October is Let’s Talk Month, which is all about the importance of parents talking to their kids about sex, sexuality, gender, and relationships. Open, honest communication helps young people be safer and more informed, and have less shame around sex.
To highlight the different ways kids and teens learn about sex, I talked to PPMEAF’s youth group, who are volunteers between the ages of 13-21. The teens interviewed in this piece are all around 15 years old and have used aliases for their own privacy.
Kate: When did your parents give you “the talk”?
MI: Well, I never really had it.
Alex: Yeah, I didn’t get it.
Tati: I feel like, school.
MI: Yeah, school and TV.
Alex: Yeah, school. Fourth grade health class.
Luna: All I really know is my mother brought me home a book called, “Let’s Talk About It,” and she just kept bringing me books. She was pretty cool about it.
Kate: So, how did everyone feel that “the talk” went if you had it? Was it good? Was it uncomfortable? Or did it happen many times, over time?
SS: I think my mom was just relatively open about everything so I don’t think we had a specific talk. It was just that at any point I could just ask her if I wanted to. It wasn’t a thing.
Tati: I honestly don’t remember.
Alex: I learned about it in school so it was kind of hard to take it seriously, I guess.
SS: That’s cause sex ed sucks. It’s not good.
Luna: My mom was a health professional for a lot of my life, she was a midwife, so it was kind of like whenever, wherever. It didn’t matter. It was like, “Ok, you have that question. I’ll answer it.”
Kate: What do you wish your parents had done differently? Or if they didn’t have “the talk” with you, do you wish they had?
MI: Sort of, cause you don’t want to be blind-sided by that in class.
Tati: I feel like most parents, not all, but they play it off as, if you have sex young it’s bad.
Kate: Do you wish they had talked about that more? I feel like some parents talk about sex from a morals standpoint while others talk about it biologically. What were people’s experiences?
Luna: Both, kind of.
Kate: How comfortable do you feel talking to your parents about sex and relationships now?
SS: If I wanted to, I could. If I felt comfortable.
Kate: But you don’t?
SS: Not really. I mean, kind of, but not a lot.
Kate: So, who do you talk to? Like, if you have a question?
MI: The internet or friends.
Tati: Or the health teacher.
Kate: So, to talk with an adult, what do they have to be like?
MI: I think they have to be like Maggie. (Note: Maggie is a Planned Parenthood organizer who oversees the youth group.)
Tati: Someone who’s calm about it, who’s cool about it.
Luna: Yeah, not freaking out, being like, “Oh my god! You have a question!? This is so great!” That’s just a lot.
Kate: How would you want someone to answer a question you had?
Alex: Just very casually and not make a big deal out of it.
Kate: Why do you think it’s hard to talk with your parents about sex?
MI: Well, I grew up in a very religious home and the lines of communication about that were just never open. It’s just not something that you talk about in my community.
Kate: Does anyone wish you could talk to your parents more openly? Or do you like things the way they are?
Tati: Yeah, more openly.
Luna: I think it’s an age thing and a connection. With someone your own age, you’re going through the same things at this moment. With parents, you understand that they went through it at some point, but it wasn’t this week. You weren’t hearing and seeing all the things I hear and see.
Kate: Is there anything you wish your parents would talk to you more about?
MI: I think there’s not enough talk around consent. People talk about the biology, but they never really tell you that your body is yours. It’s not just something for marriage. It’s your choice. Nobody ever told me that. And I know that, but like, it would have been nice to know from a young age.
Kate: When would have wanted to learn something like that?
MI: Well, when people start having those questions, like twelve. Or younger. If a kid doesn’t want to be touched, don’t touch them.
Kate: Anyone else, did your parents teach you about consent?
Luna: Yeah, in a basic way, like, “If you don’t like it, get out of the situation.”
SS: I feel like, also, there’s not a lot of talk of… well, I only learned about heterosexual sex. And that’s not cool. I think that should be more normalized and especially in school cause there’s a lot of gay kids, and also talking about exploring sexuality and gender and stuff, and it doesn’t have to be a thing. Like, you can just explore and it’s ok. We’re all working on things and growing and there’s a lot of things we can explore and we should know about that.
Kate: Has anyone talked about their sexuality or gender expression with their parents?
Tati: I think my parents assumed things about me. It was weird.
Alex: I didn’t really feel comfortable talking with my parents about it. I kind of avoided the subject, I guess. But, my mom approached me and I talked to her about it then, but I didn’t feel comfortable reaching out.
SS: I hate coming out so I just don’t do it. I just casually at some point mention it, like with anyone. I just mention both boys and girls, or anyone. I just don’t like coming out.
Kate: Have anyone’s parents ever used anything in the media or pop culture as a way to talk about sex or sexuality?
Tati: Game of Thrones.
(Whole room laughs)
SS: You watched Game of Thrones with your parents? Why would you do that?
Luna: Gilmore Girls, like me and my mom would watch it cause it’s like a mom and a daughter. So she kind of used it as lessons, like, “That wasn’t a good idea. Don’t do that.”
Kate: But Lorelai and Rory actually had really bad communication about sex so it’s interesting that your mom was able to use that as a way to talk to you. So, when it comes to looking for answers on the internet, how does that go? Do you just Google questions?
Alex: Honestly, yeah.
Kate: Would you want to share anything you’ve Googled?
Alex: In like sixth grade I typed in, “Am I gay?” at like three in the morning.
Kate: And what did it say?
Alex: Yeah… It was just a picture of Chris Hemsworth.
(Room bursts into laughter)
Kate: What is one thing you’d like to see improve with conversations about sex, whether with your parents, your friends, or at school?
Alex: I’d like to hear more about LGBT stuff in the school system and in health class. It was very heteronormative.
SS: I agree with that. Also, health teachers are kind of annoying about it. They’re like, “Haha, I know it’s weird,” but that’s annoying.
Luna: More casual, like, “This is what’s happening,” instead of like, “This is weird.” It’s like, if you said it’s weird, then is it weird?
SS: And then there’s the tea video, which is kind of dumb.
Luna: Oh my god, the tea video.
Kate: What’s the tea video?
Luna: It’s like if you go over to your friend’s house for tea and you’re passed out, you can’t really serve them tea. You can try, but you shouldn’t if they’re passed out.
SS: The comparison with tea and sex is not a good metaphor.
MI: It’s not elaborating on consent. It’s just saying, “Consent is yes.” But it’s way more complicated than that.
Kate: I feel like your generation has a better understanding of consent than other generations have.
Luna: I feel like we have more of a concept of it than even some of our peers do or people in different school systems.
SS: That’s cause we’re Planned Parenthood.
If you are interested in volunteering with PPMEAF’s youth group, contact us at [email protected]