Having conversations with young people in our lives about relationships and sex can be uncomfortable, weird and stressful, but it’s absolutely necessary. Stereotypes about “spicy” Latinas are extremely pervasive and, as a result, oftentimes our young girls — especially Black Latinas — are treated as purely sexual objects and less like people. To challenge these myths and encourage the sexual health and safety of our young people, discussion is key.
To do this, accurate information, honesty and remaining judgment-free is essential in all conversations that deal with relationships and sex. And considering that millennials and generation X are two of the most open and fluid demographics, it’s also important that these topics aren’t cis and hetero normative. This will ensure that everyone is included in the conversation and receives the necessary information.
To make sex talks with the youth in your life more helpful, shame-free and impactful, here are 10 topics that should be included.
1. Pay attention to signs that you are in an unhealthy relationship.
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According to the Center for Disease Control, approximately 10 percent of teens have reported physical violence in a relationship. However, physical violence is not the only way to notice you are in an unhealthy relationship. It’s important to explain that things like demanding social media passwords, trying to regulate friendships, constant text messages and/or phone calls are all forms and signs of control and abuse. Other red flags: Someone refusing to use a condom and/or trying to make you change or stop whichever birth control option you are currently using. Learning how to identify and detect early signs of abuse and control will help young people understand the types of relationships they want to participate in.
2. Just because you’re attracted to someone, doesn’t mean you like them or want to have sex with them.
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Being attracted to someone doesn’t mean you necessarily want to have sex with that person, nor does it solidify your sexuality. Sometimes, you just like how someone looks and/or behaves, and might not want anything more from them. This is OK. In fact, not experiencing sexual attraction doesn’t mean you’re broken or anything; it may mean you’re asexual. According to The Asexual Visibility and Education Network, “an asexual is someone who does not experience sexual attraction.” They can still desire emotional connections and relationships with people. The contrary is true as well, because overwhelming attraction or love don’t have to be present to have sex at all.
3. Sexual orientation and gender are spectrums.
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The Trans Student Educational Resources has a great tool called the Gender Unicorn, which is available in nine languages, to help explain the ways in which gender, sexual orientation and gender presentation are all a spectrum. Life is constantly changing and evolving. Similarly, how you feel about yourself, who you’re attracted to and what type of things arouse you can shift as well. As long as you’re not disrespecting other people based off of their sexuality and or gender, you’re fine.
4. There are different forms of sex.
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Penetrative sex between two straight people isn’t the only form of sex — nor the only way to contract sexually transmitted infections. Oral sex, vaginal and anal are just a few ways people can be sexually intimate with one another. For people who do not identify as heterosexual, sex can look and be very different. The most important thing about sex to remember is as long as whatever you and your partner are doing is consensual, safe and honest, you can call it sex.
5. If you’re engaging in sex, there are ways to practice it safer.
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Discussing birth control and safer sex practices with young people to reduce unintended outcomes should also be a part of your discussion because one’s relationship with their body lasts a lifetime. Currently, male and female condoms are the only medically approved methods that protect against a range of sexually transmitted illnesses and unintended pregnancy. The rate of efficacy for reducing unintended pregnancies for male condoms, when you used properly, is 85 percent, and 79 percent for female condoms. Both are best used with another form of birth control, like the pill, the patch, implant or the shot.
Dental dams are especially useful for oral sex between any genders because they provide a layer of protection between genitalia and other body parts. When choosing a birth control option, it is best to research your options on your own without pressure from other people. Also, consider what type of birth control option works best for your everyday life. A good place to start is Planned Parenthood’s All About Birth Control page on their website.
It’s okay to inquire about birth control options your partner is using, but it is not your place to force someone off or onto a birth control option they are not interested in.
6. Becoming pregnant as a teen isn’t the worst thing that can happen.
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Unexpected things are a part of life, and sometimes that unanticipated occurrence is a pregnancy. The first thing to remember is you have options. You can choose to abort your gestation or carry it to term, and then decide to keep the baby or place them for adoption. Each of these decisions is OK and shouldn’t carry any shame. That’s because pregnancy doesn’t mean your life is over or that you are ruining your future. Despite overarching popular culture beliefs that teenage pregnancy is shameful and a death sentence, the fact is poverty causes more harm to people than unexpected pregnancies.
7. Coercion isn’t consent.
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Feeling like you have to convince someone to have sex with you isn’t “game” or skill. Rather, it can be coercion, and it causes harm. If someone is ready to have sex with you, they will. If someone doesn’t want to have sex with you, they don’t have to. Pressuring people to engage in sexual activity with you is sexual coercion, and it’s a crime. Remember: the absence of “yes” is no.
8. You don’t “owe” anyone your attention, body or sex.
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Going out with someone for any given period of time does not mean you “owe them” anything. Someone being nice to you does not mean you “owe them” anything. By default, the notion of owing someone something creates a power dynamic in which one person has more power over the other person. This doesn’t agree with the principal of consent and can lead to coercive behavior from the person that feels they are owed your attention, body or sex.
9. Your decision to have sex or refrain from having sex doesn’t make you better than anyone else.
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Deciding to not engage in any form of sex, just oral sex or not have sex that often doesn’t make you a better person than someone who does. Inversely, deciding to have sex in any capacity doesn’t make you better than anyone else. It just means you’ve made different decisions.
10. Sex is pleasurable and doesn’t have to always be linked procreation.
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For some reason, people believe that stating that sex is pleasurable, as many of us know it is, is not something we should share with young people, but leaving this out of sex talks can make our youth feel dirty and shameful for enjoying their sexuality. Whether you’re exploring your body by yourself through masturbation or having sex with someone else, the truth is pleasure is a part of sexual experiences. The earlier people know this, the earlier they can realize that sex isn’t just an act that is “owed” to your partner or merely for procreation. Instead, it’s something that you should want to engage in because you want it and because you can have a pleasurable experience.
Bonus: Porn is not an all-knowing or reliable educational tool about how to have sex and what is pleasurable.
There are so many topics that intersect when having conversations about sex and relationships, so it’s impossible to list all of the things that should be covered. This list is meant to help start and maintain a conversation and doesn’t seek to be a definitive list of topics. Remember to tailor the conversation so that it’s culturally responsive and as inclusive as possible.