Puberty and Sexual Health

Talking to Your Youth about Puberty and Sexual Health

Some topics can be hard to discuss with your youth. Talking about puberty and sexuality may be one of them. It's well worth the effort.

Puberty is a time of both physical and emotional change. These changes occur because of hormones in the body. Puberty usually starts between 8 and 16 years in girls and between 12 and 18 years old in boys.

It is important to know what physical, emotional and social changes your youth is going through. This will help you answer their questions and better understand where your youth is coming from.

Some changes that may occur during puberty include:
  • Mood changes. They may feel moody, insecure (especially about the way they look), embarrassed or awkward
  • More independent. They may spend more time with friends or alone than with you.
  • Height and weight changes.
  • Physical development.
  • Sweat more and can develop body odour.

It is important that your youth understands that everyone is different and there is no correct time for these changes to happen.

Tips for talking to your youth
  • Explain that the changes are normal and everyone goes through puberty
  • Be open and honest
  • Listen
  • Answer their questions
  • Be clear
  • Use proper terms for body parts

If you can't answer a question, that's ok. Suggest that you and your child find the answer together.

You do not need to be an expert. For more information contact a Public Health Nurse from Ottawa Public Health at 613-580-6744.

Visit the following helpful websites: Ottawa Public Health: Sexual HealthSexualityandU or Teaching Sexual Health.

Talking to your youth about sex and sexual health

Parents tend to be the primary sexual educators for their children and youth. As your youth develops they are going to have more and more questions about sexual health. This topic can be hard for parents to address and hard to answer questions on.

If you're just not comfortable enough discussing sexuality with your child or teen, consider having them speak to a trusted adult or professional to answer their questions.

When conversation does get started, it's a great time to also address:

  • healthy relationships
  • love
  • communication and intimacy
  • responsibilities or potential risks of sexual activity
  • birth control and protection against sexually transmitted infections 

Everyday experiences and even questions will help guide your discussions . Television shows or movies that you watch together may be another way that discussions are started to address questions.

Having communication with your teen and allowing for open discussion is important. If you can't answer a question, you can find the answer together and discuss further. If you don't have the answer right away, let them know you will try and find the answer and get back to them.

Some things to consider:

  • Consider your youth's stage of development- what are they going through socially and emotionally. Be age appropriate.
  • Remember that preteens will be concerned with having friends, fitting in and feeling normal. Older teens may be concerned with dating, relationship and different social pressures.
  • Listen to what they have to say and remember not to impose your beliefs. Respect their privacy
  • Explain what you believe and why. Youth value their independence. Trying to force values and beliefs on them could make them reject your opinion to be independent.
  • Use the proper terms for body parts.
  • Keep the lines of communication open so that they feel it is easy to approach you. Let them know that you love them and always want to help, even if they do things you don't like.
  • Be patient. Your child or youth may not bring up the topic. You may be the one to start the conversation.

Find out more about condoms, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and testing for STI's:

What should you know about Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)

When talking to your youth about sexual health, you will likely start talking about the potential risks of sexual activity. Without a doubt, STIs will come up in discussion while perhaps also talking about birth control. Visit the Sex It Smart and Get Tested Why Not pages to learn about condoms and STIs.

There are many types of STIs; Ottawa has higher rates of STIs than the average in Ontario. The age range most affected is those between 15 and 29 years. Lack of condom use is the top risk factor among those diagnosed with an STI. Unfortunately over 40% of sexually active 15-19 year olds in Ottawa did not use a condom the last time they had sex. Visit the Ottawa Public Health page to learn more about the different birth control options.

Where to get support

In addition to talking to your child about the potential risks associated with unprotected sexual activity, it is also important to let them know what resources are available to help them out.

Ottawa Public Health (OPH) offers free confidential STI (sexually transmitted infection) screening, low cost contraception and emergency contraception at all community and school-based clinics. A list of these clinics can be found at Ottawa Public Health. OPH also offers free condoms and pregnancy tests. All testing is confidential and a health card is not needed.

Ottawa resources and campaigns such as Sex It Smart:

  • aim to reduce the transmission of STIs and unplanned pregnancies.
  • increase awareness and use of condoms .
  • increase distribution and access to free condoms.
  • promote healthy sexual relationships among youth.

Get Tested Why Not

  • Makes it easier for Ottawa residents to get tested for two STIs (Chlamydia and Gonnorrhea) through the Get Tested Why Not web page.
  • Makes getting tested easy- offering a form to download, print and bring to any of the 26 labs in Ottawa for free. No appointment needed.
  • Ottawa Public Health recommends that all sexually active people between 15 and 29 years get tested for STIs regularly.
  • Visit the campaign page for more information on STIs, preventing the spread of STIs and birth control.

The City of Ottawa also has a youth page with information on Youth Sexual Health which can be a resource to send your youth. Visit our Public Health Facebook page and @OPHsexhealth Twitter.

Do you have more questions about parenting?

  • Connect with a registered nurse from Health811 for free, secure, and confidential health advice. Service is available 24/7 in English and French, with translation support also offered in other languages. Call 8-1-1 or visit
  • Connect with a Community Navigator from 2-1-1 for information about community programs and resources across Eastern Ontario. Helpline service is available 24/7 and in many different languages. Call 2-1-1 or visit
  • Connect with other parents on the Parenting in Ottawa Facebook page.
  • There are a variety of services to make it easier for your child to grow up healthy in Ottawa.
  • You can update your child's immunization record using either the CANImmunize App or the Immunization Connect Ontario (ICON) Tool
  • If you have received a message from Ottawa Public Health such as a letter or a call regarding immunization, an infectious disease, or infection control lapse, please call 613-580-6744 and listen to the menu options carefully.

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