Communicating with family members may be difficult. Talking about sensitive subjects such as sexuality, reproduction, and birth control are especially difficult. This is especially true if the subjects have never been talked about previously. Families are essential to young people, their sense of self worth and their emotional and physical development. It is worth the extra effort to begin these sensitive conversations. We hope this factual, accurate, up-to-date information will help you take the first steps. You may be surprised to find out that both adults and young people are searching for ways to start a conversation about sexuality. It’s not always easy for people of any age!
Talking with your Parents or Guardian
Sometimes youth will have to be the ones to begin sensitive conversations with their adult care-givers – parents or guardians. Some people find this hard. Here are some reasons why:
- Fear that they just don’t understand – Many young people feel that adults “just don’t understand” what it’s like to be young these days. Although adults do not have the same experiences as you, there are lots of similarities. What you and they both have in common is that they want the best for you. Sharing your ideas and concerns will help both you and them get to know each other better.
- Embarrassment – Sex and sexuality are considered, by some, to be a sensitive topic. Somehow, we grow up with the wrong idea that sexual feelings and activities are ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’. We come to think that it is also wrong to talk about it too. Sex is not wrong or bad. In fact sex and sexuality aren’t good or bad, they are just part of life. Without sex the human species (or any species of plant or animal) wouldn’t survive. Sex is the method that we use to reproduce. It just is a natural part of nature.You can reduce the sense of embarrassment by getting factual, accurate, non-judgmental information. It might also help to try out discussion starters with trusted adults or friends. Embarrassment will only go away by getting the discussion started.
- Unfamiliarity – Some young people have never had sensitive discussions with their caregivers. In some families, sex may be a taboo subject that no one talks about.
- Concern that your parents will believe that if you are talking about sex, you are having sex or that you are too sexual. You can start by telling your parents that there are many respected studies that show that young people who know and understand sex and sexuality are the ones who are less likely to be having sex.
- Time: It never seems to be the ‘right time’. This can be the case either because it gets ‘put-off’ or because of the very busy schedules of both young people and their caregivers.
What is making it hard for you to bring up the topic with your caregivers?
SOME TIPS to help start the discussion about sex and sexuality with your parent or guardian:
- Communicate about less sensitive topics on a day-to-day basis. Tell them about your every day experiences. This will make it easier to talk about more sensitive or personal topics.
- Begin the more personal or sensitive conversations by talking about a book, a tv show, a movie or a conversation with a friend as a way of introducing the ideas you want to discuss.
- Talk about the issue as if it were a concern or experience of a “friend”.
- Whenever you can, share information about your feelings, ideas, goals and concerns.
- Ask about their feelings, ideas, goals, and concerns. A sincere effort to learn about them as people is always welcomed. If they choose not to communicate about their own feelings, respect their privacy.
- Listen as well as talk. Be careful not to get too caught up in your own thoughts or concerns.
FOR ADULT CAREGIVERS
Talking with youth about sexuality.
Good decisions about sex and sexuality require more than just the facts. Your teenager depends on you for information about values, morals, love and relationships.
Why is it so hard to take the first step?
- Embarrassment – Many adults feel embarrassed when talking about sex. Unfortunately, sex and sexuality are considered taboo. And although we are not suggesting that you be scandalous, it is important that adults carefully consider challenging the old taboos.
- Unfamiliarity – Unfamiliarity – Some adults never had the advantage of having open communication with their own caregivers who could provide them with role-models to draw from when it is their turn. For a variety of cultural and historical reasons, many caregivers in previous generations believed it wasn’t their responsibility to talk about sex and sexuality outside of marriage. Changing times, increased risk of disease, increased sexualization of young people, earlier maturation and better understanding of normal development together make it imperative that we have much more open communication about sex.
- Concern – that young people will act on what they know – The more they know the more likely they are to experiment with sex. This is one of the major myths that block caregivers from opening up the discussion. Many recent studies have found that the more a young person knows about sex, the less likely they are to become sexually active.
- Time – It never seems to be the ‘right time’. This can be the case either because it gets ‘put-off’ or because of the very busy schedules of both young people and their caregivers.The young people in your family need accurate information, your non-judgmental acceptance and support, your values, and the benefit of your experience to make healthy decisions about sexuality.SOME TIPS to get started creating open communication.
- Start the discussion before puberty begins. How early? Give your child age-appropriate information as soon as they can understand the words. Begin by teaching your child the accurate names for body parts and body functions. When your child, at every age, asks a question, answer it directly and honestly, without judgment. Use statements that open the conversation up rather than shut it down such as:
- When your child, at every age, asks a question, answer it directly and honestly, without judgment. Use statements that open the conversation up rather than shut it down such as;
- “What do you think?”
- “That’s a good question”
- “I don’t know, but I’ll find out”
- “I’m trying to understand what you’re feeling”
- “I’m glad you told me about that”
STATEMENTS TO AVOID
- “That’s none of your business”
- “You’re too young”
- “We’ll talk about that when you need to know”
- “When I was your age…..”
- Respect the question: You can show your respect immediately by thanking them for asking. It will be helpful, and respectful if you ask for information on what they already know and clarify what it is they want to know.
- Bring it up yourself: Some children ask more questions than others do. When you bring up the subject of sexuality, decide, first what messages you want to give about such topics as love, nudity, gender roles, intimacy, and privacy. In this way, you can be sure your child has the information they need to respond to new situations as they arise.
- Take advantage of “teachable moments” Teachable moments are those occurring naturally in the course of daily life – a TV show, a conversation with playmates, activities of older siblings. Teachable moments can also come from problems or challenges that come up. We learn a lot from the consequences that come about from our everyday challenges and problems.
- In all your conversations – talk about the normalcy and joys of sexuality. Be very clear that sexuality is natural and healthy, that loving relationships can be one of the best parts of life, and that sexuality is a wonderful thing to share with another person. Give them examples of sexual behaviors that are pleasurable in addition to having intercourse, including kissing, holding hands, caressing and masturbation. It is never too early to talk about any topic as long as the content and approach is age-appropriate.
- Providing accurate information is important. However it is equally important to talk about responsibilities, and potential consequences that go along with becoming sexually active. Talk about how having sexual intercourse is an important choice in life that needs to thought out.
- Give them information on how to be safe. Even if you are uncomfortable with the possibility of your son or daughter having sex, it is important to talk about how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. Let them know that abstaining from sex (not having sex) is the best way to prevent sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy. Let them know about the importance of using an effective method of birth control, including latex condoms, for each sexual act (oral sex, anal sex and vaginal sex) to prevent pregnancy and STIs.
- Get accurate information. We hope this web site and resources will be helpful to you and the future of your young people.
SOME HELPFUL RESOURCES
This locally run site has a variety of information for parents of teens.
SIECUS is a national, nonprofit organization that affirms that sexuality is a natural and healthy part of living. Incorporated in 1964, SIECUS develops, collects, and disseminates information, promotes comprehensive education about sexuality, and advocates the rights of individuals to make responsible sexual choices.
Advocates for Youth is dedicated to creating programs and promoting policies that help young people make informed and responsible decisions about their sexual and reproductive health. They provide information, training, and advocacy to youth-serving organizations, policy makers, and the media in the U.S. and internationally.
Sex, etc. is a newsletter run by and for teens on various sexual health topics. It is a good way to find out what your teens may be thinking about.
Virtual Kid is run by the state of Viginia and has a pretty comprehensive puberty 101 section. This may be helpful in brining up tough topics with your kids.