Candid Talks About Intercourse and Other Sexual Behaviors

Dec 10, 2021

by Camille Everett

Creator of Be That Place

Handwritten notes and lunchtime chats from students kickstarted Camille's mission to help families teach sex ed at home. She is a graduate of Utah State University with a bachelor’s in Secondary Health & English Education. She loves having real conversations while devouring bowls of chocolate peanut butter ice cream.

Teen girl timidly waving back to a boy she likes.

It’s easy to jump right to intercourse as THE sexual behavior that our kids need to know. But there’s more to it than just that. While it’s important to have talks about intercourse as our kids are going through puberty and becoming sexually mature themselves, it’s just as important to talk about the whole spectrum of behaviors that create a feeling of sexual excitement.

As kids’ bodies are maturing they start to experience a lot of new emotions, feelings, urges, and sensations that they may have not felt before. Kids are also introduced to different experiences or situations that encourage them to ACT on these feelings and urges.

As amusing as it is to watch kids’ excitement over crushes, these kids need to understand the spectrum of interactions that lead to them having to make a call on sexual behaviors.

We want our kids to create healthy and positive connections about their emerging sexuality. That’s why we need to prepare them to make sense of what they themselves might experience and the sexual values that guide their behaviors.

Preparing kids to make sense of sexual information

Understanding feelings of sexual excitement and the natural consequences of different types of sexual activity helps our kids make better choices. We can be the number one influence to help our kids make sense of these things. Or we can let our kids discover it with friends and the internet.

The choice is ours.

It’s not enough to only have talks about intercourse. As parents we need to talk to our kids about the spectrum of sexual behaviors that they’ll likely come across in some form, whether in entertainment media, conversations with friends or personal encounters. In today’s sexual entertainment climate, kids will come across it at some point. It’s simply a matter of when.

I’d rather talk to my own kids about these sexual behaviors before they’re introduced by a group of friends on a Friday night. Wouldn’t you?

But before we start these talks about intercourse, we need to understand the reality of sexual behaviors adolescents are participating in. 

Stats on the spectrum of adolescent sexual activity

Kids today are exposed to a more constant amount of sexual influence than we were 20 years ago. And while overall trends in the last 30 years have seen a decrease in intercourse among adolescents (40% of high school students and 7% of middle school students reported having intercourse in 2019)1, other sexual behaviors have taken its place.

Sexting is the sending or receiving of explicit sexual images or messages. This usually happens over mobile phones — and kids these days often have their own, private phone in their pocket. Kids are sending explicit pictures of their own bodies as well as requesting explicit pictures of the bodies of friends and classmates. A 2019 study found that 13% of middle and high schoolers had sent a sext and another 18.5% had received a sext.2 This giving and sharing of child pornography has serious legal consequences, even for youth. 

A 2018 study found that 44% of adolescents had given or received oral sex and 11% of adolescents aged 15-19 had engaged in anal sex.3 This type of sexual activity is often promoted as a safer alternative to vaginal sex.

Masturbation, whether solo, virtual, partnered, or group events, also sees a significant amount of participation. By age 14, 62% of males and 43% of females reported masturbating. Among adolescents who masturbate, there is also an increase in other sexual activity including oral, anal and vaginal sex.4

Of course, our personal and family values help us make sense of the significance of these statistics. But it is eye-opening simply to see the quantity and type of sexual exploration that kids are currently seeking.

Simple definitions of sexual behaviors

Sexual Intercourse

Sexual intercourse has many different respectful names — copulation, love-making, coitus, and intimacy — but it’s often just called sex.

Sex happens when two people bring their bodies together in a very intimate way. Intercourse is when an erect penis is inserted into the vagina. If ejaculation happens during intercourse, that means that semen and sperm leave the penis and enter the vagina. Pregnancy can happen if a sperm from the male and an egg from the female unite and the egg becomes fertilized. 

Oral Sex

Oral sex is when the genitals of one partner are stimulated to sexual excitement and pleasure by the mouth of the other partner. While oral sex is not going to cause pregnancy, it does carry risk of spreading sexually transmitted infections to both the genitals and the mouth which can also lead to other serious diseases such as oral cancer.

Interestingly, it is a common opinion that individuals are still considered virgins if they engage in only oral sex, as opposed to vaginal sex. This message is common among adolescents, but it may not align with your family’s beliefs.

For families with a religious or moral culture that places emphasis on virginity before marriage or long-term commitment, parents need to be aware of this confusing contradiction. Open and straightforward talks about intercourse and other intimate sexual behaviors can help kids define what behaviors align with family values.

Anal Sex

Anal sex is when the penis is placed inside the anus. From a medical standpoint, the anus was designed as a one way valve, not a location for intercourse, so anal sex can create tears in the area that result in bacteria and viruses entering the bloodstream. This can cause sexually transmitted infections, particularly HPV as well as HIV. It can also cause fecal and urinary incontinence.

