Teens holding hands,considering safer sex practices

Sexual Decision Making

Making healthy choices about sexuality and relationships is part of becoming a healthy teen and young adult. A sexually healthy teen will have the following qualities.

Relationship with Self

Sexually healthy teens:

  • value their own body. They:
    • understand the changes that happen during puberty and view them as normal.
    • behave in ways that promote their health, like getting regular check-ups.
  • take responsibility for their own behaviours. They:
    • identify their own values and acts on those values.
    • understand the consequences of their actions.
    • understand that media shows unrealistic sexuality and intimate relationships. They don’t measure their life against what they see in the media.
    • can tell the difference between what they want and what their peer group wants.
    • understand that alcohol and drugs can affect their decisions. 
  • know about sexual health issues. They:
    • choose birth control and STI protection for their own health.
    • decide about masturbation based on their own values.
    • make decisions about what they are willing to do or not do sexually.
    • understand their own gender identity and sexual orientation.
    • understand how they’re affected by gender stereotypes. They make choices about how to live their gender based on what they want rather than the stereotypes.
    • understand the pressure to become sexually involved. Some pressure may come from their peers or from other sources like the media.
    • accept people with different values and experiences.

Relationships with Parents and Family Members

Sexually healthy teens:

  • communicate easily with family members about issues, including sexuality. They:
    • can balance between their family roles and duties, and their growing need for autonomy.
    • can work out limits with their family and try to understand the way their parents see things.
    • accept the rights of others and treat them with respect.
    • consult with their parents and family about values. They consider their parents’ thoughts when forming their own values.
    • ask parents and other trusted adults about sexual health issues. They listen to their guidance while developing their own beliefs and values.

Relationships with Peers

Sexually healthy teens:

  • interact with all people in respectful ways. This includes those with sexual orientations and gender identities that differ from their own. They:
    • communicate well with friends.
    • show empathy in relationships.
    • recognize and stay away from relationships that may not be healthy for themselves or others.
    • understand what sexual harassment behaviour is and reject it.
    • respect others’ right to privacy and don’t share personal information that others have shared with them.
  • act on their own values and beliefs when theirs aren’t the same as their peers. They:
    • understand there are pressures to be popular and accepted. Despite the pressure, they make decisions based on their own values.

Relationships with Intimate Partners

Sexually healthy teens:

  • show love and intimacy in a way that’s appropriate for their age. They:
    • believe that everyone has equal rights and responsibilities for love and sexual relationships.
    • can say ‘no’ and accept when a partner says ‘no’.
    • try to understand (empathize with) how a partner feels.
  • have the skills to decide how ready they are for mature sexual relationships. They:
    • talk with a partner about their sexual limits before they begin anything sexually.
    • talk about and find agreement on which sexual activities they are comfortable with.
    • protect themselves and their partner from unplanned pregnancy (if applicable) and sexually transmitted infections (STIs) if they choose to have sex. They use safer sex practices.
  • have the skills and maturity to negotiate a breakup from an intimate partner. They:
    • seek emotional support from loved ones and/or a professional if they need it. They are not afraid to ask for help.

Safer Sex Practices

Talk to your teen about sexual decision-making and the emotional maturity they and their partner need if planning to be sexually active.

Ask your teen:

  • Do they feel pressured to have sex? Where’s the pressure coming from?
  • Why do they want to have sex? Why does their partner want to have sex, if they do?
  • Do they feel comfortable talking to their partner about STIs, birth control and condoms?
  • If birth control fails, how will they and their partner respond to a pregnancy (if applicable)?

Any type of sexual contact or activity involves some risk. These risks could be physical, social or emotional. Practicing safer sex can reduce the chance of getting an STI or pregnancy. Talking to your teen about safer sex practices will help them make healthy decisions.

Abstinence is the only sure way to prevent an STI or pregnancy. In this context, abstinence means choosing not to have sex of any kind with a partner. This includes no

  • direct touching of a partner’s genitals
  • vaginal sex (penis to vagina)
  • anal sex (penis to anus)
  • oral sex (mouth to penis, anus, or vulva/vagina)

Abstinence is often referred to as being 100% safe. Safe in this case means low or no risk of pregnancy or STI. This is only true if all the activities in the bullets above are avoided. Like other methods of protection, abstinence works best if your teen plans and discusses it with a partner ahead of time.

To make sexual activity as safe as possible, make sure your teen knows to plan ahead by:

  • talking with their partner and understanding each other’s limits around their sexual activity
  • getting and giving consent for every sexual activity
  • having an external condom, internal condom or dental dam to use. These prevent STIs and pregnancy if needed.
  • having a method to prevent STIs, even if they’re not worried about preventing pregnancy
  • getting tested and treated for STIs and HIV
  • talking to their partner about their past sexual relationships and their history of STI testing and treatment
  • recognizing that with each new partner, there is a new risk of getting an STI. They need to consider whether they will become sexual with a partner, and if so, how they can limit the risk.
  • understanding how drugs and alcohol can change decision-making including consent and condom use.

Strong sexual decision-making skills are something your teen can use throughout their life.


Helpful Tools


Birth Control Tool

Explore birth control options, how they work and how well they protect against pregnancy and STIs.


Understanding Consent video

For ages 12 and up.


STI Tool

Learn about some common sexually transmitted infections.

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