Learning that your teenage daughter is having sex can likely leave you with more questions than answers. Following the initial wave of emotions and panic, you might ask yourself: How did I not know about this? What do I do now?

Facing sexual crises can be overwhelming and often cause anger and confusion. Especially if they involve your teenage daughter. But the best thing you can do in this situation is to be intentionally present for your daughter.

Knowing every single thing she does is impossible. And now isn’t the time to question your parenting strategies or whether you’re a good or bad parent. Instead, your priority is to love your daughter, and this requires a response, not a reaction, focused on restoring her situation. Through thoughtfulness, patience, and compassion you can appropriately respond to the question: What to do if your teenage daughter is having sex?

Sexually active teens

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the phrase “sexually active?” Whether you know it or not, what came to your mind depends on your perspective and personal experiences.

Discovering that your teenage daughter is having sex can send shockwaves through your family. And your specific perspective and experiences directly affect your approach as a parent.

The conversations you share with your daughter will require patience and grace, and perhaps most importantly, understanding. So, before you begin accusing or assuming, consider pausing to pray, ask God for guidance, and think about the words and terms you might use in conversation with your teenage daughter. Begin with considering the following questions to achieve healthy understanding with your daughter.

What does being “sexually active” mean?

It. Did you . . . you know . . . do it?

In some cases, that’s all we care about when it comes to conversations surrounding virginity and sex. Likewise, our culture glorifies it or sex to the point of cheapening and even perverting God’s original design, which is a topic we’ll cover later.

For some, there’s a very clear answer to the question: What does being sexually active mean? And for others, it can unfortunately be a little bit fuzzier.

On a basic level, the phrase “sexually active” refers to any sex acts received or given. Many people primarily think “sexually active” only refers to vaginal sexual intercourse complete with penetration and ejaculation. However, being sexually active also includes oral sex, anal sex and manual sex.

When discussing sexual activity, it can be helpful to understand the difference between intercourse and outercourse. For example, intercourse primarily refers to vaginal penetration by a penis. Outercourse refers to any sexual activity that elicits arousal or sexual pleasure without traditional penetration. Being sexually active can include both intercourse and outercourse, though the methods of arousal can differ.

So, the scope of sexual activity can certainly include a wide variety of interactions. And even include actions that we might not always think about when we hear the phrase “sexually active.” For many teenagers, sexting is an increasingly popular method of sexual activity. Additionally, kissing, touching or massaging of private body parts can cause sexual arousal and be understood as sexual activity.

When approaching conversations with your teenage daughter who is having sex, consider the value and importance in seeking clarity. Take a moment to thoroughly understand terminology and definitions before engaging in difficult conversations. And don’t forget to respectfully ask your daughter questions to achieve understanding of her experience.

How to talk with your daughter about being “sexually active”

Understanding what it means to be sexually active is only a fraction of the equation. At some point, you must talk with your daughter. And this can often cause a whirlwind of emotions and anxiety within your relationship.

Yet, it’s important to remember that you are her mother or father. Your love for her is not based on her actions but her identity. Show your daughter how her identity extends beyond what she’s done. Most importantly, for those who are followers of Christ, you can communicate how her value and identity are rooted in being an image bearer of Christ.

When talking with your daughter about her situation and being sexually active, promote the idea that she is in a safe place. Remember to respond to your daughter, not react. This requires carefully thinking through your conversation beforehand. As her parents, you are there to love and support her instead of blaming or judging her. At times, love even contains a corrective element. Through consistent love, you can show your daughter acceptance and support rather than harsh criticism.

Questions to ask your sexually active daughter

Whatever circumstance you experience, approach your parenting based on your child’s needs, not your parental neediness. Avoid judging your teenage daughter because you feel bad that you messed up as parents. Instead, focus on your daughter and her feelings and thoughts. Especially in the initial conversations where you are still gathering information and encountering fresh emotions.

While feelings of betrayal are common in these circumstances, it’s important to recognize that relational success is connected to how consistently you put your daughter first. In other words, your feelings of hurt and betrayal are secondary to your daughter’s needs. That doesn’t mean your feelings are worthless. It only means your daughter likely has more immediate needs that require your attention and love.

My teenager is sexually active . . . What now?

No two situations where parents learn about their daughter’s sexual activity are equal. There likely are key differences when your teenage daughter is having sex that affect your response as parents.

For instance, there’s a critical difference between parents learning about their daughter’s sexual activity directly from their daughter versus discovering the truth on their own. Let’s look at a couple of stories. Notice the key differences between John’s discovery of his daughter’s sexual activity versus Mary’s disclosure of her sexual activity to her parents.

In John’s case, he suspected something had been going on with his daughter for a while now. One day, when he was cleaning the house, he found a box of condoms in his daughter’s room. After talking it over with his wife, they decided to approach their daughter about their discovery.

