Grandparents talking about sex

When I was about 19, I had the following conversation with my grandfather (GF) and great-grandmother (GG) about my same-age cousin:


GG: Well, your cousin just moved in with her boyfriend.

Me: Oh, that’s nice! Good for her.

GF: Yes.  She’s told us that she is sleeping in her own bedroom and he is sleeping in his own bedroom.

GG: And I just don’t know, but I think her parents actually believe her! But we all know that’s not really happening!

(GG and GF cackle delightedly.)


I have to admit – I was astounded at this rather benign joke coming from several generations up. I had never talked about anything sexual with anyone older than my parents before – and even that was under duress.

But I’ve got grandparents on the mind today, because today is Grandparent’s Day at my daughter’s school. So we have quite a few grandparents in town – including that same grandfather – now great-grandfather.

Several months ago in one of my classes for parents on adolescent sexuality, I had a grandparent attend. He wanted to know how he could help his grandchildren learn about and process their sexual development. Specifically, his biggest question was this:

“If my grandchildren come to me with questions or advice about sexuality, am I morally required to tell their parent (i.e., my children) about our conversations?”

I had to think through that question for some time. It’s a good one. Generally I say that a non-parental adult needs to tell the parents of a teenager if the teenager comes to that non-parental adult to talk about sex. (Unless, of course, the parent has given the non-parent permission to have a confidential relationship with the teenager. Which is something I highly, highly recommend.)

But as I thought more in-depth on the issue, I do think that there are a few relationships that may allow a non-parental adult to choose to not inform the parents of on-going conversations about sex and sexuality. Here is my list of those relationships:

  • siblings
  • grandparents
  • teachers
  • church youth advisor/minister

There may be a few others, depending on the people involved.  So to all the grandparents (and great-grandparents) out there in Internet-land: Go talk with your grandchildren about sex!  It’ll be good for both of you.

However, before I head out, I want to point out that taking on a role of adult confidant of a teenager has serious, and imperative, responsibilities associated with it. I’ll expound on them sometime in the near future – right now I’m off to hang out with seven of my children’s grandparents and great-grandparents.  (There are four not in attendance – yes, my children do have too many grandparents, the lucky ducks!)

About Karen Rayne

Dr. Karen Rayne has been supporting parents and families since 2007 when she received her PhD in Educational Psychology. A specialist in child wellbeing, Dr. Rayne has spent much of her career supporting parents, teachers, and other adults who care for children and teenagers.

1 Comment

  1. Our mother taught us from an early age about sex. Of course, our father and grandfather did too, in a more graphic manner.

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