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Sexual Health

The teen years bring many changes in sexual growth and development. Your teen's body will become adult-like in size, shape and sound. While girls physically mature at younger ages than boys at around age 15 for girls and 16 for boys it's important to keep in mind that all children develop at different rates depending on heredity and other factors.

Puberty usually begins at around age 10 for girls when breasts begin to form. Following the development of breasts, you can expect your daughter to go through a growth spurt, pubic hair growth and underarm hair growth.

Menarche is the first period or menstruation a girl will have. For Canadians, this usually occurs between ages 12 and 13. Many girls are aware of menstruation before they have a first period and they usually have mixed feelings about this event. Talking to your child before her first menstruation is important. She will likely have some sexual health education in school, but having parents talk about menstruation lets her know she can ask questions and discuss her changing body with you if she needs to.

Boys usually begin puberty around age 11 when testes begin to enlarge and the skin covering the testicles (the scrotum) changes in colour and texture. Shortly afterwards, pubic hair will begin to grow and the penis will enlarge. Around age 13, your teen will begin his growth spurt and his voice will deepen. Around age 14, his penis and testes will have finished growing and a year later his pubic hair growth will also be completed.

At around age 13 your son will have his first ejaculation. Boys are less likely to speak to friends or family about ejaculation so it is a good idea to speak to him before it happens. It's also a good idea to talk to your son about nocturnal emissions, or wet dreams. Wet dreams are when a boy ejaculates in his sleep. Many boys know about ejaculation and erections, but they don't often talk about it in a way that gives them positive or accurate information.

When you talk to your child about puberty and sex, you can let your child know that sexuality is a normal and private part of life and that she can always talk to you about her questions and concerns. To ensure your teen understands how to care for all parts of his body without being embarrassed or ashamed, it's best to provide positive and accurate information.

It's important that parents talk to their teens in a non-judgmental way. Many families find it easier for one parent to discuss puberty and sex but it is often better for your teen if all parents are able to talk about it. It is also best to talk to your teen about sexuality and sexual health in multiple, shorter conversations throughout his childhood and teen years as this will let him know that you are always around to listen, talk and provide answers.

For many teens, puberty and the next few years can be very difficult because their bodies are adult-like but their minds are still developing. Often the quick physical changes do not give teens much time to adjust to their bodies and hormones. Many teens are also confused about the different messages they receive from family, friends and media about sexuality, independence and the teen years.

Here are some resources for talking with your teens about sexuality:

Dating

It's going to happen... Your teen will begin dating and when she does, it's important that she knows how to recognize a healthy, respectful relationship. Talk to your teen about respecting his or her date's boundaries and values and being in touch with his or her own. Let her know that it is okay and very important to share her thoughts on sexual activity with anyone she is dating.

It's also very important to talk to your teen about safe sex. While you may tell your teen not to have sex, she may not always listen. It is very important to ensure your teen is safe if she does engage in sexual activity and that she is educated about sexually transmitted infections (STIs), birth control options, and teen-friendly health clinics. Sharing this information with your teen even if he isn't dating yet will give him the accurate information he needs to keep himself healthy.

If your teen is gay, lesbian, bisexual or questioning his or her sexual orientation, be supportive by listening to their thoughts and questions. Let her know that you support her decisions and will be there to help her find her way. There are many great resources in Manitoba for teens, parents and family members. If your teen tells you she is bisexual, be honoured that she felt comfortable and safe to share her news with you. Many teens have a difficult time "coming out" or sharing their sexual orientation to their parents. Just by telling you, she is showing you that she knows you love her unconditionally and will always be there for her. For some teens, coming out is a joyous, celebratory occasion. For others, it is bitter sweet as they may not know how family and friends will treat them. Tell your teen that you are there for her no matter what others may think or say.

Dating for gay, lesbian, bisexual or questioning youth can be more challenging as partners may not have come out yet or they may be worried about being bullied or being discriminated against. Finding support groups and gay-positive organizations with your teen may increase her positive relationship experiences.

If you think your teen might be gay but he hasn't said anything to you about his sexuality, be patient. He will tell you, if there is anything to tell, when he is ready. If you are having a hard time with your teen's coming out, it's okay. Sometimes when we have children we imagine how their lives will be when they are older and when things turn out differently we can have a hard time adjusting. Know that the adjustment period may take some time, as you have to let go of the image you had in mind for your child. Remember that your teen needs to know you love him, always.

Parents can support the healthy sexual development of their teens by being knowledgeable about age-appropriate educational materials. Educating your child about sex will be easier with the help of these online resources.

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