Fingering or petting

Fingering is when a person uses their hands or fingers to stimulate the genitals of their partner in a pleasurable way.

Petting is when the hands are used to sexually stimulate the private areas of another person’s body, including the breasts and genitals. Light petting is stimulating these areas on a clothed partner. Heavy petting is sexually stimulating an unclothed partner.

Masturbation or self-pleasuring

Masturbation is when individuals seek sexual excitement and pleasure by stimulating their own genitals with their hands or an object. Masturbation is most often done to experience orgasm.

Self-pleasuring is done as a solo activity or as an activity with a partner or group either in-person or virtually. The sexual excitement increases as individuals watch others engaged in sexual arousal. Viewing online pornography while masturbating is also common.

Statistically, individuals that masturbate tend to seek out other sexual behaviors at a higher rate than those that do not masturbate.4

Masturbation mimics the physical feelings of intimate connection between people engaging in sex. It also reinforces the idea that sexual pleasure is for personal entertainment, not just reproduction and intimacy in committed relationships. This may be concerning to you as a parent depending on your own sexual values.

Just like talks about intercourse are guided by family values, talks about masturbation also should be guided by family values.

Most importantly, we want our kids to have positive connections to their own emerging sexuality and to define values and behaviors that allow them to have healthy relationships with themselves and others.


Sexting is sending, receiving or sharing sexually explicit photos, videos or messages. It is often used to describe when an individual takes explicit pictures of their own body to share with others, whether that be friends or romantic partners.

For teens, sexting can be a prelude to actual sexual activity or may be used in place of sex as a safer alternative. It may be common among teens for romantically interested peers to request “nudes,” especially for males to request female nudes. And unfortunately, some of these pictures are forwarded on to peers who continue to circulate them.

All of these actions can have very real legal consequences, even for minors. Whether under child pornography laws or new sexting laws that some states have adopted, there can be very damaging criminal charges. This not only includes giving sexually explicit pictures or videos, but receiving them unsolicited and choosing to keep them.

It’s important that parents help kids understand these very real consequences.

An important distinction: If it feels good, does that mean it’s healthy for me?

It’s normal for people to want to feel excited or to enjoy things that feel good to their brain and body.

For example, when exercising, the body releases endorphins which trigger a positive or happy feeling in the brain and body. When someone eats healthy food, it affects the structure and function of their brain and influences their mood — they feel better because their brain functions better. Compliments activate the reward system of the brain — receiving a compliment can be just as thrilling as receiving cash. All of these actions and experiences influence our brain and body in positive ways.

On the other hand, drugs can also bring a momentary feeling of excitement to the brain and body, but it can come at a great cost. Some people seek out extremely high risk activities — like free solo rock climbing (climbing without ropes) or base jumping or kayaking over waterfalls — just to get that coveted adrenaline surge. Although these activities bring excitement to the brain and body, they are also very risky behaviors that can result in death.

So the truth is just because something momentarily feels good to the brain or body doesn’t mean that it is wise to do. 

Just because a young teen can engage in sexual behaviors does not mean that they SHOULD engage in sexual behaviors. Intercourse and other sexual behaviors, just like many other decisions a person makes, does have very real-life consequences.

And with the intense emotions and novel explorations consistent with a developing adolescent brain, it’s important to help kids make this distinction.

It’s important to remember that kids will ultimately make their own choices about sexual activity

Talks about intercourse naturally would include conversations about when it would be appropriate for your child to engage in these behaviors themselves. As much as a parent wants to just tell their teen what they should and should not do, this approach doesn’t work. 

If you start this conversation early, speak about the many different topics surrounding healthy sexuality, and keep it simple, open and respectful, then you will be heard. Kids’ beliefs and opinions are readily shaped through positive interactions with those that show sincere interest and confidence in their child’s ability to make good choices for themselves.

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Trends in the Prevalence of Sexual Behaviors and HIV Testing National YRBS: 1991-2019.”, accessed 9 April 2021.
  2. Justin W. Patchin and Sameer Hinduja. The Nature and Extent of Sexting Among a National Sample of Middle and High School Students in the U.S. Arch Sex Behav 48, 2333–2343 (2019).
  3. Melissa A. Habel et al. Heterosexual Anal and Oral Sex in Adolescents and Adults in the United States, 2011–2015. Sexually Transmitted Diseases: December 2018 – Volume 45 – Issue 12 – p 775-782 doi: 10.1097/OLQ.0000000000000889
  4. Cynthia L. Robbins, Vanessa Schick, Michael Reece, et al. Prevalence, Frequency, and Associations of Masturbation With Partnered Sexual Behaviors Among US Adolescents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2011;165(12):1087–1093. doi:10.1001/archpediatrics.2011.142.