May is National Adolescent Health Month: Let’s talk about sex, baby…

Mother and Daughter on the couch looking and talking to each other.

Curiosity about sex and sexuality is normal for most human beings when they reach puberty. However, this topic can be challenging for many parents and caregivers because of many factors such as culture, religion, knowledge, trauma, and inexperience discussing these topics. Although many parents and caregivers would prefer not to talk about sex and sexuality, addressing these topics is always better than making discussing the subject forbidden. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, parents strongly impact whether a teenager makes healthy decisions about sex for themselves. These include starting their sexual life later, using condoms and birth control regularly, communicating better with romantic partners, and having sex less often. Hence, addressing these topics on time will positively impact the youth’s overall health.

When is the right time to start the conversation and what do you say? The Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion highlights that it is never too early to start the conversation. Parents and caregivers can be honest with younger kids and tell them how they feel when talking about sex and intentionally keep the conversation going. Parents can do this by educating young people, listening to their stories, and answering their questions. If parents and caregivers are unsure how to start the conversation, a good way to bring the topic to the table is by using things that come up on TV, music, or social media. Parents and caregivers can start by discussing puberty and sharing some of their own experiences growing-up. Young people are less likely to ask questions and talk about these issues as they age, so the sooner the conversation begins, the better.

Parents and caregivers should not only address different ways to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and youth pregnancy, but also, how teenagers should build healthy and respectful relationships with friends and romantic and sexual partners. Therefore, it is fundamental to include topics such as the importance of mutual respect, trust, compromise, individuality, communication, and consent in relationships in “the talk.” These conversations will allow them to know how to set boundaries and accept them.

When talking about sexuality, it is crucial to be open and supportive of a young person’s gender identity. This is perhaps a more complex topic to address than sex, so parents and caregivers should get ready in advance. One way to do this is by searching and reading reliable resources and materials to better understand facts and misconceptions. If needed, parents and caregivers, can seek expert advice on better understanding and advocate for their kids and seek out meaningful tools to then navigate teens through the challenges they might face. Parents and caregivers don’t need to be an expert in the topic, rather they just need to be their kid’s safe place where they can openly talk about their feelings and seek advice, love, and endorsement. When parents are present and available for their teens, it strengthens their relationships with them and sets them up with a strong foundation that will help them develop good mental health.

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