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Let's Talk to Our Kids About Sex

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As the mother of a young daughter, I have thought a lot about when I want to start talking to her about sex and sexuality. I know it won't be long before she is curious about her body, gender differences, and where babies come from. I hope to start this conversation with her while she's young, and then continue throughout her teen years. Latino parents have a responsibility to talk to our kids so that they can lead safe and healthy lives.

As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month and how far we've come as a culture and community, we should also reflect on the health of our community and the disparities we face. The statistics are startling. Teenage Latinas are at a much higher risk for unintended pregnancy because they are significantly less likely to use contraception. Latinos contract HIV at three times the rate of non-Latino whites. And we have double the rates of gonorrhea and triple the rates of chlamydia.

The roots of these issues run deep, but one small yet significant way to help reduce these disparities is to break the taboos around sex by having frank, frequent conversations with our kids about sexual health.

Planned Parenthood and the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health (CLAFH) at the Silver School of Social Work at NYU partnered to commission "Let's Talk: Are Parents Tackling Crucial Conversations About Sex?" -- a new poll looking at parents' attitudes about talking with their children about sex and sexuality, and their support for sex education.

The poll is part of a variety of activities undertaken by Planned Parenthood and CLAFH during Let's Talk Month in October designed to raise awareness and encourage parents to talk to their kids about sex. The poll findings show that parents are very concerned about keeping their kids safe and healthy throughout adolescence, and that's good news. But the poll also found that while many say they are talking to their kids about issues related to sexuality, they're often not discussing the harder issues, including birth control options and how to say no to sex.

According to Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, CLAFH professor and co-director, "These findings show that, more than ever, Latino families need to start talking about these more difficult issues. Effective communication begins at home."

Among the surprising findings: fathers are taking almost as active a role in these conversations as mothers. As talking about sexuality is generally considered the mother's job in our culture, this news is very encouraging -- fathers can and should take an active role in educating kids. The poll shows, as many in our community can attest, that most parents believe their own mothers and fathers didn't do such a great job talking to them about sex. We can and must do better.

The poll also shows that mothers and fathers are equally supportive of sex education in schools. They overwhelmingly support sex education programs in high and middle school, and believe that they should cover a range of topics, including birth control, sexually transmitted infections - including HIV - healthy relationships, and abstinence. Unfortunately, only 10 states and the District of Columbia mandate comprehensive sex education that includes teaching about birth control.

So parents must take the lead in having these life-changing conversations with their kids outside of school. Studies show that teens who report having effective conversations with their parents about sex are more likely to delay sex, have fewer partners, and use condoms and other birth control methods when they do have sex.
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Planned Parenthood is here to help Latino parents start productive, ongoing dialogues with their children about sex, sexual health, and healthy relationships, and to do so in whichever language they feel most comfortable. We are the largest provider of sex education in the country, and our 800 health centers offer educational programs geared at helping parents become effective sex educators of their children. We offer online resources in both English and Spanish via our Tools for Parents web page, which features tips to help parents talk with their kids about sex and sexual health, build strong parent-child relationships, and set rules that help keep teens safe and healthy.

CLAFH is also introducing Families Talking Together (FTT), a family-based program in English and Spanish designed to support effective parent-adolescent communication among Latino families.

I am grateful that my mother defied cultural stereotypes and norms and was pro-active about talking to me about sex from an early age, and I plan to do the same with my daughter. We owe it to our kids to arm them with information to make the most educated choices as they grow. This generation has the potential to be the healthiest ever. So let's talk.
Destiny Lopez is the director of Latino engagement for Planned Parenthood Federation of America.