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First romantic relationships

Topics in
this section

1 The intensity of first romantic relationships

2 First sexual experiences

3 The role of caregivers/trusted adults

1 The intensity of first romantic relationships

Teenagers often experience their first romantic relationships very intensely as they are exploring new feelings and sensations. Hormonal changes can also make certain events feel much more intense, including their first romantic relationship.

Romantic feelings and relationships often take an important place in teenagers’ lives, namely because they have a lot of questions about them. It’s common to hear a teenager say that “they’ve never been so happy”, “they think about their partner all the time”, etc.

L’intensité des premières relations amoureuses

When they’re interested in someone, they can ask themselves:

  • How do I get them to notice me?
  • How do I get them to like me?
  • How do I know if I’m in love?
  • How do I tell them I like them?
  • What will I do if they reject me or make fun of me?
  • I messaged them last night and they didn’t reply… What do I do?
  • Is it normal that I’m attracted to my best friend?

Lorsque quelqu’un les intéresse

Teenagers often tend to confide in their friends, who are living through similar situations. They don’t usually confide in the trusted adults around them, but it can happen. Knowing this, if a teenager comes to you, it’s important to:

  • Normalize what they’re going through, for example, you can tell them that it’s normal to ask themselves questions because these are new, unknown feelings.
  • You can also mention how happy you are that they decided to talk to you about it.
  • Don’t hesitate to encourage them to come to you about any situation.

Caregivers who feel comfortable doing so may also use their own experiences to create a bond with the teenager. You can share how you felt at that age, the questions that preoccupied you the most, who you talked to the most (and the least!), and who helped you see things more clearly. Some teenagers like hearing other people’s stories, both the good and the bad, when they feel you’re being sincere with them.

Les jeunes ont souvent tendance à se confier à leurs ami∙es

Lack of reciprocity in romantic relationships

What can I do when my teenager is in an impossible romantic situation? If they like someone much older than them? If they like someone who’s already in a relationship? What can I do if they develop feelings for someone who lives in another country or in another region? If my teenager doesn’t realize that this relationship is not attainable, that the feelings aren’t returned?

As a caregiver or trusted adult, all these questions are legitimate and can be a source of worry. You want your teenager to thrive as much as possible, sometimes even to the point where you want to avoid them experiencing negative emotions, rejection and difficulties. Simply keep in mind that any experience, positive or negative, is a learning opportunity for teenagers, who are still developing and in a period of trial and error. Indeed, any difficult situation provides an opportunity to learn and develop, even for adults.

During first romantic experiences, it’s not obvious for teenagers to recognize if their feelings are reciprocated. They’re learning the signs that indicate someone may be interested in them. They sometimes have a hard time determining if their partner’s words or feelings are really a sign of love. They’re also learning what a positive, healthy, equal and balanced relationship is.

La non-réciprocité dans les relations amoureuses

As a trusted adult, don’t hesitate to ask your teenager how they feel about the person they’re interested in. You can encourage them to think about the signs of interest they notice in the other person, and what they like about them.

As an adult, it may seem obvious to you whether the person is interested in your teenager and if a relationship between them is possible or not. It can be helpful to not minimize what your teenager may feel, even if you sense that the relationship won’t be possible. Given that attraction and romantic feelings are often intense, but that they are also a sensitive and vulnerable area for your teenager, don’t hesitate to gently and carefully broach the topic with your teenager.

Feel free to show them empathy and understanding. This can be an opportunity to ask them what could make them feel better in the present moment to take their mind off things, and to remind them that you’re there for them if they need to confide in someone, be supported, etc.

se questionner sur les signes d’intérêts

You can also use your own personal experience of impossible love or unrequited feelings to normalize what your teenager is going through (to make them understand that they have the right to feel this way, that intense emotions don’t last forever, etc.).

If you feel comfortable doing so, you can also share the strategies that helped you get through this difficult period. Keep in mind that your teenager is in the best position to know what they need and that you can be by their side and support them:

Give them the space to live this difficult time at their pace and in their own way.

