Talking “THE TALK”
All of us have heard of the mythical stork that drops the babies like a postal package. We also try finding comfort in using weird monikers such as ‘birds and bees’ to talk about sex. The latter, even though an English idiom, is especially fitting because erstwhile Indian movies (very possibly the ones parents of current teens grew up with) used imageries of bees pollinating flowers or birds chirping to obscurely hint at sexual intercourse or sexual activity. Most often “the talk” is a hastily done sex-ed class at school or for some others, a picture book gifted at an appropriate age (is there one?). But for a lot of teens, the vital information about sex and dating comes from school, peers or external environments because they are afraid to broach the topic with their parents and vice-versa.
Lets take the story of Zyra. Zyra moved to the US at the age of 6 with her parents. Z is the typical American Indian teen who manages to balance academics, extracurriculars and a healthy dose of social life. She also is trying hard to align her Western upbringing with the traditional values set forth by her parents. Z wants to date, but is not sure if parents would approve. Z also has a million questions about sex and sexuality and is not sure if she can broach the topic with her parents. Sound like a familiar story? You are probably already thinking in your mind that talking to your parent about sex and dating is next to impossible. You are not alone. 8 in 10 teens between the ages of 13-18 are afraid to talk to their parents about relationships and sex. So let’s build a roadmap that will help us start that ‘awkward’ conversation.
Step 1: Recognize parents are your best GPS that you can take along this road
Why is it important to talk to your parents about sexual health? There are a million reasons- but for a few, they know you better than anyone else (even though it seems otherwise) and care about you. They may be apprehensive too and not know all the answers, but will always have your best interests at heart and can walk with you through this journey with critical turns. Most importantly, they definitely have more ‘credible’ information than what your friends can offer. The Internet and other such sources also won’t tell you everything you need to know- only people who know you can. If you are still horrified about the prospect of having that conversation with your parents, identify another trusted adult who will answer your questions without making a big deal out of it. Some parents may not even want you to think about sex and dating, let alone talk about it. If your parent is being irrational or refuses to talk to you, seek out a trusted adult with whom you could have this conversation. Is there a friend’s parent, a teacher, guidance counselor, aunt or uncle whom you instinctively trust and believe can offer reliable knowledge? Find that caring adult (preferably your parent) who can help you with your decision-making about healthy relationships, dating and sex. It is important that you rely on accurate, trustworthy and unambiguous sources.
Step 2: When and how to take the journey?
* Set the stage: Pick a time when neither of you are rushed or in a bad mood. Choose a place you are most comfortable in and is relatively private. Consider approaching one parent instead of both of them at the same time. Know that it is just as awkward for them as it is for you. So both of you need to be most comfortable in order to have a great talk especially on this subject.
* Be respectful: Be cognizant of the fact that your parents may have grown up in a different cultural milieu where sex and anything related to it is considered to be a taboo. Acknowledge how difficult it must be for them to have this conversation with you. It is natural to have differences of opinions; when you do, respond with tact- “I want you to think about it some more and I will do the same” or “Can we talk about a different topic before we get back to this one?” Show your parents how mature you can be about it and this will go a long way in loosening their reins on you and treating you more like an adult.
* Be direct: Be forthright about the topics you want to know more about. If you want to know more about homosexuality or birth control or other sensitive issues, dont hold yourself back. Difficult questions will prompt your parents to look for accurate and reliable information. Ask your questions clearly- you maybe actually surprised at how wise your parents could be.
Step 3: Have a mental map of what you want to ask
You can be as specific or general as you want it to be according to your comfort level. If you are feeling uncomfortable, it is okay to talk about it without asking specific questions. You can say your friends are talking about sex and dating and would like to know your parent’s view on it or that you plan to date sometime in the future and want to be prepared with the right decisions. Here are some opening lines/talking points that may help you along the way:
(Fill in the blanks with what you want to ask about)
* “ I saw this on TV/read about ——- . What does that mean?
* In school, we talked about ———and I thought I will ask you about your opinion on that.
* My friend X is doing —– and I am worried about him/her. What do you think I should do?
* What is the right age to have sex?. Can we talk about it?
* I heard Y say ———-. Is that true?
* What was dating like where and when you grew up?
Step 4: Do not finish your journey at pit stop
Starting the conversation is not easy, but ending it abruptly is. Talking about sex, dating and healthy relationships to a trusted adult is not a one-time, event. Make sure you leave the doors open for future discussions. Express gratitude for them giving their time and imparting their wisdom to you. Also remember, this is just the beginning. These conversations should also help you in having more open communication about other aspects of your life–take advantage of that option.
Whenever you feel nervous, just remember your parents were young once and have gone through the same emotional and physical changes you are going through, albeit in a different cultural or religious setting. Each parent may react in a different way. Some may be angry, defensive and judgmental; some may be supportive, compassionate and helpful; others may be too embarrassed. Remind yourself to be patient with them and convey your appreciation in being able to have this ‘talk’ with them. Seek information together. Your parents will make an effort if they realize it’s important to you and your wellbeing. After all, they are your best companions on this road trip.
Have a safe journey you guys!
Photo: Deepa Sudhir, San Jose, CA
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