The Brutally Honest Reason Your Teen Won't Talk To You About Love, Sex Or Dating

A veteran mom of teenagers shares seven ways to remove the roadblocks that keep your teen from opening up.

teen son and mother Marian Fil/Shutterstock

One of my boys tells me everything. The other tells me essentially nothing. I don’t think anything we’ve done, as parents, has caused this.

It’s both reassuring and frustrating when we realize how little control we have over their personalities and progress. Aside from the basics of offering healthy foods, talking, and making lots of eye contact with them, giving snuggles, and creating a secure home environment, there aren’t a ton of agreed-upon variables that actually change outcomes.


With that in mind, and the caveat that none of this is science (nor is it true for every kid), I’m going to talk to you about why your teenager doesn’t talk to you about sex or their social life.

Please bear in mind that I have one of those children who is locked down like Fort Knox, so I’m not judging you or telling you that you’ve necessarily made a mistake. Some kids are just not talkers. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to adjust in order to be more welcoming.

RELATED: How To Be The Kind Of Parent Your Teen Feels Comfortable Talking To About Sex


Seven reasons your teen won’t talk to you about sex (or open up about their love lives)

1. You haven’t brought it up.

You may have talked about eggs and sperm when they were in fifth or seventh grade, but you haven’t talked about sex or sexuality since then. Your kid has received the message that you don’t want to talk about it.

If they have questions, they’re probably going to friends or the internet. Both are notoriously bad at giving age-appropriate, accurate information.

What to do now: Bring it up, talk about it, and try not to be weird about it. Unless you have an established casual conversational style about intimate issues, don’t talk to your kid like a friend (“OMG! Have you hooked up with Callyn yet?”). Instead, talk like an adult who can be trusted.

Try something like, “I know I haven’t talked to you much about sex or sexuality, but I want to start. It might make me a little nervous because my parents didn’t talk to me about it at all, but I’m not freaked out by sex and I’m not going to shame you or anyone else. You can ask me anything, and if I don’t have a good answer, I’ll find one for you.”

Then bring it up whenever it feels appropriate as long as you don’t come across like a ‘weirdo’. For example, don’t bring it up every Friday at school pickup or they’ll start hitchhiking home (that’s a joke… kind of).


Watching TV and movies together can be a great time to bring stuff up. For instance, if a guy aggressively kisses a woman who tries pushing him away, share your thoughts about that. Say, “Geeze that guy is aggressive. I would not want someone to do that. That feels super disrespectful. What do you think, hon?”

Watching teen-oriented shows offers a ton of opportunities to talk about sex and relationships.

And some of them are really good. Just read the reviews on ‘Common Sense Media’ or something similar if you have a tween or teen. For older teens, ‘Outer Banks’ and ‘Young Royals’ are both great. For tweens (and teens, really), ‘Heartstopper’ is just lovely and has wonderful parental conversations that can help you introduce deeper topics.

The 90s classic, ‘Friends’ has loads of examples of silly and serious dating scenarios and loads of problematic content that you can discuss. Homophobia is rampant, but talking about it casually can help your kid learn more about your values — especially when you can just touch on a subject and then follow their lead about whether they want to discuss it further.

RELATED: Telling Boys To “Look Away” From Girls’ Bodies Is Dangerous Trash


2. You’ve shamed and judged others.

If your kid has heard you talking negatively about women’s sexuality — calling certain women “sluts”, saying they’re showing too much skin, or giving men the wrong impression (or any other old-fashioned “values-based” commentary, they probably assume you’ll judge them or their partners for having sexual thoughts and feelings or dressing in a certain way.

Worse, maybe you’ve made your kid feel ashamed of her body or sexuality in the past by telling your daughter that boys won’t respect her or that she looks cheap or that she’s being “too fast”. Would you trust someone who made you feel bad with your most vulnerable, intimate thoughts and questions? No, you would not.

What to do now: It’s not too late to apologize! As I mentioned above, share what’s on your mind and be open and honest about what you’d like to build with your kid. Tell them you’d love to be the one they come to if they want to talk about relationships or sexuality, and that you want to be the type of parent who they can trust.

You could say, “I’m really sorry if I gave the impression in the past that I was judgmental about sex or women’s bodies or whatever. I was probably being a jerk, and I apologize if that affected you in any way. That’s how I was raised, but just know that I’m trying to do better, and I don’t actually judge women as harshly as it may have seemed in the past.”


After that, try to remind yourself that every person has the right to bodily autonomy and to define for themselves their own sexual boundaries and values.

Of course, a teen or child should be protected from sexual exploitation or early exposure to sex (including pornography), but as kids get older and become more independent, they are allowed privacy when it comes to their sexuality and consensual sexual choices.

I know this is scary. But trust me when I tell you that you don’t want your child to feel they don’t have the right to make choices about their own body and sexuality. You want them to feel empowered, like they are the master of their own destiny, and that they have every right to decide their own boundaries. You want them to understand the value of consent, and part of that is empowering them to think of their bodies and sexuality as their own, something nobody else has a right to define. This hopefully leads to them expecting others to ask for consent from them and asking for consent from others.

