BACKGROUND: Adolescence is a time of risk taking. Constructive risk taking aids the developmental task of becoming a mature, confident adult with a sense of mastery of self and the world. However, ill judged and misinformed risk taking in sexual behaviour can have serious and life long consequences. OBJECTIVE: To assess strategies used for promoting safe sex messages to adolescents and to delineate the role of the general practitioner in promoting these messages effectively. DISCUSSION: The most successful sexual health promotion strategies are those that acknowledge the social and media influences on young people and use these to help strengthen group norms around safe sexual behaviour. GPs have an important role to play in adopting a non judgmental approach to accepting young people as sexual beings and engaging in one to one opportunistic health promotion.