Laissez-lui l’espace nécessaire pour vivre ce moment difficile à son rythme

2 First sexual experiences

Teenagers are in a period of discovery. In their romantic relationship, they may want to be physically, intimately and sexually close to their partner. It’s important to know that first sexual experiences don’t always occur at the same time as first romantic experiences. They sometimes happen a little later, when the partners feel ready. They can also happen outside of a relationship.

It’s also important to differentiate between intimacy and sexuality. Teenagers may want to be physically close, for example sleeping next to each other, without engaging in sexual activity. Kissing is very important in teenage relationships; in fact, this activity is usually the first one most teenagers try, followed by other gradual discoveries at each person’s pace.

Les premières expériences sexuelles

Useful facts. What do you think?

According to a Quebec study on youth’s romantic relationships among nearly 8,000 teenagers from secondary cycle 2, almost 25% of students had not yet had their first romantic relationship. Moreover, teenagers don’t all engage in sexual activity. In secondary 3, only close to 25% had had sex, nearly 35% in secondary 4, and nearly 50% in secondary 5. In this study, sex refers to vaginal penetration, anal penetration or oral-genital contact. Consequently, half of teenagers have sexual experiences involving penetration only after high school.

Fact sheet on romantic relationships

Additionally, the average age for the first sexual encounter involving penetration is 16.5 years, and this number hasn’t changed in several years, contrary to what one might think. A majority of teenagers live their first sexual experiences while in a relationship, where love, or the expression of love, for their partner is the main motivation for sex. Our teenagers aren’t as wild as we think!

Fact sheet on sexual activity

First sexual experiences generally represent an important step for teenagers, and they are preceded by several questions, namely:

  • I’m really stressed about sex. Should I talk to my partner about it?
  • I’ve never had a sexual experience, I’m worried. Should I talk to my partner about it? If yes, what do I say?
  • Am I the only who hasn’t had a sexual experience? I feel like everyone else has!
  • How long should foreplay last before sexual intercourse? And… what is foreplay exactly?
  • How do I know if I’m “good” at sex?
  • My partner and I have only been engaging in foreplay, without penetration, for several months, is this normal? Is it still considered a sexual relationship?
  • Is it common to bleed the first time you have sex? Does the first time hurt?
  • How do I make sure not to hurt my partner, since it’s the first time for both of us?
  • How can I bring up contraception with my partner?
  • Where can I buy condoms and how much do they cost?
  • How do I know if my partner is consenting to engage in sexual activity?
  • Do I have to perform oral sex?
  • What does having an orgasm mean?

Les premières expériences sexuelles

Before continuing with this section, it would be useful to clarify what “sex” refers to. We may think that sex means vaginal penetration, but it can actually include a whole range of sexual acts. Any sexual activity can constitute a teenager’s “first time.” It’s important to inform teenagers that touching, caressing, and mutual masturbation are examples of sexual experiences that they can engage in before penetration, and that this constitutes sex. Teenagers often feel the stress of the “first time.” Indeed, they often associate it with vaginal penetration. Telling teenagers that all sexual contact is important allows them to redefine their idea of a “first time” and alleviate the associated stress.

As a caregiver and trusted adult, it can be difficult to accept that your teenager will have sexual experiences or want to have them. Finding a way that you’re comfortable with to talk about it together can also be a challenge. The first question related to sexuality may be a bit of a shock for you, but you may also feel comfortable with the subject. Try to remember how you felt during your first sexual experiences and how they went. Naturally, your experiences aren’t the same as your teenager’s; however, remembering these moments can help you understand your teenager’s perspective.

Even though this step requires significant adaptation, talking about sexuality with your teenager is often reassuring. Don’t hesitate to bring up the topic of sexuality with your teenager or share information so that they’re informed on the topic they’re concerned about. You don’t have to talk about THEIR sex life. The important thing is that your teenager knows that they can talk about it if they need to and that you’re open to this.