Then, most importantly, let them know that they don’t have to agree with you — that you know every person needs to establish her own values and boundaries. You just expect your child to be thoughtful and purposeful when determining their own sexual values.

Most importantly, let your kid know that no matter what, you will always respect them, love them, and help them get through the challenges life presents.


RELATED: 14 Lessons Every Teen Girl Should Learn Before She Leaves For College

3. You’ve proven you don’t always tell the truth.

An old friend of mine told her daughter that babies were made when the dad gives the mom a special seed to swallow, and it goes into her belly and the baby grows there.


(Yes, I was thinking all the same thoughts as you are right now!)

Eventually she did tell her daughter the truth, and the girl was much less upset about the facts of life than she was about the fact that she’d been lied to. So, if it’s possible, start with honesty when they’re tiny and continue with it as they grow. If that’s not how you started, that’s okay, too. There’s time.

Another way we often lie to our kids about sex is when talking about what happens when you have sex before marriage or when you’re a teenager.

For instance, if you told your daughter that having sex when you’re young means you’re going to get pregnant and ruin your life forever, she already knows you’re lying — or, at the very least, that you don’t know what you’re talking about.

That’s because she knows about birth control and safer sex practices, even if you have her in an “abstinence only” program. She knows that not everyone who has sex has a baby nine months later. She probably also knows about abortion, so she knows that even if she did get pregnant, she wouldn’t necessarily have to give birth to the baby. That doesn’t mean that these are her values or reflect what you’ve taught her — it’s just that she knows you’re not telling her the full truth. The same thing goes for boys, of course.


If you tell a kid that girls who have sex in high school or before marriage are seen as “sluts”, or devalued by men, your kid also probably sees right through you — and knows you’re speaking of your own judgement, not that of “everyone”. She probably knows at least one couple who has had sex in high school who are very sweet to one another and show plenty of respect.

She may also know adults, like an older sibling, cousin, or friend, who had sex in high school and never got pregnant and were generally well-regarded and respected. Again, these don’t have to be your values (or your kid’s), they simply need to be recognized as issues that aren’t black-and-white.

What to do now: Again, start by apologizing for not telling the truth or sharing inaccurate information in the past. You can explain that it’s hard to know how to talk about sex to a kid, especially when our generation didn’t have such open relationships with our parents.

You can tell your child why it’s so fraught for you — maybe you have religious trauma around how you were taught about sex and desire, maybe you have a history of abuse — but do so in a way that doesn’t burden your child with your pain. Rather, invite them into seeing you as an imperfect person trying to do better.


When you don’t know the answer, seek out some facts. Websites like Mayo Clinic and Healthline have great, medically reviewed physiological and anatomical information. You can also ask your child’s pediatrician for advice or seek out a credentialed clinician like a therapist or counselor for a conversation with you and/or your child.

I do not suggest using a religious leader for the “counselor” in this scenario, because it is very hard for kids to be honest and open in this setting. Instead, use a person like an LMFT or a psychologist with experience or focus in therapy with children and adolescents.

RELATED: Utah Public High School Sent Abstinence-Only Contracts To Students

4. You haven’t been specific enough in the past.

If you’ve already talked to your kid about sex and sexuality and they still aren’t coming to you, it’s possible you weren’t specific enough about what you’re willing to talk about. This can also cause problems when your child relies on you for practical advice.


For instance, maybe you were super open about how the sperm meets the egg and even about how the sperm gets inside the vagina in the first place. You told your kid they could talk to you about this or ask questions any time. In this case, if they have questions about biology, they’ll probably come to you.

But does your teen know that you are also open to talking to them about emotional questions if need like to? That they can talk about stuff like how to know when it’s the right time to start having sex with you? About whether oral sex counts as sex or whether a person is just “using” them for sex?

These are deeply important topics, and it’s possible your kid thinks you’re not up for this level of conversation.

What to do now: Start by simply making it clear that sex is about a lot more than just biology, and that the emotional and social aspects of it are important, too. Then let your teen know that you are around any time they want to chat about that stuff or ask questions. Then, as we outlined before, start conversations, and share your thoughts and values honestly and without shame.

Also, be specific when talking about birth control and safer sex. Using condoms for STI prevention only works effectively when used correctly, for instance. If you don’t know what it means to use a condom correctly, there’s great info online from the reliable sources I cited above. Also, I linked to Andrew Smiler’s book at the bottom of the post — so much great info there!


RELATED: Mom Makes Daughter's Grandparents Ask For Consent Before Hugging Her & Doesn't Care That Their 'Feelings Are Hurt' If She Says 'No'

5. You’ve been rigid in your expectations.

This is for the religious folks in the room — but can apply to anyone:

Your daughter’s body is not your property. You don’t get to decide her sexual values or shame her for growing up and making different choices. Of course, this applies to any kid, but comes up mostly with daughters.

