A new study released by NYU’s Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health demonstrates a surprising reluctance among teenagers to go to their parents to talk about sex. According to the study, just 27 percent of teenagers said they discussed how to reject sexual advances with their parents.
What is more surprising is that 42 percent of parents said they had discussed these issues with their teens. Parents and teens are either not communicating at all or they are not communicating well enough to walk away from these discussions with the same ideas.
Sexual education is essential for young people, even before the teenage years. Health classes in schools offer important information and support, but teens and adolescents must also discuss these issues with their parents. Talking about sex does make some people uncomfortable — according to the study, 50 percent of teens feel uncomfortable discussing sex with their parents while 19 percent of parents feel uncomfortable. However, early and frequent discussion can easily lead to bringing up issues that would otherwise be awkward and help foster a support system.
Although parents may be more than willing to engage their children in an open discussion regarding sex, the timeliness of this discourse is incredibly important. Once their teenage sons and daughters breach the pubescent threshold and enter the realm of awkward adolescence, the opportunity for establishing a candid conversation has passed. If parents wait too long to bring sex talks to the dinner table, their children will become as inhibited and uncomfortable about the topic as they become about their changing bodies, and the subject will become taboo.
What exactly the parents talk about is also important. The study showed that most parents address sex and sexuality in some form with their children, but less than a third talk about birth control and sexual orientation. Knowing how the body works and changes is not enough — teens need information about how to prevent unwanted pregnancies and STDs. Furthermore, if they are questioning their sexual orientation, they have to be informed that this is normal.
Only an open discourse with parents will make teens eventually feel comfortable coming to them for often much-needed advice on sex. Teens may feel more uncomfortable discussing the issue than parents, but parents are the ones who are responsible for overcoming these barriers with frequent and open conversation.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 18 print edition. Email the WSN Editorial Board is [email protected]