By Evan Scarpulla (he/him), 16 years old, editor
October 19, 2023
Some children receive their first sex education lesson at school; mine was at home. Growing up with a mother who is a sex educator, I always received comprehensive, age-appropriate information when it came to sex education. This has helped me to know how to manage certain situations better and also to understand myself.
Even if young people receive sex education in school, it is still important for parents and caregivers to talk to their children about sex and sexual health. Opening this dialogue can allow families to connect, clarify questions children or adolescents may have, and provide information that is not provided in school.
October is Let’s Talk Month, held each year to encourage families to talk about sex and sexuality. In honor of this, I spoke with my mother, Michelle Scarpulla, MPH, MCHES®, who is currently on the faculty at Temple University School of Public Health, about why this month is so important.
Ask questions and clarify misinformation
“Will I get sick if I have sex?” In high school, a friend who was worried about contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) asked me if he would have sex in the future. Too often sex is talked about out of fear, rather than teaching how to make it safe and pleasurable when someone is ready for it.
Questions like these are part of the reason why I think it’s important for parents and caregivers to talk to their children about sex, not just during Let’s Talk Month, but anytime. My mom says that having a month to highlight talking openly “draws attention to the importance of parents talking to their children about sexuality.”
Asking questions and clearing up misinformation are vital parts of what this month is all about.
The courage to communicate
A big part of Let’s Talk Month is having the courage to start a conversation. It’s not always easy. “I think some parents are uncomfortable with the topic and don’t know how to discuss it,” my mom says. “Some parents may be afraid to give information too soon and others simply don’t have the knowledge to share with their children.”
Starting a conversation about sex can be uncomfortable, whether it is the child or the parent who initiates it. Figuring out how to build open communication can make future conversations less awkward.
If you find it difficult to start the conversation, my mom has some recommendations, for you or your parents: “Use a news story, a social media post, or a television show that discusses some aspect of sexuality as a starting point for the conversation. ”. Or you can share resources, like these from US Department of Health and Human Services and the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA), with a parent or caregiver, offering additional advice.
Talk frequently and regularly
“Young people who talk to their parents about sex are more likely to postpone sex until they are older,” according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They are also more likely to make healthy choices, such as using condoms to prevent pregnancy and STIs, when and if they decide to have sex.
Sometimes school focuses on STIs or pregnancy prevention, which are important topics. But there are other aspects of sex and sexuality that should be included, such as healthy relationships, consent, LGBTQ+ issues, intimacy (physical and emotional), and more.
Participating in Let’s Talk Month is more important than ever because school sex education is not automatic. Even when it is offered, it is not always comprehensive or even medically accurate. Open communication at home ensures that children can ask questions that help them make informed decisions when it comes to sex and relationships.
“It’s worth noting that ‘The Talk’ shouldn’t be a one-time event,” my mom says. “It should be an open series of age-appropriate conversations throughout childhood and adolescence.”
While Let’s Talk month is a great time to start having these conversations, the ideal is to talk about sex and get your questions about sex answered. I can say from experience that it has been extremely helpful to have this open communication.