It’s conventional wisdom that teens want to avoid talking about sex with their parents at all costs. But Planned Parenthood wants to help change that.
The national women’s health organization is marking October as “Let’s Talk Month.” The initiative hopes to encourage families to talk about a wide range of issues related to sexuality, like body image, healthy relationships, gender and sexual orientation, safe sex, and using birth control.
During last year’s “Let’s Talk Month,” Planned Parenthood commissioned a poll to figure out how many families are currently bringing up these topics. That research found that many parents are already comfortable initiating conversations about sexual health and birth control — considerably more comfortable with it than their kids are. So the organization is focused on helping teens feel more secure approaching the adults in their lives to get advice about sexual health, with resources like a video, a tip sheet, and a smartphone app.
“Talking with parents and asking questions about sexuality and relationships doesn’t have to be uncomfortable or awkward,” Planned Parenthood’s vice president of education, Leslie Kantor, noted in a statement. “Conversations between parents and teens can make a real difference. Studies show that teens who report having good conversations with their parents about sex wait longer to begin having sex and are more likely to use condoms and other birth control methods when they do become sexually active.”
One of Planned Parenthood’s new online tools, “Awkward or Not?”, guides teens through potential conversations with their parents. If teens indicate that they’re too nervous to bring up sex with their parents, they’ll receive tips for how to handle the situation. For instance, if a teen using the tool says that they can’t ask their parents about sex because their parents will “freak out,” the site advises them: “When you bring up the topic, ask your parents not to jump to conclusions just because you’re asking questions. Remind them that you need information, even if you’re not going to use it right away, and that you trust their advice.”
Opponents of comprehensive sex ed policies typically claim they represent a government overreach into private parenting decisions, and these type of conversations need to happen at home. In reality, those aren’t actually contradictory strategies. Organizations like Planned Parenthood advocate for teaching accurate information about human sexuality in the classroom while bolstering that information with productive conversations between family members.
That’s a sharp departure from the way that social conservatives typically construe Planned Parenthood’s sexual health programming. As the national organization has become a flashpoint in the fight over abortion rights, anti-choice activists have taken a firm stand against the sex ed classes that Planned Parenthood provides in public schools. The insinuation is often that the women’s health organization is too morally corrupt to be trusted with educational materials. Earlier this year, one Texas Republican even suggested that Planned Parenthood is attempting to convince teens to get pregnant so it can perform their abortions. Despite that dramatic fearmongering, polling has consistently shown that parents want their kids to receive information about birth control, and Planned Parenthood’s sex ed programs are typically well-received.