« My daughter started dating her first boyfriend when she was 14. I felt like she was relatively young to be in a relationship. It was difficult to find a compromise between the limits I wanted to set and her wishes. After taking the time to get to know this boy very well, I agreed that he could sleep over, with his parents’ agreement as well. It’s not easy to accept that your daughter is having sexual experiences for the first time. Communication between us helped a lot. »

Mother of a 14-year-old daughter

« I’m glad that my mother told me that sex isn’t only penetration, I thought it was. It takes some pressure off. I know I can start with other acts with my boyfriend and it really “de-stresses” me! »

Girl, 15

« I remember that my father put books about sexuality in my room. I was relieved that he did that, because I wouldn’t necessarily have been comfortable talking to him about it. Paging through those books helped me understand a lot of things. My father had left a post-it saying that I could ask him questions if I needed to. »

Boy, 14

Sexuality, which is a very broad topic, can be an open and ongoing dialogue between you and your teenager, throughout their adolescence.

At the beginning (and ideally even before) of your teenager’s romantic and sexual experiences, several general topics related to sexuality can be raised. It’s important to know that sexuality encompasses various spheres, and so doesn’t only include sexual acts/intercourse.

Examples of topics to raise with my teenager

1. Consent

Does my teenager understand the concept of consent? What definition of sexual consent do they have? Does my teenager have questions about consent? By definition, consent is agreeing to an action, an act. In the context of sexuality, consent is therefore linked to any sexual activity. It’s a “yes” that is voluntary, freely given, without constraint or threat, that is informed as well as enthusiastic. It means that you’re comfortable and want what is happening, that there is good communication with your partner, that you’re free to stop when you want, that the partners are equal and have the same rights. Several tools are available to support your discussions about consent:

Video on tea and consent (a classic!) Comprehensive, legal information on consent (Éducaloi)

2. Their inner voice

How do you know if you want (or don’t want) to do something? How do you know if something isn’t right for you? How do you know when you’re really ready to try new things? When you’re not comfortable in a situation, you feel it, you have an internal warning bell that lets you know. You want to be somewhere else, you feel uneasy, tense, etc. The opposite is also true: when you want something, you feel it deep inside, you don’t have any doubts, you feel good, and you feel free. Trusting your teenager when it comes to asserting themselves and not thinking that they’ll agree to do everything without question or without sharing their opinion allows your teenager to feel confident in their choices. It’s very gratifying for a teenager to feel that their caregiver/significant adult trusts them. It’s imperative to insist on the importance of realizing how they feel in a situation, and to tell their partner, without embarrassment or taboo. You can ask your teenager to tell you about a situation that made them uncomfortable. After their story, you can ask questions to find out what made them understand that they were uncomfortable: what were the signs, how did they feel in their body, in their head, in their emotions?

3. Respecting their own pace

What does it mean to go at your own pace? Does my teenager understand this concept? How can you really respect someone else’s pace? It can be important to broach this topic with a teenager, even before they have romantic or sexual experiences. During adolescence, some teenagers may compare themselves to their friends and those around them and want to be at the same stage as them. Teenagers also tend to believe that everyone else has more experience than them (when we know this isn’t the case!). From a very young age, it is therefore essential to share the importance of listening to themselves despite outside influences. If I was alone on a desert island and I had no one to compare myself to, what would I do? What would really be right for me? This conversation is a great opportunity to make them think about what stage they’re at in their relationship.

4. Pornography

Some teenagers may view pornography and use it as a way to get information about sex. Pornography can spark their curiosity. Most teenagers know that what they’re seeing in pornography isn’t representative of reality, but what do they really understand? It’s important to remind them that in pornography, there are several elements that don’t reflect reality. For example, the partners become aroused in a few seconds and don’t always take the time to look at or talk to each other. Also, the bodies featured in pornography don’t represent the body diversity present in society. Listening, respect of the other person, and sexual equality are also not always depicted. Pornography may create performance anxiety in teenagers and also influence their perceptions and behaviour during sexual activity. It’s not necessarily easy to discuss pornography with your teenager. Without asking your teenager about their personal use of pornography, if that is the case, it’s important to mention the impacts of pornography, in particular during their first sexual experiences. During first sexual experiences, it’s normal to take the time to talk with your partner, to be nervous, to not try penetration right away, to ask your partner what and how they’re feeling, etc. All these elements are often absent in pornography.

