There is one thing I can't stress enough about sex: The need to talk about it. My previous post on Black Voices was about how hard it is for adults to talk about sex -- with each other! So you can imagine how tough it is for us to talk about it with our kids. But talk we must! According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African Americans ages 13-24 account for 56 percent of new HIV cases, and nearly half of all African-American girls between 14 and 19 are infected with a sexually transmitted infection such as chlamydia, herpes, or HPV.
Now is the time to have that conversation. October is Let's Talk Month, during which several national organizations, including Planned Parenthood, focus on encouraging parents to talk with their children about sex and sexuality. It can absolutely make a difference. Studies have shown, for example, that teens who talk about sex with a parent are more likely to delay sex, have fewer sexual partners, and use condoms and birth control when they do have sex.
But do parents really talk with their kids about sex? Planned Parenthood recently partnered with the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at the Silver School of Social Work at NYU to find out. Released today, our new, nationally representative poll shows that most parents are talking to their kids about topics related to sexuality, agree that they are influential in the decisions their children make about sex, and are overwhelmingly supportive of sex education in schools.
Importantly, the survey of 1,100 parents of 10 to 18-year-olds found that African Americans were more likely than any other group to say that they would like help talking to their kids about sex. That's encouraging news when you consider that 64 percent of all parents surveyed said their own moms and dads didn't do a very good job talking to them about sex. That more of us are asking for help in figuring out how to best prepare our kids to make good decisions about their sexual health provides us the opportunity to set examples for how all parents can be successful in helping their kids navigate these waters. However, the poll also found that fewer parents are talking with their kids about tougher, more complicated topics. More than a quarter aren't talking about how to say no to sex, and, while 94 percent of parents believe they are influential in whether or not their kids use condoms or other forms of birth control if they do have sex, only 60 percent are actually talking with their children about birth control. Why? Many of us are too embarrassed or uncomfortable. But we must get over that.
The consequences of not talking are simply too great. A recent http://www.thenationalcampaign.org/underpressure/PDF/under-pressure.pdf study conducted by Essence and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy of 1,500 African American teen boys and girls found that nearly half of the 13 to 15 year-olds surveyed don't talk with their parents about sex because they think it would be too awkward. Yet two-thirds say there would be fewer teen pregnancies if more kids were able to talk with their parents. Two-thirds also said they would wait longer before starting to have sex if they were able to have open and honest conversations about it at home.
How can you make it less awkward? Talk openly and honestly, answer your kids' questions, and seize opportunities to help them make smart decisions about their relationships and behavior. Parents can begin the discussion as early as age six or seven. When a child reaches puberty, it's important to discuss love, relationships, and respect, but it's also important to teach teens how to say no to sex and how to access and make decisions about birth control when they do become sexually active. Throughout the teen years, it's critical to help your child understand the consequences of certain behaviors, and to help them establish boundaries. Should your teen become sexually active, you can help ensure that the relationship is emotionally healthy and that your child protects her/himself from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
It's also essential that parents set guidelines that will make teens less likely to engage in sexual behavior before they're ready, and role-play with your kids, especially daughters, about how to negotiate boundaries in certain situations in age-appropriate ways.
Most of all, we need to help our children build self-esteem so they will want to take care of themselves and respect others. Parents can do that by giving their kids credit for their talents and accomplishments, and encouraging them to have long-term goals, like college. Talking with our kids about their plans will not only strengthen our relationships with them, it will also allow us to help them consider how the risks they take today may affect their dreams for tomorrow.
Planned Parenthood is an excellent resource for information on how to talk with your kids about sex and sexuality. Visit www.plannedparenthood.org to find out more. So, let's talk about sex!