Learning About Sex While You’re in Foster Care
Originally Published: May 21, 2015
Revised: September 15, 2016
It’s confusing when your parents have one belief system that says sex shouldn’t happen before marriage, and then you see lots of sex without commitment on TV and in films. This creates a conflict about what is appropriate sexual behavior. And the conflict is magnified when you’re in foster care and bounced from home to home, especially when foster parents aren’t willing to talk to you about sex (out of fear or discomfort or maybe for some other reason). The problem with foster care is that questions you should be able to ask your family about aren’t allowed. At least, they weren’t for me.
As a young person, it’s important to find a trusted, informed adult who can provide answers to sex questions
Hitting a Barrier
I clearly remember being picked up from a birthday party by my foster mom. I was elated because the party was for a close friend (we’ll call him Kevin) who asked me out that night. I was completely naïve about how to talk about relationships with adults and unsure about how to approach it with my foster mom. So I hopped in the car and thought for a moment. A mixture of apprehension and bravado swept over me, and I blurted out, “So I guess Kevin and I are dating now.” Her response? “Um, no.” She listed the reasons why it was inappropriate for me to be with him, ranging from my young age to being in care, to her not knowing the young man. She was right; she didn’t know him. But it seemed like she dismissed the idea without even wanting to try to get to know him. While her rationale may have been justified, I was upset and angry. Who was she to tell me flat-out I couldn’t date? If dating was not allowed in her mind, then I also assumed sexual questions could not be asked. If I had a concern, I looked to the Internet or my friends for help.
This experience discouraged me from bringing up dating, romance, sex and sexual health with my foster parents. This continued as I went from foster home to foster home. I wanted to explore relationships and sexuality while in care, but I only hit a barrier. I became hesitant to talk about dating with any adult in my life because I assumed they would immediately do everything possible to squash it. I wondered how I could ever enjoy dating or learn what a functional relationship was if I was never allowed to be in one.
Looking back, many of the measures I considered extreme were actually my foster parents working to protect me, and I absolutely advocate safety as a top priority. I believe dating can occur within a safe, guided environment. It was only when I was given the space and gentle guidance of my last foster placement that I felt comfortable and open with my romantic life. I was finally allowed to date without feeling wrong. I made plenty of mistakes, but I don’t know anyone who hasn’t made a single mistake. And it’s OK to learn what works and what doesn’t from relationships and break-ups. It all helps you gain a greater understanding of your personal needs and values. I am in a much more mature place emotionally as a result of my past growth with the family that encouraged me to ask questions.
The Power of Open Communication
As a young person, it’s important to find a trusted, informed adult who can provide answers to sex questions. If there is no one in your foster family that you can turn to, there are many doctors and clinicians at places like Planned Parenthood who are experts at answering questions about sex. The topic of sex and relationships is hard, but not talking about it can lead to situations much worse than a potentially awkward conversation. Find adults who embrace the idea of talking openly and are willing to try to understand your perspective. In my last foster placement, it was comforting knowing I could bring up issues or ask for advice if I needed it without being worried about being kicked out, which was a chronic concern in other placements.
Your relationships are part of your journey, your process. It is your right to learn about sex, and it is my goal to see every youth has someone trustworthy and informed they can turn to as they make that walk.
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