I communicate what I want, and what I definitely don’t want? What ways will I protect myself from pregnancy and disease?

Adults worry about teenagers being sexually active precisely because they so often don’t think things out in this way. They have the bodies of adults, but in many ways, the minds of children. Adults who have the chance to help guide a sexually active teenager should try to help them view the situation from a more grown-up perspective.

Emphasize the Importance of Birth Control

High school students may not appreciate the risks they take with even one unprotected sexual encounter. As a guidance counselor or parent, it’s important to help them understand the reality of what can happen. Disease. Pregnancy. Permanently life-changing conditions that they can be left with after only one encounter.

As a guidance counselor, it’s also important to appreciate that not every teenager will have the same access to birth control. While it should be easy enough — they sell condoms at the grocery store — there may be financial or social barriers in place that you aren’t aware of.

Some public high schools distribute condoms for free in the nurse’s office. If yours does not, consider keeping a list of resources handy for where the student might find free contraception.

Discuss the Facts Without Being a Fear monger

Ok, so you typed something like “how to discuss sexual activity with teenagers” into the browser, right? And if you stopped anywhere else before getting here, you probably found a lot of articles on how to persuade a teenager out of being sexually active, or otherwise make them fear it.

Well, good luck with that. Sexually active teenagers are only doing what they’ve been biologically wired to do for millions of years. If you emphasize consequences over information, you’ll run the risk of shutting them out. And what happens when a teenager starts to shut you out? They listen better.

Ha. No. They don’t listen at all. Instead of being a fearmonger, just calmly discuss the facts. “The rate of sexually transmitted disease for teenagers in our area is X. Here’s how you can avoid it…”
And spoilers, the phrase “abstinence only” probably doesn’t have much of a place beyond those dot dot dots.

About sixty percent of kids have sex in high school. Less than many people might guess, but still a strong enough figure to make one thing clear—this is a normal, mainstream activity, that kids will do with or without “approval”.

The job isn’t to persuade them out of it. It’s to equip them to make smart decisions. Tell them the difference between HIV and AIDS. Discuss other STDs. Just don’t alienate them. Which feeds into our next point….

Be Someone They Can Talk To

Whether you’re a parent or a guidance counselor, you will have your own opinions about sexual activity in high school. Depending on your relationship with the child, it may be appropriate to express this opinion in measured, well-thought-out quantities.

Here’s the thing: you don’t want to do that at the risk of blowing up the entire conversation. You don’t necessarily need to go in completely resigned — they’re going to do it no matter what I say — but there are two things to consider:

  • They might not. Remember our stat from earlier? Forty percent of people graduate high school without having sex. Proving, perhaps, that high schoolers can distinguish between their biological impulses and activities that are in their best interest.
  • Your job isn’t really to talk them out of it. If you’re a guidance counselor, this is definitely true. You may have a personal or religious perspective on teen sexual activity, but your job in this context is just to have a productive, informative conversation. The same pretty much goes for parents. Your relationship is of course, different. Personal opinion will have more weight. Nevertheless, you don’t want the conversation to devolve into a fight.

So yes. Be someone they can talk to. If you think you have reasons that the teenager should abstain from sexual activity, make sure they are entirely rooted in fact. More importantly, though, make sure that your teenager leaves the conversation feeling comfortable enough to bring their sexual questions and concerns to you in the future.

They need guidance, and they aren’t going to seek it from someone whose only move is to try and shut them down.