However, Mary’s story is slightly different. It had been a week since her high school’s Homecoming Week. Mary and her boyfriend went to the dance together just as they had in previous years. But this year, they had a little bit more planned for that night. Following the dance, Mary and her boyfriend had sex for the first time. And even though Mary agreed to having sex, she felt ashamed and guilty for her decision. After thinking about it for a week, she finally decided to tell her parents.

What now?

Both stories involve a daughter’s sexual activity, but the paths to the eventual conversations couldn’t be more different. Based on your specific situation, consider the following questions and entry points for conversation with your teenage daughter who is having sex

Finally, one helpful detail for your role as parents is to appropriately internalize your personal history with sexual activity. Avoid projecting your past experiences on your daughter’s situation. When you focus on your daughter, you communicate your daughter’s value and experience above your own.

Help! My teenage daughter is having sex

When approaching a conversation with your daughter about her sexual activity, decide when it is most appropriate for these questions. There is no perfect formula for these conversations. Rather, think through when it might be best to ask these questions to your daughter based on her emotions, spiritual maturity and mental state.

What to do if your teenage daughter is having sex with a girl

Depending on your situation, you might discover that your daughter is having sex with a girl. Perhaps you’ve suspected this behaviour for a while or it’s a complete and utter shock to you.

Either way, your daughter still deserves and needs your unconditional love.

Learning about your teenage daughter’s homosexuality likely releases a wave of questions and emotions. Within the context of a conversation about sex, homosexual activity carries a stigma of rejection and judgement.

That’s why it is even more important to let your daughter know she is valued and loved. Situations involving homosexuality require empathy, listening, and grace. For more insight on how to handle these circumstances, explore Focus on the Family Canada’s series page on homosexuality.

What are signs that your teenage daughter is sexually active?

Knowing your teenage daughter’s every movement is impossible. And frankly trying to can be exhausting. But if you or your spouse suspect there might be more going on underneath the surface, it’s worth considering some warning signs. Here are some signs that your daughter might be sexually active.

Signs that your daughter is sexually active

  • Increased sleepovers at a “friend's house"
    You might suspect your daughter is lying about where she’s spending the night. If so, it’s perfectly normal and healthy to call the parents of her friend to double check. And if she is spending the night with her boyfriend and his family, make sure you and the boy’s parents agree about accountability and separate sleeping arrangements.

  • Drastic and unusual changes in dress
    Make sure you maintain healthy and positive communication about modesty and choices in clothing. Drastic changes including sexually revealing or immodest options could lead to conversations about sexual activity.

  • Sudden over-protective behaviour of friends, especially boys
    If your teenage daughter is already in a dating relationship, sudden over-protectiveness of her boyfriend could be a signal of something else going on. Don’t be afraid to ask more questions if you notice your daughter is suddenly over-protective of her friends, especially boys.

  • Increased public displays of affection (PDA)
    Increased examples of public display of affection from your daughter to boys or vice versa could warrant closer attention. Over-the-top or unusual PDA could indicate a heightened level of sexual comfort that extends beyond appropriate boundaries within a dating relationship.

  • Unexplained increase in secrecy and dishonesty
    Be aware of your daughter’s level of honesty with you or her siblings. Increased dishonesty or unexplained secrecy could reveal other inappropriate behaviour she might be hiding.

  • Discovery of contraceptives, condoms or sex toys
    Discovering contraceptives, condoms or sex toys around the house or in your daughter’s room should prompt an immediate but thoughtful conversation with your daughter. Remember to avoid assumptions or accusations. Instead, seek understanding with your daughter and allow her to share her story or point of view within your conversation. From here, you can begin to pursue a conversation about boundaries and accountability.

How to handle a sexually active teenager

When handling your sexually active teenager, resist trying to fix everything right away. Often brokenness and hurt mark sexual activity. And this might be the case for your daughter. Choosing to respond, not react, will support your ability to show empathy to your daughter.

How to deal with my sexually active daughter

Knowing how to deal with your sexually active daughter can be difficult. A helpful approach might include understanding the different responses between mom and dad.

For example, dad will generally provide protection and redemption. Dads, your teenage girl will look to you for a model on how to redeem this situation. You can provide healthy perspectives on how to move forward, learn and process the situation.

For most relationships, mom can promote repentance and grace. Moms, your teenage girl will look to you for a model on how to repent and understand her identity as a woman. You can provide wisdom and counsel as you listen, support and nurture your daughter’s ability to process the situation.

Alongside these differences, you both can emphasize your daughter’s inherent value. Depending on how she feels about what happened, her emotions could be damaged. Take some time to think through how she feels.

For single parents, a blended approach of encouragement and repentance will be effective in building a strong foundation for how to address your daughter’s situation. Know that you still can add value and meaningful responses for your daughter as you help her navigate this difficult situation.

