Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study about sexual behavior, attraction and identity (PDF) of teens and adults across the United States. For parents of college students, the study revealed interesting findings: abstinence is up among young adults since 2002 and same-sex activity is up in young adult women.
Whether or not your student falls in line with the national trends, his/her sexuality plays a huge part in both physical and emotional well-being. That’s a daunting thought for many parents.
For parents who avoided the “birds and the bees” talk or have never felt comfortable discussing sexuality with their kids, it’s not too late to open up the lines of communication. As students gain independence and experience at college, they still need their parents’ guidance and support.
Consider these tips to discuss sensitive topics with your student:
Don’t bring up potentially embarrassing or uncomfortable topics in a setting where either of you will feel distracted or unable to be vulnerable. Make sure the conversation won’t be too rushed or overheard by others.
If you feel awkward, your student will know. It’s OK to laugh about it and admit that talking about his/her sex life is not easy. But also express why it’s important to talk about these issues.
If you start to ramble when nervous, having an agenda will be especially important during these conversations. Bring up one or two important topics that you feel need to be discussed, like safe sex, sexual identity, STDs or your/your student’s religious views about sex. Also allow your student to contribute to the conversation and guide it, if needed.
Don’t try to cover every facet of sexuality in one conversation. Now that the lines of communication are opening, you and your student will be able to start talking more freely and comfortably about these sensitive topics. And if your student is unresponsive, give him/her time to get used to the idea about talking about sex with mom/dad.
Above all, remind your student that you want the best for him/her. Listen more than you speak, and if your student doesn’t have much to say, point him/her toward other resources as well. The university clinic or health services will have professionals he/she can talk to, and the American College Health Association has a list of sexual health resources as well.