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Carpool made Claudia Kaufman’s ears ring. “The kids would talk about who was hooking up with who,” she says. As a mother, she wanted to know more. So she asked, “What do you mean they hooked up? Do you mean they made out? Did they have sex?”

Her daughters never told her. What they did tell her, by way of rolling eyes, was that they didn’t want to talk about it. Except maybe they did want to talk about it. After all, they brought up the subject in the car.

The mother-daughter sex talk is rarely straightforward. Your daughter already has some ideas about sex, for better or worse. It’s hard for girls to look around at billboards, magazines, movies, TV, the Internet, and not believe that being sexy will make them desirable, glamorous, and/or loved.

This article offers tips on how moms can help their daughters when it comes to sex, peer pressure, and dating.

Ignore the Rolling Eyes and Talk to Her

“The first thing mothers need to know is that they are a critical voice in their daughters’ sex education,” says Leslie Kantor, MPH, national director of education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Whenever we ask kids where they get their information about sex, teens always say their #1 source is their mothers.”

The problem is, you probably won’t find the perfect time to talk about it. Kantor, who is also an assistant professor at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, suggests using things that happen in your daughter’s everyday life to check in. For instance:

  • If a TV program has a sexual storyline, ask how it makes her feel.
  • If one of your daughter’s friends posts something suggestive on Facebook, ask if she sees a lot of girls doing that.

Even if your daughter resists your attempts, don’t give up. The Talk is a lifelong conversation, says Kantor. “Trust that your main message is getting through.”

Do Some Soul Searching

Sex is a loaded topic at any age. If you have mixed feelings about your past or current sex life, do your best to come to terms with that before you talk to your daughter. Your best intentions will fall flat if you come across as upset, afraid, or downright angry when you talk about sex.

“Most kids want to please their parents,” says Ilana Amrani-Cohen, LICSW, PhD, director of the Families with Voices program at The Guidance Center in Cambridge, Mass. “If they see their parent getting upset, they’ll clam up.”

While fear and anxiety can make some moms go overboard, it prevents others from saying enough. Some parents think they’ve covered the bases with one or two comments, then leave their daughters to fend for themselves. Cohen suggests parents help their daughters think about what’s important to them and the kinds of choices they want to make.

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