Thank you to the folks who came out to the JosephBeth reading on Thursday night (what a beautiful bookstore) and the Malaprops reading on Friday night (Malaprops is still just as cool as I remember it). I really enjoyed the discussions after each reading. This is all really fascinating, complex stuff. Anyway, one of the questions I have had regularly is what most surprised me in my research. About four things really surprised me, and I’ll periodically share those things with you here. Today’s item of surprise: how little sex education happens in Latino families and the consequences of that fact. Of the women that I interviewed, only 6% had parents who talked to them about sex in any way that constituted an attempt at sex education (And to be clear about this 5%, see page 92 of Hijas to see how my sweet Papito delivered the talk as even those types of experiences counted in the 5% because I was trying to quantify how many of the women in the research had parents who even broached the subject—no matter how overtly or covertly). Other facts: v One study showed that when Latina mothers discussed sexuality and their personal beliefs and values regarding sexuality with their mid-adolescent teens, their children were more likely, a year later, to report abstaining from or delaying initiation of sex. A bonus? They also reported having better relationships with their mothers. v A study published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence in the spring of 2006 revealed that women with a negative body image engaged in more sexually risky behavior than women with a positive body image who felt empowered to resist multiple partners and insist that a condom be used when they do engage in sex. v In 2000, Latinas had the highest birthrate among all groups.v In 2001, 44% of Latina high school students reported that they’d had sex; 57% did not use any method of contraception for their first experience.v In 2001, Latina and African American women between the ages of thirteen and nineteen represented 84% of AIDS cases in that demographic, even though they only made up 26% of that population.
Ultimately, we put our daughters in especially vulnerable positions if we do not empower them with sex education. Uneducated, they can be swayed by someone else’s reasoning—someone who may not have accurate information or who may not have their best interest in mind. Studies and statistics showing what happens when a child is not educated about sex are heartbreaking and shameful. Shameful because we so often preach the importance of education in changing a life and then deny them this important information that one pregnancy or one experience with an HIV+ partner has the power to negate any other “book” learning they have received. We marginalize young women when we deny them information, making them more vulnerable to the pleas of adolescent partners who pretend to know more about sex and its implications than they really do. Tell our girls nothing about their bodies, and they become more susceptible to the whims of others, a tendency that’s difficult to escape once it’s an ingrained behavior.
So what can you do? First and foremost, talk to your children about sex. Do your homework, research books that can help you think through it, surf on-line for parent resources, figure out at what age they should know what. Then, go there. Finally, volunteer as a mentor with young woman and help shore up their confidence. Check out the non-profits in your area that work with young woman to find the best match and also check out the women’s organizations to see if there is a way that you can plug into ending the cycle of vulnerability. I’ll start posting nonprofits here soon for you to check out. And please use this forum to offer insight and suggestions. We are all a valuable part of finding solutions.