Protecting Teens from Risky Sexual Behavior

Your positive parenting can impact your teen's sexual choices.

Posted Aug 13, 2019

When I was a teenager, I thought about sex all the time. However, anyone who knew me back then could tell you that there was little chance the dreams would become reality. If anything, thinking about me and sex at the same time was the best kind of contraception available. 

Now that I’m a father of two teenage boys (I’ve had sex twice now!), I know that my sons and their friends have sex on their minds, just like I did. I’m under no illusion that these teenagers – my sons included – will be entering late adulthood as virgins. Sexuality is normal and healthy, and I think everyone should try it at least twice. I know my two sons will be having sex, and their friends will be having sex, and all of the hormones floating around their high school will have their desires sated.

What worries me is not whether they have sex, but whether they have sex that is risky. According to a recent study in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence [1], “Risky sexual behavior includes early sexual debut, low rates of condom use, and high rates of partner change.” Some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) stay with a person for life. Having a child as a teenager changes a person’s life trajectory in unalterable ways. Teenage parents are more likely to be poor, to have lower levels of education, and have more psychological distress. And their children are likely to carry the influence forward, participating in risky sexual behavior themselves.

I want my sons, and their friends, to have good futures. I want them to have sexual experiences, but I want them to be an expression of their love for special partners. When they make the decision to express their love sexually, I want them to use protection until they feel emotionally and financially ready to have children on purpose. And I want them to use common sense and be responsible about protecting themselves from STIs like HPV or HIV.

I imagine that you, dear reader, want the same for your children. The most important influence on a child’s sexual behavior is the family. In particular, your parenting sets the stage for the kinds of sexual decisions your children will make. It’s really quite amazing – the degree to which you treat your children with respect and kindness, and model moral and thoughtful behavior, is matched by their ability to treat themselves and others with respect and kindness, and their desire to be moral and thoughtful.

How exactly do parents end up impacting and influencing their teen’s sexual choices? Over the next few weeks, I will be writing a series of articles about the main psychological theories which attempt to answer this question. We will discuss:

  1. The impact you have through the behaviors you model in the home
  2. How you influence the types of peers your teen chooses as friends (who then influence your teen’s choices)
  3. The ways that your positive or negative treatment of your child influences whether they can speak to you about their life
  4. The importance of making them feel safe to grow up slowly vs. feeling a need to grow up quickly
  5. The ways you show your child the importance of normative sexual values
  6. The impact you have on your child’s ability to use self-control and accept delayed gratification

If you are a parent of a teenager, and you’d like to discuss any of these matters, reach out to me at and let’s talk. Perhaps I’ll even use you in one of the articles (confidentially, if you desire).

In the meantime, happy parenting!


[1] Simons, L. G., Sutton, T. E., Simons, R. L., Gibbons, F. X., & Murry, V. M. (2016). Mechanisms that link parenting practices to adolescents’ risky sexual behavior: A test of six competing theories. Journal of youth and adolescence, 45(2), 255-270.