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Health A to Z  —  5 minutes

How to speak about sexuality with your teenagers

February 4th, 2020
Biron

Among the roles that any parent must assume, the trickiest to handle might be that of sex educator. For many people, the family plays an important role in learning about sexuality, but as society changes, so too do the expectations and boundaries for both parents and children, often at a pace that’s difficult to keep up with.

These days, the healthy version of that big sex talk needs to be more than just an awkward one-off conversation about the mechanics of intercourse, or the risks of pregnancy. Rather, it should be an ongoing dialogue about all aspects of sexuality, from consent to the risks of infection. The sex education you offer your child will likely be very different from the one you received, as they are growing up in such a dramatically different context. This is as an opportunity for you to learn from them as much as they need to learn from you.

The Québec government publishes a handy guide for parents discussing sexuality with their teens as they start high school. It goes into detail on the many issues that should concern both parents and children face at this tricky but critical time.

Read more: Misconceptions about STBBIs for well-informed people

When is it ok for my child to have sex?

The legal age of consent in Canada is 16. However, there are exceptions for those “close in age”, where the older person is not in a position of authority or trust [1].

  • 12–13 year olds may consent to sex with somebody no more than two years different in age (and is also at least 12). 
  • 14–15 year olds may consent to sex with somebody less than five years different in age (who is also at least 12). 
  • 16+ year olds may consent to sex regardless of age difference, subject to the two rules above.

These “close in age” exceptions only apply if the older person is not in a position of authority or trust and there is no exploitation or dependency.

But age is the most basic aspect of consent. You should create a trusting space in which you can talk to your child about what saying “yes” really means, and the importance and power of “no”. They also need to understand that the right to withdraw consent is ongoing — they can change their mind at any time.

Learn more about sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections.

Can my child go to the doctor without my knowledge?

In Québec, the age of medical consent is 14. Beginning at this age, even before they legally become an adult at 18, children are able to make their own decisions about healthcare, without consultation or permission from parents. This applies to any care deemed necessary for their health, including abortion, but does not extend to optional care such as cosmetic plastic surgery.

Parents or guardians are not informed when their children in this age range receive care deemed necessary for their health, unless the child has to spend more than 12 hours in a health or social services institution.

Parents of children over 14 and below 18 do have the right to access their child’s medical records, but children have the right to refuse this access, if they do not want their parents to consult records and the institution has decided it could be harmful to the child if the parents do see it.

Read more: What is an STBBI and how is it transmitted?

I’m worried my child has an STBBI – what should I do?

Young people who are 14 years of age or over can get tested and be treated without their parents’ permission.

It may be best not to frame any conversation around this with your child as an accusation. Instead, introduce them to the idea of STBBI testing as an everyday, responsible part of safe sex practice, regardless of any particular risk behaviour. Simply being young and sexually active places them in a risk category by default. Let them know they are in control of their own medical privacy, help them understand that having an STBBI, and being at risk of passing one on, does not necessarily mean showing any symptoms.

As you talk about this, make it clear that they don’t need to tell you whether or not they’ve been having unprotected sex. They should understand that anything they tell a healthcare professional about their sex life won’t be passed on to you.

When you need professional support, we're here to help.

We offer STBBI screening with results in 24 hours or less for chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, hepatitis B, and HIV. A doctor's prescription is required.

If you have any questions or need more information, please don’t hesitate to call our customer service number at 1 833 590-2714.

  1. “Age of Consent to Sexual Activity.” Government of Canada, Department of Justice, Electronic Communications, August 8, 2017. https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/rp-pr/other-autre/clp/faq.html