October is a spooky month for more than one reason. Aside from hosting Halloween, it’s also Let’s Talk Month, a group effort organized by health activists and Planned Parenthood to encourage parents to talk to their kids about their sexual health. And it turns out, according to one poll released earlier this month, while parents understand the importance of having “the talk“, they also find discussing sex (and birth control) to be just as uncomfortable as their mortified teens.
The poll, which was commissioned by the Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health, surveyed parents of kids ages 10 to 18, and asked them about what they thought their role was, and how much they, as parents, could influence their children’s decisions about sex, including whether or not to have it, and what to use if they did. 93% of parents said that they thought they could influence whether or not their child decided to have sex; 94% of parents said that they thought they could have a big impact on whether or not their kids chose to use birth control. 74% related that they felt comfortable talking about putting off having sex. However, only 60% of parents said they felt comfortable talking to their kids about birth control.
Abstaining seems to be a much easier topic to discuss with kids–a simple “do it and you could get pregnant” or “do it and you could get AIDS” is enough to make many parents feel like they’ve done their part. And yet, birth control is a necessary part of the conversation, because though some parents see recommending the use of condoms or oral contraceptive as akin to giving the green light, the truth is that some day, your child will have sex, and will hopefully be smart about it. Which they’ll have a much better shot of doing if you’ve told them how–even if you’re hoping they’re wait.
And odds are, that “some day” will be later, rather than sooner. According to the CDC, fewer than half of high school students have even had sex–which means that a lot of kids are going off to college without having that experience, and that the lessons their parents taught them will likely still be front-and-center in their minds. And any college student or graduate can tell you that ignoring birth control as an option before letting your kid move into the dorms is like sending them into battle with a Popsicle stick as a defense mechanism.
So how do parents get more comfortable discussing not just abstinence and wear babies come from, but also how to (someday) safely have sex that doesn’t end in pregnancy?
There’s no silver bullet for making “the talk” not awkward. It’s going to be awkward. But fostering open communication and breaching the subject at every teachable moment (celebrities who are pregnant, incidents at their school, almost any episode of Glee) can make a frank conversation that involves both education and decision-making skills, if not more comfortable, at least less torturous.