Sexually Healthy Teens
Mary M Buxton LCSW, Inc.
AASECT Certified Sex Therapist

What is a sexually healthy teen?

A sexually active teen appreciates their body, take responsibility for their own behavior, communicate effectively & respectfully, and express love & intimacy in a way that is appropriate for their age.  In order to avoid putting pressure on teens who are not having sex, it needs to be said up front…most kids will be interested in sex and that this does not equal that they want to be sexual with another.  It is okay, and likely smart and healthy to say no to sex when you are not ready or willing to be sexual with a partner.

Comprehensive Sex Education

The media, Internet, TV, movies and radio, tend to simplify sex to romantic thrills, heterosexual intercourse and broken hearts.  But sex is way more complex than that.  A comprehensive sex education includes an incredible number of topics related to sexuality, such as sexual development, reproductive health, relationships, affection, intimacy, body image and gender roles.  And a few more... internet use, eating disorders, broken hearts, sexual abuse & unwanted touch, dating violence, birth control, STD’s, transgendered, gay/lesbian/bi orientations, date rape drugs, and drugs & alcohol.  It develops communication, decision-making and other personal skills involved in having healthy relationships.  The goal of a comprehensive sex education is to help young people become sexually healthy adults.

Family Messages about Sex

Sex education at home is called the BIG talk, the facts of life, or the birds and the bees.  But whatever you call it, it’s often a big secret.  Parents want to talk to you about sex, and you would probably like to hear from your parents about it. It’s an important part of life.  However it’s hard for parents to talk about sex because very few of them ever had anyone talk to them about sex when they were your age, it’s an uncomfortable and embarrassing topic, and they fear that the information will promote sexual experimentation.  And it’s often hard for teens to talk to their parents because they want more independence and privacy.  There’s just never a right time to talk.  However, research shows that teens who are well educated about sex tend to delay first intercourse and are prepared to participate safely when they do have intercourse. It’s also a helpful guide for many teens to know what their parent’s expectations and values are about sexual experimentation.

So, whether you did or didn’t get information about sex at home, here are some thoughts on being a sexually healthy teen.  Read it on your own or discuss it with your friends, boy/girl friends and/or your parents.  Where are you with each one of these issues?

Adolescent Development – The Big Picture

The big question for younger teens going through puberty is “Am I Normal?”
 The reality is that puberty begins and ends at different ages for different people and everyone’s body changes at its own pace.  During and beyond puberty you’re faced with the tasks of adolescent development:

  • Identity – Who am I?
  • Intellectual – Concrete to abstract
  • Physical – growth & maturation
  • Emotions – hormonal & intense
  • Moral – Intuition & integrity
  • Independence-Decisions & responsibility
  • Social – Your primary ties shift from family to same sex group of friends to a mixed group of friends to a one on one relationship or a series of them.  As you shift from family to peer group for your sense of who you are, peer pressure can be intense.  Peer Pressure at any age is usually about wanting to feel important and included by the group.  It can lead to experimentation with tobacco, alcohol and sex.  So you have to be careful about why you are having sex.  Is it to be included in the group or to “keep” a relationship? 
Refusal Skills

Practicing Refusal Skills can help you deal with peer pressure and / or the pressure to have sex when you’re not ready. Try this in the mirror, 
“I really like you, but I’m not prepared to go farther than _____. “Or “No thanks, I’m not ready for ____.”   There are some situations that are good to avoid if you do not want to have sex.  Avoid drinking, un-chaperoned parties, and too much privacy, like hanging out together at home alone and particularly hanging out in his/her room alone or in his/her parents’ bedroom.  So, how would you leave a party if you felt unsafe?  How would you refuse alcohol, other drugs, or a ride with someone who has been drinking? 

Are You Ready for Sex?

