Young People’s Barriers to Talking About Sexual Health With Their Parents and Providers
Discussions between young people and their parents, health care providers, or other influential figures about sexual health can have many positive effects. These conversations can help educate young people about the risks and benefits of sexual activity and provide them with information on how to practice safe sex.
Several studies indicate that adolescents who talk to their parents about sexual and reproductive health issues are more likely to make healthy decisions related to sex than their peers (e.g., consistently using condoms with new/non-monogamous sexual partners). This, in turn, creates positive ripple effects throughout a society such as reducing the overall spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), destigmatizing masturbation, limiting unplanned pregnancies, and avoiding possible dangers to health such as the practice of unsafe abortions.
Nevertheless, an estimated 20% of parents and 65% of providers never talk with their children or adolescent patients about sex. To find out what may be barriers preventing these important conversations, a team of researchers took a survey of 1,193 young adults with two questions:
1) What, if anything, makes it difficult to talk to your parents about sexuality or your sexual health?
2) What, if anything, makes it difficult to talk to your doctors, therapists, or mental health professionals about sexuality or your sexual health?
They found that younger patients were more likely to express a feeling of awkwardness when addressing sexual health topics in any context, and those who were more assimilated to their culture such as Evangelical Christians were more likely to cite shame as a barrier in talking to their parents, but not providers. Lastly, the patients with parents that had a lower socioeconomic status were more likely to express a mismatch between the provider’s communication style and their own.
Other commonly reported barriers for young people talking to their parents/providers about sex are feelings of discomfort, a lack of trust in the authority figure, and worries about overreactions or being made to feel ashamed of their sexuality.
However, given the numerous benefits of having these conversations, parents can support their children’s sexual development by being informed about sexual health themselves, then starting the conversation early and continuing it over time through shorter, more frequent conversations. They can help their young adult children make healthier decisions by remaining relaxed and open during these conversations, listening, and providing opportunities for their teens to talk to health care professionals about sex. This is especially important nowadays because young people may be likely to turn to the internet for their sexual health questions, and not all internet sources are reliable or provide correct information.
Kamangu, A.A., John, M.R., & Nyakoki, S.J. (2017). Barriers to parent-child communication on sexual and reproductive health issues in East Africa: A review of qualitative research in four countries. Journal of African Studies and Development, 9(4), 45-50. DOI: 10.5897/JASD2016.0410
Sánchez, S., & Lorenz, T. (2022). Young People's Perceived Barriers in Talking about Sexuality with Their Parents vs. with Healthcare Providers: A Mixed-method Study. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 19(8), S7-S8. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsxm.2022.05.019