Shame Shuts Teens Down
Originally Published: July 8, 2015
Revised: July 8, 2015
If you think about it, the teenage years are probably some of the most formative years of a person’s life. This is when you start to question your beliefs and eventually come to adopt some new ones. This is when the brunt of puberty hits you and leaves you staggering off into awkward adolescence. This is when you experiment; this is when you cross the borders into what was previously the mysterious adult world.
When everything is changing in our lives, we need an anchor to affirm that we are good enough. We need a support system that allows us to be comfortable with ourselves—all parts of ourselves. A major aspect of this confidence is the attitude with which we deal with our sexuality. But it’s not easy talking about sex and sexuality.
…if you’re not ready to talk about having sex with your partner, you’re probably not ready to have sex with your partner
Even in casual conversation, the topic of sex is so taboo that it’s a little bit ridiculous. Why can we talk about the consequences of Jennifer Lawrence’s leaked nudes, but clam up when it comes to the consequences of unsafe sex? Teens are not at fault for the social stigma and shame surrounding talking about sex. Even adults have a hard time talking about it, so it’s no surprise that it’s difficult for us.
Have your parents or guardians ever sat you down to talk about the “birds and the bees”? Have they laughed out loud and then completely ignored you when you mentioned the word “penis”? Did you get the message early on that sex is bad and talking about those changes in your body was reserved for puberty advice books and your healthcare provider? Whatever the case may be, you deserve to have adults in your family that you can speak with about sexuality, and communication is key.
Haley Samsel, 17, of Plano, TX, shares, “My mom and I have a pretty open conversation about sex as far as contraception and staying safe with sex. Ever since I was young, she wanted me to know that having sex is not something that should be taken lightly, but that I shouldn’t be ashamed.”
Haley’s mom has a relatively open-minded view on talking with her daughter about sex, but Haley still feels some shame from her community.
“There is a stigma attached to sex where I live. I grew up in Texas, so no matter how liberal my mom thinks she may have been about the ‘sex talk’ in comparison to other parents, topics like masturbation, oral sex and access to health clinics have never been discussed. There’s still a shameful aspect to those aspects of sex for me.”
While Haley’s mom was open and started the conversation about sexuality at home, there was still silence in her community about sex, which can definitely make someone feel shame over their sexual selves.
On the other hand, Vivek Gupta, 17, of Fort Lee, NJ, tells us, “Coming from a traditional orthodox Indian background, [my parents have] seemingly refrained from the topic altogether while sheltering me from anything vulgar or even slightly implicit.”
There are many reasons why parents or guardians aren’t willing or comfortable talking to you about sex. If your parents haven’t spoken with you, you can still get information from other sources, such as this website, Sexetc.org!
In the Doctor’s Office
Parents and guardians aren’t the only people you should be able to talk with about sex and sexuality. Do you feel uncomfortable asking your healthcare provider questions and being honest with him or her about your sexual behaviors? It can be scary sharing something so personal. You don’t know what your doctor is thinking, and it can feel like she or he is judging you.
Sean Li Wong, 18, of Tucson, AZ, shares, “I feel like my primary care physician knows the least about me even though she’s the doctor that I’ve visited the most. After arriving at college, I’ve found myself visiting health services quite often and being more truthful with my visits there.”
It can get a little awkward and stiff if you don’t actually like or feel comfortable with your doctor. In order for your doctor to have information to better treat you, you need to talk to her or him. That isn’t at all easy if your doctor makes you feel as if you can’t trust her or him.
Sean Li admits, “Talking about sex with doctors is still a bit strange for me, but I do visit the women’s health center, which makes it substantially more comforting to talk.”
Alexia Lacap, 19, of New York City, is very lucky. She feels totally comfortable with her doctor. “I trust my doctor. By law, she’s required to keep my information confidential.” For some, that confidentiality—really being able to trust that your doctor won’t share anything you talk about—is all that’s needed to have open communication with your healthcare provider.
Your healthcare provider is supposed to be someone you can trust. Your doctor should not shame you for having a body and for having sex because there is absolutely nothing shameful about it. Though it can be scary, don’t hesitate to ask questions and don’t ever be afraid to ask to get tested. Getting tested does not mean that you are promiscuous. It does not mean that you are shameful. It means nothing, except you’re being a responsible human being who has decided to get updated on his or her health status. Your health matters way more than the possible negative opinion of a person whose job it is to provide you with good medical care. Your healthcare provider should be making you feel comfortable, not the other way around.
If you feel as if you can’t trust your doctor, we can help you find another one. Visit Sexetc.org and click on “Action Center” to use our handy clinic finder! It can help you find a health center near you.
With Your Partner
Communication is generally regarded as an important foundation for a good relationship. It helps lessen tension and conflict and tends to make relationships last longer. It’s also very important when it comes to decisions about sex. You and your partner need to talk about your sexual histories, birth control methods, testing for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and most importantly, whether or not the both of you feel ready for this next step.
It’s totally understandable if you feel nervous talking to your partner about it. Maybe you don’t want your partner to feel as if you don’t trust him or her. Maybe you don’t want your partner to think that you’re somehow not ready because you want to ask all these questions. The truth of the matter is if you’re not ready to talk about having sex with your partner, you’re probably not ready to have sex with your partner. Sex comes with a lot of possible consequences. Pregnancy and STDs are only two of the possible risks of having sex. I’m not trying to scare you or anything. I only want to make it clear that more than anything, it’s best to talk everything out before unzipping those jeans—no matter how nervous you are.
A Look Inside
And finally, the most important person to be honest with is yourself. There is nothing at all to be ashamed of about your sexuality. Everyone has a body with genitals. Why should you be ashamed of yours and how you use them? Having a sexual drive shouldn’t be viewed as embarrassing or wrong.
So when something comes up, don’t be afraid to talk with the people in your life. Pretending that that genital skin irritation doesn’t exist will not help anyone. Find a health center near you and talk to a healthcare provider. Not talking with your partner about that pregnancy scare you had a couple of months ago will not help either of you stay healthy. Open communication is so important. You should feel able to talk about it with the trusted members of your life, most notably your parents, your healthcare provider and your partner. If shame prevents you from communicating openly with those people, then in turn shame prevents you from getting the help and support you need and deserve.
Take a stance against the stigma and talk openly and honestly about sex to your friends, your doctor, your family and your partner. The next time you need to have a conversation about your sexual health, sexual behavior or sexual orientation, remember that even if you feel embarrassed and out of place, your health and happiness are more important than the stigma. #NoShame
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