My talk with my mom about menstruation went something like this:
Me: Mommy? We learned about periods in health class today. The teacher said we should get this kit. It comes with books and pads and stuff.
My mom: Okay.
Uh, huh. That was the end of the conversation. She ordered the kit for me — it came with three books about puberty and an assortment of pads and tampons — and when it arrived, she handed it to me and we never talked about periods again. I was 13 when I finally got mine; I was at my uncle’s house on a weekend visit, and spent half of Saturday and most of Sunday with wads of toilet tissue stuffed in my panties, too embarrassed to ask my uncle for help, and later, too embarrassed to tell my mother about it. My mom didn’t find out, either, until after she realized I’d used up all the pads in my kit.
She was hurt. I could tell from the look in her eyes.
It’s a pain that I never want to feel with my own daughters — that much I know. I made a vow when each of my babies was born that I would be honest with them, that no matter how hard/embarrassing/uncomfortable the conversation, I’d do my best to make them feel like they could ask or talk to me about anything.
My girls are 12 and 9, and trust me when I tell you: they’ve got questions. Talking about sex with them isn’t easy, but their dad and I do our best to give it to them straight, no chaser—whether they ask for the info or not. Body changes, boyfriends, pregnancy, birth control, ways to say “no,” peer pressure, making good choices—all of this is discussed regularly, thoroughly and without hesitation.
Looks like we’re not alone. “Let’s Talk: Are Parents Tackling Crucial Conversations About Sex?” a new poll commissioned and released today by Planned Parenthood and the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at the Silver School of Social Work at NYU, found that 82 percent of parents have talked to their kids about topics related to sexuality, including relationships (92 percent) and their own values about when sex should or should not take place (87 percent).
Problem is, when it comes to tougher, more complicated topics, many adolescents are not getting the support they need to delay sex and prevent pregnancy. Only 74 percent of parents are talking to their kids about how to say no to sex, and while 94 percent believe they’re influential in whether or not their child uses condoms or other forms of birth control, only 60 percent are talking with their children about it.
This new finding underscores the importance of October’s Let’s Talk Month, which encourages parents to talk to their children about sex and sexual health. And because I’m so very passionate about giving parents of color the tools they need not only to be better parents but to help their kids be smart when it comes to sexual health in general and sex in particular, I thought it only fitting that MyBrownBaby host a “Let’s Talk About Sex” series of posts designed to help parents navigate the sex discussions we need to have with our kids. I’ve invited some of my favorite voices from around the web to share the good, the bad, the funny and the tragic about how they are, have or will talk to their children about sex, with the hope that each of the posts will help MyBrownBaby readers get comfortable and start talking about sex with their own children.
With teen birth rates and STDs soaring among young black and Latino teenagers, talking to our kids honestly about sex is not only the right thing to do—it’s incredibly necessary. Crucial, really.
So I invite you to check back here at MyBrownBaby for some great insight into how other parents are talking to their kids about sex. Tomorrow, Tara Pringle Jefferson of TheYoungMommyLife.com will share wisdom on how she, as a mom who had her first child at age 20, will talk to her kids about the importance of waiting to have sex—a powerful piece you won’t want to miss.
And as part of Let’s Talk Month in October, Planned Parenthood also will release a set of new resources that put special focus on encouraging parents to talk to their kids, including:
- An online photo flipbook featuring actor and comedian Aisha Tyler, writer and producer Luisa Leschin, actor Kathleen Turner, and everyday people reminiscing about conversations they’ve had with their own parents and children about sex.
- A humorous, teachable-moment video that shows parents being confronted with questions about sex from kids of all ages and backgrounds. The video, to be released in mid-October, is an amusing yet useful look at how parents can effectively respond to their children’s questions about sex.
- A revamped “Tools for Parents” section of plannedparenthood.org that features tips to help parents talk with their kids about sex and sexual health, build strong parent-child relationships, and set rules for their teens that help keep them safe and healthy.
- An online social networking experience that guides parents through the steps of developing the messages they want to give their children and gets them ready to have conversations during Let’s Talk Month and beyond.
- Additionally, CLAFH will make available Families Talking Together (FTT), a family-based program designed to support effective parent-adolescent communication among African-American and Latino families. FTT is available in both English and Spanish and can be accessed at the CLAFH website, www.nyu.edu/socialwork/clafh.
I hope that you’ll take advantage of all these great resources as you prepare yourself for this ongoing conversation with your kids. And be sure to check back in for great advice and insight on how to get it done. It’s never too early to start thinking about it and get to talking—I promise you this.