Nearly all Christian denominations have seen declining attendance and membership among Millennials and Gen-Z, and many cite the rigid rules churches put forth around sex and sexuality as a major cause. Young people generally don’t see queerness as anything inherently bad, and they don’t buy into the idea that being gay makes you a sinner. Christian kids today often have a view that God created humanity in a wide patchwork of variations, and that Jesus stood for love and acceptance — not rigid rules that exclude huge swaths of people.


Along with this change comes a rejection of the idea that God wants people to abstain from sexual activity until their wedding night.

This generation tends to reject the idea that a church should have the right to decide what grown adults consensually choose to do with their bodies in the privacy of their own homes.

So, if your message has solely been, “The Bible says…” or “In our house, the only acceptable place for sexual interactions is the marital bed”, your kid may have already decided that you are not the one to talk to about sex, their sexuality, their sexual choices or to come to with questions that don’t strictly follow the rules you’ve established.

What to do now: If you raised your child in a tradition that sees sex as a black-and-white, “virgin or not a virgin” way, you may need to make it explicit to them that they are loved and accepted by you no matter what choices they make. Yes, they may fear you won’t love them if they choose to embody their sexuality different from how you’d like them to.

Set aside time to talk to them about this and let them know that you may have given the impression that you believe you should control their choices and that there’s only one acceptable way for people to interact, sexually. Then let your child know that, as they grow up and become adults, they have the right to decide for themselves where their sexual values and boundaries lie.


Let them know that your values are very important to you and that you hope they will respect those and choose something similar for themselves (tell them the benefits, from your perspective). But let them know that yours and God’s love for them are not contingent upon them making the same choices you have.

Then you need to walk the walk and show your kid that you are trustworthy and a safe place for them to be honest and vulnerable.

RELATED: I Interviewed My 14-Year-Old To Find Out EXACTLY What Kids Learn In Sex Ed

6. You’ve been too nosy in the past.

Lots of kids are afraid that if they ask you questions about sex or talk to you about it, you will ask nosy questions and violate their privacy.


For instance, they may have come to you in the past and said, “How do you know when someone wants to kiss you?” and you may have replied, “Did someone try to kiss you?”, which is not the answer to that question at all — and your kid knows it!

The truth is sex and sexuality are private and few of us want to chit-chat with our parents about how far we’ve gone with a partner. They also likely don’t want to hear the details of your sexual past or the sex you’re having with their parent or your current partner. That is your private business.

What to do now: Let your kid know that you value their privacy — but that there’s a big difference between something being private and something being a secret.


Privacy is deciding which personal information feels intimate or special to you. We make a conscious choice not to talk to just anyone about things that are private, but we don’t necessarily feel ashamed of things that are private.

Secrets are things we feel we cannot tell anyone, even if we feel the desire to do so. Secrets can be dangerous because they feel like a trap, whereas privacy can feel empowering.

Explaining this difference to your child may open the door to them understanding that you don’t need or want to know the details of their private lives, but that they can feel comfortable telling you anything they want to, even if feels private. Assure them that you will not betray their trust or judge them, and you will help them solve problems, should the need arise.

It’s also good to remind kids that an adult should never, ever ask a kid of any age to keep a secret. A child should be reminded that an adult that asks a kid — even a teen — to keep a secret likely has harmful intentions.

Then, as suggested above, walk the walk. Don’t ask for specific details and don’t invade their privacy.


Of course, if you believe your child is in danger of being exploited, you should reach out to a mental health professional, counselor or advocate for advice on how to handle the situation appropriately. Never judge your child for harm done by another person. Despite what society often implies, nobody chooses to be victimized.

RELATED: 8 Rules My Parents Had That Made Me Comfortable With My Sexuality

7. Your kid just doesn’t care about sex.

Some kids just aren’t into sex. It’s simply not on their minds.

While some kids start having romantic crushes early on and get that “butterflies” feeling very young, others simply do not.

Most kids will eventually develop romantic and sexual feelings during adolescence, but some won’t be ready for sex or romance until they are college-aged or even into their twenties. This is all healthy and normal for some people and would be even if they developed those feelings later than that.


There are also people who consider themselves asexual or aromantic, meaning they just don’t feel those feelings and they don’t expect to start any time soon.

There is no one way to feel, no one way to be. Your child can develop a romantic and sexual identity at their own rate, and it can be very hurtful to make your child feel bad for the timing of their own development.

In conclusion…

Regardless of what mistakes we’ve made in the past (and we’ve all made some), there is always time to ‘right the ship’ in ways that are meaningful to you and your kid. And if something I’ve said here doesn’t feel right to you, don’t do it.

Nobody knows all the right ways to be a parent, and you know your kid better than anyone. You can follow their lead and determine the unique and best ways to show them love, acceptance and support.

RELATED: What Happened When My Sons Asked Me If Girls Have Orgasms


 Joanna Schroeder is a feminist writer, editor and media critic and co-author of the forthcoming book, TALK TO YOUR BOYS via Workman Publishing. She pours her heart out and shares advice on Substack.