Acknowledge that it must be very difficult to be her age in this current culture. With the onslaught of cultural messages surrounding sex and sexual activity, it can be very hard to be her.

Then, you can appropriately and confidently emphasize your daughter’s value. Communicate your daughter’s value in these four ways.

How to talk to your kids about sex

While learning about your daughter’s specific situation and sexual activity, you could need to have a conversation about sex. Or you might realize that you’ve never actually had a conversation about sex.

So, how do you talk to your kids about sex? And how does a conversation look differently after learning about your daughter’s sexual activity?

Entering these conversations requires a more thorough and complete explanation of God’s design for sex. Put simply, God designed sex for his glory, for worship and for our pleasure. Additionally, God designed sex for one man and one woman within the context of marriage. Sex within marriage is part of the foundation for a pleasurable, exclusive, mutually committed bond between a husband and wife designed for procreation. From here, your conversation with your daughter extends into other specific areas based on your situation.

When explaining why God gave us sex, think about it like fire. Fire is incredibly useful. Fire can provide life, warmth and fuel for cooking and other necessary activities. But fire can also be deadly. Fire can burn, harm and even kill if those that use it are not careful.

In the same way, God gave us the gift of sex to provide life and pleasure. However, when misused, sex can hurt us and even cause our relationships to fail. When talking about sex with your daughter, remember to reinforce God’s design for sex and our part in his design.

What does the Bible say about sex?

When talking to your daughter about sexuality, quoting verse after verse about sex from the Bible might not be the best option. But you also don’t want your conversations to be devoid of biblical teaching about sexual activity.

Consider infusing these thoughts, stories and Bible verses into your conversation with your daughter to learn what the Bible says about sex.

Ephesians 5

When discussing sin, a helpful image can include light and darkness. In Ephesians, Paul discusses the transition from darkness to light. Paul writes, “. . . for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8).

It’s not just that we live in darkness or light, but that we are darkness or light. Before Christ’s sacrifice and our acceptance of salvation, we are darkness. So, this means our actions equal darkness in God’s view.

Yet, there is hope in the transition from darkness to light. This can only happen through a relationship with God built on faith, forgiveness and repentance.

I Corinthians 6:18-20

The eternal effect of our sin is clear. Our sin separates us from God and requires a relationship with Jesus built on faith and trust.

However, the earthly effects of our sin can differ from each other. In 1 Corinthians 6:18 Paul writes, “. . . the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” In the following verse, Paul emphasizes that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.

It’s clear God takes sexual sin very seriously. And we should as well. However, the goal is not to judge and shame someone who is sexually active. Rather, God promotes grace for those that choose repentance.

Rahab the prostitute: Joshua 2

Understanding how God is present in situations marked by sexual activity can sometimes feel impossible. However, we can glean hope from other people’s stories of God’s redemption.

In the Old Testament, the Nation of Israel found an ally in a culturally unusual way. Before the Nation of Israel arrived in the Promised Land, they needed the help of a woman named Rahab. Rahab helped hide some of Joshua’s spies and essentially saved Israel by preventing them from being discovered by their enemies.

Rahab’s cultural status might surprise you. She was a prostitute. Often neglected, overlooked and mocked for her decisions and reputation. But there was a bigger surprise waiting. One that even Rahab didn’t even know.

A little bit later, Rahab married a man named Salmon. The couple gave birth to a man named Boaz, who eventually married a girl named Ruth. Generations later, Joseph became the earthly father of a little baby named Jesus Christ. Guess what family Joseph came from? That’s right. Rahab . . . the prostitute.

There’s no way we can accurately predict how God might redeem or use us in his greater plan. It doesn’t matter our actions or past behaviour. To God, we are not defined by our sins. Instead, he cares about our heart, motivations and choice to forgive and repent.

Final thoughts on what to do if your teenager is having sex

When figuring out what to do when your teenage daughter is having sex, the goal is to strengthen your relationship with her. As parents, you can do this through maintaining positive communication and asking thoughtful questions. Reinforce your daughter’s inherent value, determined by God, not her actions.

On the practical side, your daughter might experience trauma and volatile emotions for a while. And that’s okay. Consider pursuing professional help through counselling. Sexual activity might be a display of underlying issues that could benefit from continued conversations. Consider talking with one of Focus on the Family Canada’s professional counsellors for guidance on how to address your teenage daughter’s sexual activity.  

Rob Jackson is a licensed counsellor with Focus on the Family in the U.S. where he specializes in calls related to sexuality, marriage and parenting. Jackson has provided counselling services through his private practice since 1991 with an emphasis on helping individuals recover from sex addiction through integrated care that helps people mature and heal spiritually, psychologically and behaviourally.

Yolanda Brown is a licensed counsellor with Focus on the Family in the U.S., specializing in calls related to sexuality, marriage and parenting.

© 2021 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Originally published at FocusOnTheFamily.com.

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