Column, "Teach Your Children Well," by Haydeé Morales, Vice President of Education, Training, and Margaret Sanger Center International, Planned Parenthood of New York City, published in Spanish in El Diario (6/30/10)
This past Father’s Day got me thinking. Often times our conversations about sex and sexual health focus on preventing pregnancy, high rates of STD infection for girls and young women, and healthy relationships. Yet there’s a very important part of the “talk” that can get excluded from the conversation – young men. Boys have just as many questions about sex as girls do, get mixed and unhealthy messages about what it means to be a man, and are just as much at risk for STDs and being involved with unintended pregnancy.
Let’s not forget that young men have sexual and reproductive health needs too, ones that are just as important to address. Let’s make sure we don’t leave them in the dark.
Think about the messages we send. In my family, many of the girls were taught about preserving virginity. The boys, however, were encouraged to be sexual and have many conquests. Even the young boys – how often would I hear “Joselito es un enamorado y tiene muchas novias” – and Joselito is only 5!
Whether or not we realized it at the time, these are strong messages. They come early, and they are messages that many Latinos grow up with. And given the high rates of HIV and STDS for Latinos, lack of sexual health information for our young men along with these sexual messages is a dangerous combination.
Making sure that our youth have the information they need to make healthy and safe decisions about sex and sexuality is essential – and it’s just as essential that the conversation happens with boys, as well as with girls. Young men get messages about sex and sexuality from everywhere – the media, the Internet, friends at school, music videos, and movies. Parents and caregivers need to also speak up, and make sure that their sons know they have someone to turn to when they have questions or need advice.
My father was a bodega owner in the Bronx. He would leave our house before I left for school in the morning and he would return when I was already sleeping. His role was clearly as a provider. My father and I never talked about sex, but he did talk about the birds and the bees with my younger brother. My mother, on the other hand, talked about sex with me and my sister. There was a clear division of gender when it came to the conversation about sex in my household. For households where the father or male role model is not present, the women must step up and share the value system and give the boys information they need.
So let’s pledge to break the silence, and make sure that boys are not left out of the conversation about sexual health.