By Leslie Kantor, Vice President of Education, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Vincent Guilamos-Ramos, Co-director of the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at NYU
When Planned Parenthood and the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at NYU (CLAFH) began thinking about our second annual survey looking at how parents and teens talk about sex and sexuality, we couldn’t think of a better partner than Family Circle. We all share a common goal of wanting to help parents and teens become comfortable talking about sex and sexuality so that young people can make good decisions. And there is no better time than October for parents to be reminded of this since it’s Let’s Talk Month—an annual effort to get parents and teens talking about sexuality.
Our national survey polled more than 2,000 parents and teens living in the same households, and the results quickly made one thing clear: what parents intend to say is different than what teens are hearing.
We asked parents to tell us what messages about sex they most wanted to send to their teens, and we asked teens to tell us the main message they had received about sex from their parents. Here’s what one parent told us, and what her teenager heard:
“To make a healthy choice about who she wishes to date and have a physical relationship for the right reasons.” — 50-year-old mother
“Not to do it.” — her 16-year-old daughter
Time and time again we saw similar communication breakdowns between parents and teens. The good news is most families are talking about sex and sexuality. Still, these talks aren’t as productive as they could be. Parents, for example, think they are having these conversations more often than their teens think they are, and surprisingly, teens are actually much more uncomfortable talking about sex than their parents. Half of all parents and just 18 percent of teens said they feel very comfortable having these talks.
Our survey also found that 80 percent of parents of sexually active teens knew their teens were having sex. That fact alone highlights the importance of parents talking with their teens and continuing to engage them even after they become sexually active so that they know how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and to make sure their teens’ relationships are healthy. So this month Planned Parenthood, CLAFH, and Family Circle are providing tips and a story packed full of information that can help parents start the conversation with their teens.
We know that parents make a difference when they talk with their kids about sex, so let’s teach them how to say no if they’re not ready to have sex, and if they are, let’s continue having these conversations and encourage them to make good decisions about relationships and their sexual health. Bottom line: keeping our teens healthy and safe means talking with them about sex.
So let’s talk.
Leslie Kantor is Vice President of Education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Vincent Guilamos-Ramos is Co-director of the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health at NYU. Read more about having the sex talk with your teen, all month, here.