October marks Let’s Talk Month, aimed at getting families to talk to kids about sex, sexuality and relationships, and this year Planned Parenthood is encouraging parents to go beyond “the talk” and have ongoing conversations throughout their children’s lives.
Planned Parenthood has good reason for this: a recent survey investigating how well families communicate about sexuality and relationships found that while parents and children no longer are embarrassed to have “the talk,” parents aren’t talking specifics. The survey, conducted by Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health (CLAFH) at the Silver School of Social Work at New York University, found that:
- By age 21, 1 in 5 parents have never talked with their teen about birth control methods, strategies for saying no to sex, or where to get accurate sexual health information. Over 30 percent of parents have never talked with their teens about where to get reproductive health care services. These are crucial topics for parents to discuss with their teens.
- The majority of parents (61 percent) report wanting young people to wait to have sex until they are ready to handle the responsibilities that come from having a sexual relationship — far more than support waiting until marriage (45 percent). However, only 52 percent of parents report ever talking specifically about these values with their children. Parents need to more clearly communicate their values to their children.
- The vast majority of parents know when their teens are having sexual intercourse, but not when they are having oral sex. Among teens and young adults 15-21 who reported having vaginal sex, 91 percent of their parents knew. However, among teens having oral sex, only 40 percent of their parents knew. Asking direct questions about teens’ relationships and sexual behavior can help.
“The survey shows that parents are talking, but they’re not talking about some of the topics that are most critical to protecting their children’s health. As teens get older, they need help with specific strategies for negotiating relationships and where to get information and services. It’s important for parents to both ask clear, direct questions about their children’s relationships and activities, so they know what is happening in their children’s lives and can have the opportunity to share their own values,” said Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, PhD, co-director of CLAFH. “Parents can make a real difference in their teens’ decisions about sex — if they talk regularly about the things that influence decision making.”
A growing body of scientific evidence shows that certain topics influence young people’s sexual decision-making and behavior more than others. Parents can make a difference in their teens’ sexual decision-making by talking about whether or not their teens are ready for a sexual relationship and why, emotions that accompany having sex, what to expect from sexual relationships, and the advantages and disadvantages of having sex. Families Talking Together, developed by CLAFH, is an evidence-based program for families focused on these important topics. The program and materials are available for free here.
One way to make conversations about sex and relationships part of everyday life is to use pop culture that touches on sexuality, relationships, and reproductive health to open up conversations. Television can be a way to continually introduce these topics into family discussions. This year, Planned Parenthood Federation of America created “The Talk Show: Using Television to Talk to Your Children About Sex,” a guide that provides sample conversation-starters and guidance for parents.
Planned Parenthood helps parents talk with their children more often and more in-depth about the things that matter, and the organization has resources, guidance, videos, and apps designed to make starting and continuing these conversations easier and richer, including:
- Resources for parents at PlannedParenthood.org/Parents include a tips video, educational videos in English and Spanish for talking about specific issues, tip sheets, and guidance for talking with children of all ages about a variety of topics.
- For middle schoolers, there are quizzes to help children set an intention to wait to have sex until they’re ready, called What’s Your Love Personality? and Where Do You Stand?. A game called The Kickback helps middle schoolers practice saying no to sex and other types of peer pressure like being offered drugs and alcohol. What’s Your Future Plan?, helps them think through how becoming a teen parent could affect their future plans.
- For older teens, Planned Parenthood offers games and quizzes to help teens set an intention to start and keep using both birth control and condoms to prevent unintended pregnancy and STDs when they do become sexually active, called Been There, Done That and It Takes Two. My Birth Control is a quiz to help pick a birth control method, which teens and their parents can look through together to learn about some of the best birth control options when ready.
“Planned Parenthood is committed to helping parents to be the primary sex educators of their own children,” said Leslie Kantor, Planned Parenthood Federation of America vice president for education. Last year, the organization provided education and outreach to over 1.5 million people of all ages across the country, and every day, Planned Parenthood works in schools and communities to provide comprehensive sex education programs, which both parents and teens overwhelmingly support. MyBrownBaby is proud to support their efforts.
Check out the award-winning MyBrownBaby Let’s Talk About Sex series for more valuable information on how to have “the talk” with your kids.