How do you know when you’re you ready for sex?  A healthy sexual relationship should be:

  • Consensual – Both people agree and are old enough mentally to be able to consent (see below).  This means you have to talk about the decision, which is often embarrassing and difficult to do.
  • Non-exploitive – Don’t use someone or be used for sex alone.
  • Honest – Be emotionally and factually honest.
  • Mutual - Is this about intimacy…a shared, two-way experience?
  • Protected against STDs and unplanned pregnancy? 
    If you are currently in a relationship or considering having sex, how many yes answers would you give?  You should stop and think hard if you can’t say yes to all of these before having sex.’

Sex usually involves a Big Feeling, a Big Action, and a Big Consequence.  Is there a match between these three things? Many teens feel invincible, like “the negative outcomes of unwanted pregnancy, STD’s, or emotional hurt will never happen to me.”  But it can.   It’s best not to have gaps of two years or greater with someone you date.  Why?  Brain development.  Abstract reasoning used in making sexual decisions and predicting consequences in the future happens in later adolescent development.  So, the younger teen’s decision making just may not be as reliable.  For the same reasons, some experts suggest reserving steady, 1 on 1 dating until after 16. Think about it.  What fits for you?

What Is Love?

Love is not the same as sexual attraction or involvement.  “Falling in love” feelings are different from those in a long term relationship.  First love is often one of life’s most intense experiences.  Lost love can be overwhelming but you have to learn how to rebound/survive.  How do you rebound?  Usually by learning to reach out for help.  Don’t go it alone!  Talk to friends, family, your family doctor or a supportive adult about the feelings of grief that you have. 

A Low Risk Alternative

The “M” word, masturbation is uncomfortable to talk about.  First of all, it’s normal and does not cause physical or mental harm.  If and how often you do it is highly individual.  Also, it can help you learn about your body & how it works.  Masturbation has a low risk for STDs, pregnancy and emotional hurt .  Everyone’s family, culture and religious background will have different beliefs about masturbation.  In the US, by the age of 15, ¾ of boys and ½ of girls begin to masturbate for orgasm and sexual pleasure.

STD & Pregnancy Protection

The only 100% effective way to prevent pregnancies and STDs is to abstain.  The great news is that teen pregnancy rates in California are at an all time low.  Three fourths of teens now use a contraceptive method at first intercourse.  Whether you are sexually active or plan to be abstinent, learn about STD and pregnancy protection.  The teens who are taught abstinence do tend to delay first intercourse but aren’t as safe when they do become sexually active.  They end up having higher rates of STD and unplanned pregnancy.  However, teens who participate in “Friends with Benes” and oral sex need to remember that herpes can be passed with kissing and oral sex. Also, oral sex can also transmit herpes, HIV, Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Trichomoniasis.  So, just because it’s a “casual” encounter, use dental dams or a condom as a fluid barrier, do not swallow ejaculate or have oral sex during menstruation.  This is probably more information than you want right now so I’ll move on.  Later you can visit one of the websites below and get thoroughly schooled on safer sex.


Sexual orientation is defined by whether you fall in love with, are attracted to, have fantasies about, or engage in behaviors with someone of the same sex or someone of the opposite sex.  Orientation is not a choice.  It does not require treatment and counseling cannot change it.  Questioning one’s sexual orientation can be a very lonely path to be on.  With this in mind, please be respectful to all students.  Be aware that when you say, “Oh, that’s so gay” (meaning so dumb) that it might feel like a painful put down to someone who is questioning whether or not they really are gay!

A sexually healthy teen appreciates his or her body, takes responsibility for their own behavior, communicates effectively & respectfully, and expresses love & intimacy in a way that is appropriate for their age, family & cultural background. Learning about sexuality is one of the facets of identity development in the teen years but certainly not the only area to be working on as you mature.   Like puberty, everyone gets to it in their own time. For more information you can visit the websites below.

Websites for Teens about Sexuality
Primary sources for this article:

Submitted by:

Mary M Buxton LCSW, Inc.
AASECT Certified Sex Therapist
3425 S. Bascom #F
Campbell, CA 95008

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