Talk about sex

Parents crucial to shaping teens’ attitudes, behaviors

Rachael Carlevale Enlarge photo

Rachael Carlevale

“I told her that sex with the wrong person can lead to health problems later down the road. Maybe even leave her not being able to have healthy children later,” a 52-year-old mother said in a new survey of how parents and teens are doing when it comes to communicating about sex and sexuality.

“She told me if you have sex, you’ll get pregnant and die,” her 17-year-old daughter said, talking about the main message she had received from her mother.

We saw the same thing over and over again in our survey: Parents and teens are talking about sex, but they aren’t always communicating.

The survey – from Planned Parenthood, Family Circle magazine, and the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at New York University – found that almost all families are having this conversation. Fully 90 percent of parents in the survey said they talk to their teenagers about sex and sexuality, and 84 percent of teenagers said they talk with their parents about it.

While half of parents in the poll said they feel very comfortable talking with their teens about sex and sexuality, only 18 percent of teens said they feel very comfortable talking with their parents.

Knowing that teens are less comfortable can help parents approach these conversations differently. Parents need to be clear about what they’re saying to their teens, and the conversations should happen multiple times in order to get through and to build their teens’ comfort level talking about sex and sexuality.

But this new survey isn’t just about how parents talk to their teenagers – it sheds light on what we need to be saying to our teens. Our survey found that parents tend to know if their teens are having sex. In fact, 80 percent of parents of sexually active teens knew about it.

Parents are talking about health but aren’t talking as much with their teenagers about how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases or how to say no to sex. Parents are also less likely to talk about sexual orientation than other topics.

As a leading provider of sex education, Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains and the Responsible Sex Education Institute spend a lot of time talking with parents about the critical role they play in helping their teenagers make informed decisions.

We consistently remind parents how influential they are in their teens’ decision making about relationships and sex, and that starting an ongoing dialogue with their kids about sexual health makes a real difference in teens’ behaviors and decisions. Research shows that teens who report having good 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.

The Responsible Sex Education Institute has long worked to help parents in their role as their children’s and teens’ primary sexuality educator. We offer sex education programs that reach nearly 20,000 children, teens and adults annually.

Through our work, one consistent message we hear from parents is that they want support for their efforts to protect their children’s health. As reported by Colorado Youth Matters, La Plata County’s teen birth rate among 15- to 19-year-olds from 2007 to 2009 was 51 per 1,000. From 2005 to 2009, that rate increased more than 38 percent.

In response to this need in the community, and in recognition of October as Let’s Talk Month, an annual effort to encourage parents to talk with their children and adolescents about sexuality-related topics, the Responsible Sex Education Institute will be offering a Talk is Power presentation for adults from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Oct. 25 at Durango Public Library.

Talk is Power is a seminar for parents/guardians that is intended to build confidence in talking about sex and sexuality and to help parents give their children a solid foundation of knowledge so their children feel empowered to make healthy, responsible decisions about sexual health and relationships.

The seminar will provide parents/guardians with tools for making these conversations easier and more successful with youths of any age – young children, teens and adults.

While it can be scary to think about our teens having sex, the reality is that most teens will before graduating from high school. That fact makes conversations between parents and teens critically important.

Rachael Carlevale is the education program manager with the Responsible Sex Education Institute. Reach her at 375-9558.

Enlarge photo

Cliff Vancura/Durango Herald

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