A new survey finds that although the majority of parents are talking about sex with their teenage children, they don’t bring it up often enough and they don’t regularly address more complicated topics surrounding sexuality, like birth control.
The survey — conducted through a partnership between Planned Parenthood, the NYU Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health, and Family Circle magazine — polled parents and teens living in the same households and found significant discrepancies in what each group believed was being conveyed about sex. For instance, parents believe they are having these talks with their kids much more frequently than teens believe their parents are initiating them:
The report finds that while 42 percent of parents say they’ve talked to their teens “many times” about how to say no to sex, only 27 percent of teens agree. In fact, 34 percent of teens say they’ve “never” or “only once” talked with their mom or dad about how to delay sex. Moreover, only small percentages of teens said they plan to discuss these and other sexuality-related topics with their parents in the future. This resistance is likely a result of teens’ discomfort discussing these topics. The results also indicate that parents need to do a better job tackling more-challenging topics, including those involving how teens can act to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
“This survey shows that parents and teens have very different perceptions about how often they’re talking about sex and what’s being said during those talks,” said Leslie Kantor, vice president of Education for Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Parents think they’re giving nuanced advice, but their teens are just hearing directives. We’re offering tips that can help parents talk with their teens in a way that resonates and helps them make smart choices about relationships and sex.”
One of the most troubling findings in the survey is the fact that parents are much less likely to address contraception than other issues, like maintaining healthy relationships and navigating consensual sexual experiences. Only about 30 percent of surveyed parents said they have discussed birth control methods many times with their teens, while less than a quarter of teens said they have discussed the topic many times with their parents. On the other hand, a full 93 percent of parents responded that they believe birth control should be covered in high school sex ed programs, while 78 percent believe that information about birth control should also be provided in middle school.
Although opponents of comprehensive sexuality programs in public schools often claim that conversations about sexuality need to happen at home, these conversations are falling short. While parents agree on the importance of conveying accurate information about sexuality — as well as preventative measures like birth control and condoms — they are struggling to break through to their teens in a way that guarantees the information is being received. Integrating medically comprehensive discussions about sexual health in the classroom is one way to help ensure that, no matter what gaps emerge in the conversations between teens and their parents, teenagers are fully equipped with the information they need to make healthy choices.