Did I talk to my parents about my first relationship? Not really. Did I talk to my parents about sex? “No! How embarrassing.” I would have said, as I continued to straighten my fringe within an inch of its life. Now as a nearly 27-year-old woman, do I wish I had? Yes!
It took me until I was 24 to talk to my parents about relationships and sex. We were sat in their kitchen, Dad put the kettle on, normal chat was about to continue when I blurted out, “Last week I went to the sexual health clinic and tomorrow I’m going to the doctor because I’m bleeding after sex.” Instead of an awkward glance over to one another, my parents sat down next to me and asked what was going on.
There was an unspoken rule that you never spoke to your parent/guardian about sex because that would be weird. Even if you were crying in your bedroom, listening to Beyoncé for the eighth time because the love of your life just broke up with you, you did not go to them for advice. I am sure this attitude still exists today, so I am here to tell you to break this rule.
I look back now and understand that talking to my parents would have been helpful, not just for me but for them too. The responsible adults who love and care for us are rarely there to judge, they are there to help us navigate life and, in a lot ways, learn from us.
That is what happened when I started talking to my parents. My parents didn’t know what HPV was until I told them. It is still a topic my Dad sends me articles on, and now we have more open, sensitive conversations about sex. I understand that their response has been considerably liberal and that this is not the reality for a lot of people. However, I think it can be. To do this we have to have these sometimes tricky conversations, even if the adults in our lives are not particularly sex/relationship positive.
But where do you even begin? Firstly, the conversations never have to be personal. Instead, try telling about something you have learnt e.g. during an RSHE (relationships, sex, health education) lesson. Similarly, if there is a TV programme/music video/TikTok that you found useful and discusses topics such as consent, sexuality, contraception etc, that is also a great place to start.
Voicing your worries is important, especially with a trusted adult – even if it means talking about more personal issues. Again, I understand that this can be a difficult hurdle, but easing into the conversations slowly and calmly can help. If sitting around the kitchen table feels too intimate, maybe try communications over text or email first, because sometimes that can be the best form of communication.
What happens if you feel like you are talking to a brick wall? Don’t give up yet. It may take them a while to warm up, particularly if they never spoke to their parents about sex. Tell them your own reasons for wanting to start the conversation and how you think it will be beneficial for everyone involved.
Here are more of my top tips for having “the talk” with a parent/guardian:
- Make sure you feel comfortable and are in a safe or private environment.
- Decide how you would like to communicate.
- Set your own boundaries with what you want to talk about and be mindful of their boundaries too.
- Don’t be worried that they think it’s weird you are choosing to speak to them. It might feel unfamiliar, but I promise it is not weird.
- Ask questions and their opinion. “What do you think about this?” or “What would you do in this situation?” Again remember these situations can be theoretical and not personal.
- Opening-up a safe space for questions means they will probably have some for you. If you are still in school and receiving RSHE lessons, they may want to know more about what you are learning. This is a great opportunity to teach them something new because RSHE is for adults too.
- If you have learnt/read/watched something that you didn’t fully understand, you could ask them if they know more about it.
- Things such as ‘one-night stands’ still come with a stigma, but maybe you could help them see it from a different perspective. Similarly, you could help them see other stigmas differently too e.g. conversations around STI’s and gender identity.
- Be honest. A way of navigating conversations around ‘casual sex’ is being transparent about where you are going and who you are meeting up with. Building this trust is important to be able to have more open communication and is an opportunity to talk about how you are being safe, etc.
- Understanding their views can be difficult, especially when they might be different from your own e.g. if they do not believe in sex before marriage. If you feel confident enough, maybe write down how you feel for them to read. It can feel less intimidating than speaking face-to-face. Alternatively, speaking to another adult you trust might be more helpful.
- If you feel that talking to a parent/guardian may be harmful to you and their reaction will be upsetting – find someone else you can talk to e.g. another family member, or at a sexual health clinic or local youth support group.
- Check in with one another and keep the communication going if you can.
I understand that this might feel daunting, particularly if a parent/guardian is very closed off initially. You may not get anywhere the first time, but do not let this dishearten you because you are amazing for trying!
The responsibility has ended up falling on our/your generation to have “the talk”. The more we can have honest communication and share our collective knowledge, the better. I strongly believe sex and relationships can be a part of the normal conversation and we will make it happen!
by Sophie Marion
Sophie is a newly accredited RSE educator and actor. She wants to ensure that RSE is accessible, informative, entertaining, and stigma free. After having a terrible sex-education herself, she wants to ensure that young people (and adults too) have a brilliant, memorable one!