Tips for Talking With Your Parents
See Your Parents as Parents and as People.
The reactions your parents may have to discussions on sex may come from the fact that they are your parents and are worried, confused or excited about you growing up. These reactions may also come from the fact that they are people, with their own sexual experiences, values and knowledge. Remember that your parent's reactions, negative and positive, are based on their experiences. If they seem to be overreacting to new experiences you are having, it may be because you are their child and they have conflicting feelings about you growing up and becoming a sexually mature adult. If you feel comfortable, bringing this fact out in the open can make things a lot easier. Try asking your parents if they are reacting because you are their child or because of an experience they've had in the past. Understanding where their reactions stem from and making them articulate this themselves can help you both understand their reactions and work towards calmer, more rational discussions.
Educating Your Parents
What if your parents simply don't know very much about sex? Their knowledge may be wrong or out of date and new advances in birth control methods and STI treatments are constantly being researched and marketed, sometimes it can be hard to keep up. Your parents may also be uncomfortable with the topic of sex and not do any research about it because of this. They may have been raised in an environment where sexuality was a taboo topic, or they may find the sexual education resources they've come across to be inappropriate or even vulgar. Chances are as parents of teenagers they have probably been bombarded with old wives' tales and rumors about sexuality from the "All 16-year olds are having oral sex!" hysteria to the widespread belief that providing teenagers with condoms will lead directly to them becoming sex-crazed maniacs. Remind them of positive changes in sexual health trends. In the last 25 years, teen pregnancy rates in the developed world have dropped (1) and the percentage of women who use a method of contraception has almost doubled since the 1970s (2).
Though your parents may not have the motivation or resources to do their own research about sexuality, you can still help by attempting to educate them. This education will not only benefit your parents, but also make your discussions about sexuality go much more smoothly. Pick a topic that you plan to discuss with your parents that you feel they may not know much about; this can be anything from STIs to homosexuality to birth control. Do your own research and find resources that are simple and effective at communicating their information. Whenever you are trying to share information with anyone, it is important not to overwhelm them with too many facts. If you know they already have ideas about sex that are factually wrong (e.g., you can't get HIV from oral sex), make sure to find specific facts that debunk those myths. Once you have your resources, make sure you print them out or have the books handy and leave them with your parents once the conversation is over. This will allow your parents to look through them on their own. Introduce the topic gently and openly. Don't blame them for their ignorance. Usually a simple "Mom and Dad, I want to talk about STIs with you. I have some research I'd like to show you, if this is a good time?" works fine. Stress that you want to share this with them because these are not only influential issues in our society, but also that it's important for your (and their) health to understand issues of sexuality. If you are showing them this research because you want something from them, like to obtain a certain method of birth control, present the facts first then give them a few days to look them over. After they've had a few days to absorb the information, make your request.
If worst comes to worst and they become upset, offended or simply don't cooperate, leave the research in an easily accessible place for them. Hopefully they will come around and look through it on their own. If they don't, try talking to another adult they respect like your family doctor or an aunt or uncle and ask them to help you in convincing your parents to be more open about learning about these topics.
Most of the time though, attempts to educate your parents can be incredibly helpful and eye-opening for you and them. They may see you as more responsible and mature for presenting the information in such a rational and educational way, and they get the facts they need to make equally rational decisions about how to react to and deal with your sexual maturation and experiences.
1. Guttmacher Institute. Teenagers' Sexual and Reproductive Health: Developed Countries . 2001. http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_teens.html
2. Guttmacher Institute. Contraceptive Use. 2005. http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/fb_contr_use.html