5. Sexual pleasure

There are several motivations to engage in sexual activity, alone or with someone else. Sexual pleasure, the desire to show your feelings for another person with your body, to explore sensations and share them with someone who is important to you are common motivations, especially among teenagers. It’s important to inform teenagers about the risks related to sexuality, the possibility of unwanted pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, but sexuality is first and foremost a source of pleasure and a positive thing: this is also an important message to communicate. Of course, some first experiences can be a combination of stress, discomfort and pain for some people, but there should still be pleasure in engaging in sexual activity. To each their own pace and practices, as long as desire, pleasure and respect between partners are present.

6. Being sexually active

This doesn’t only mean having tried penetration, since sexuality is much broader than simply this activity. In fact, this is a “myth” that may be important to debunk with teenagers because yes, “only” engaging in foreplay is also having sexual experiences. Sex isn’t limited to penetration; it encompasses a set of sexual activities and various exchanges. Penetration is often a step that is a source of worry for teenagers, like it’s the final step that absolutely has to be achieved. It’s important to know that sex is defined as any sexual contact between two partners, such as caressing, kissing, touching, mutual masturbation, oral sex, etc. Consequently, being sexually active means many things! We can’t stress this enough: to each their own pace, practices, and desires!

3 The role of caregivers/trusted adults

With regard to your teen’s first sexual experiences, it’s important to think about the limits that are important to you, as a trusted adult in their life. With the intensity of first romantic relationships, your teenager may live a full-time relationship (spending all their time with their partner), when they don’t yet have the maturity to handle everything this relationship entails. They may also start to neglect other areas of their life, such as their hobbies, school, and leisure time. However, dictating everything your teenager can and can’t do won’t teach them to be autonomous in their experiences, or learn how to handle them.

First intimate relationships are an important learning experience for teenagers when it comes to managing their emotions (positive and negative), figuring out their relationships with others, determining what’s important to them, their values, how to manage disagreements and disappointment in others, how to communicate, how to compromise, etc.

Le rôle des parents/adultes de confiance

It is therefore best to initiate a discussion with your teenager: What role do they want their relationship to play in their life, and what place do you want this relationship to occupy in your family life? It’s important that both of you (caregivers and teenagers) participate in this conversation. For example, you can discuss how many times a week you’ll spend time as a family versus the time spent at home with their partner, the intimate moments at home when the other family members are present versus when no one is home. You can ask your teenager’s opinion about this, then share yours. Is a compromise possible?

There is no perfect way to support teenagers during their first romantic experiences. Remember that adolescence is a period when teenagers want to make their own decisions, live their own experiences. Finding a compromise between your limits, expectations and values as well as those of your teenager, during a conversation, can often help reduce frustration on both sides. Listening to your teenager’s needs and wishes may encourage them to do the same for you.

From the first romantic relationship, it can be useful to talk about the importance of balance in a relationship. This means devoting time to their relationship, but also to other hobbies they have, to school (if applicable), their friends, etc.

amorcer une réflexion avec votre jeune&

Now that you’re an adult, what is your definition of balance in a romantic relationship? What does your teenager think about this balance?

At the beginning of adolescence, balance is not always a concept that teenagers understand. Most teenagers are often all about emotions, intensity, and being in the present moment: it’s either black or white, but rarely grey. This dichotomous thinking is completely normal and corresponds to their developmental level: teenagers focus on pleasure and what they like, so the romantic relationship can play a very big role in their lives. Consequently, from the first romantic experiences, it can be helpful for you to initiate a reflection on the importance of balance with your teenager. Carrying on their activities from “before” the relationship and continuing to have personal projects is part of a healthy, positive relationship. Indeed, your partner should encourage you in your individual projects and help you achieve your dreams and ambitions.

équilibre dans une relation de couple

Which equation best represents a positive romantic relationship:

½ + ½ = 1 ?

Not really… We’re already complete beings before being in a relationship, and not halves that need to be completed by our “other half” to make a whole.

1 + 1 = 1 ?

This equation would show that these two people, together, form a couple. Yes, maybe… But who are they, individually, in all this? Are they anything other than their couple?

1 + 1 = 3 ?

This equation refers to two people who, by forming a couple, create a 3rd entity. They continue to be two full-fledged individuals with their own passions, hobbies, etc.


Don’t hesitate to ask your teenager to describe what a healthy, positive relationship is for them. What are the ingredients? Does their current relationship include some of these elements? Are some missing? Why?