Discussing the taboo 

For too many p

For too many people in the U.S., sexuality is a taboo discussion topic. While research shows that family communication about sexuality is beneficial, studies reveal that too many parents do not communicate with their children about it (six out of 10 parents report their child started the discussion). Given the mixed messages provided by society, including peers, television, movies, music and school, parents need to be talking with their children to ensure their family"s values are encouraged. Take, for example, the typical day of a typical teen who I"ll call Joe. As he glances at his reflection in the bathroom mirror while he"s getting ready for school, he remembers the commercial he saw for a new acne medicine. It claimed that guys who have a clear complexion get more attention from girls. He wishes he had some of it. On the school bus, Joe hears some other kids talking about what they did over the weekend. "My mom"s boyfriend was around all weekend, he even spent the night. I hate when he does that," says one. Two older girls are giggling and whispering. "We didn"t really have sex," says one. "But I did try to give him a blow job." During health class a guest speaker comes in to talk to the students. She tells the class that she was a volunteer with a local social service agency that encourages teens to save sex for marriage. In the cafeteria at lunch, Joe observes the regular cliques that routinely gather. The jocks are rating the girls as they walk down the hall, sometimes hollering out things about their breasts or ass; the fat girls only get "oinks" from the group. After school, Joe turns on the television; the Montel show topic is about women who survived rape, and Oprah is talking to transgendered people. Before he gets into bed, Joe asks his dad about condoms. "The lady at school says they don"t work, what do you think?" he asks. "As I understand it, when used correctly, latex condoms are the best protection you can get," his dad replies. There"s nothing unusual about the messages Joe has experienced during this day. But what should be the norm is Joe"s level of understanding and comprehension of what he"s seen and heard. Sexuality educator Elizabeth Canfield wrote a wonderful poem about the process of providing sexuality education in our culture. It"s called "Swimming." I"ve often wondered what it would be like if we taught young people swimming in the same way we teach sexuality. What if we told them that swimming was an important adult activity, one they would all have to be skilled at, but we never talked with them about it. We never showed them the pool. We just allowed them to stand outside closed doors and listen to all the splashing. Occasionally, they might catch a glimpse of partially clothed people going in and out of the door to the pool and maybe they"d find a book on the hidden art of swimming, but when they asked a question about how swimming felt or what it was about, they would be greeted with blank or embarrassed looks. Then, when they turned 18, we would fling open the doors to the pool and they would jump in. Miraculously some might learn to tread water, but many would drown. If I were Joe"s mom, I"d want to help him swim. I"d want to be sure he knows that his dad and I believe that relationships should be honest and respectful, that all people, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, should be treated equally, and that it is never OK to hurt another person, or pressure or trick them into doing anything they don"t want to do. That there are many ways people who love each other express those feelings, not just with one behavior (intercourse) that is "having sex." I"d want to be sure he knows the correct way to use a latex condom, and how to buy one. And most importantly, I"d want him to really know that his dad and I love him very much and always will, that we hope he"ll talk with us about these important matters throughout his life because we care. We know that there are a lot of confusing messages about sexuality, and that teens who talk with their parents about sexuality tend to make better, healthier decisions. October is annual National Family Sexuality Education Month, an effort to encourage families to talk about sexuality. The educational campaign is supported by a coalition of more than 50 national organizations, including the Council on Jewish Federations and the National Urban League, and led by Planned Parenthood. Our theme this year is simple: "Let"s Talk." Real life calls for real talk. Talk with your kids. Planned Parenthood can help - contact us at 927-3644, ext. 142 or at www.ppin.org to request a "Let"s Talk" parent packet or subscribe to the "There"s No Place Like Home ... For Sexuality Education" newsletter. Kathleen Baldwin is vice president of education and training at Planned Parenthood of Greater Indiana.

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