Why Some Black Parents Don’t Talk to Their Daughters About Sex
Originally Published: February 26, 2021
Revised: February 26, 2021
Being curious about sex is natural, but some parents and caregivers, regardless of race or culture, avoid discussing sex with their kids. As a Black teen girl, I feel fortunate to have a mom that I’m comfortable talking to about sex. But growing up, some close family members reprimanded me for asking about sex, and I no longer had the courage to ask them questions again. It turns out this experience wasn’t unique to my family.
Sex as a Taboo Topic
I asked a few Black girls about their experiences asking about sex and found that shaming girls for asking questions is pretty common. “Coming from an African household it’s kind of difficult to talk about these situations,” says Afia, 18, of Pawtucket, RI. “I was around 13 when I asked my aunt about sex because a lot of my friends at school were talking about it. Instantly, she asked why I’m around those kinds of friends and why I would ever ask that kind of question. She went on to tell me that I shouldn’t be having sex until I’m married and mentioned that I shouldn’t have a boyfriend either. I knew for sure that I was never going to come to her again.”
People can also pick up at an early age that sex is considered taboo and never approach the topic. “I’ve never asked my parents about sex,” says Martina, 18, of Orlando, FL. “I was never told about sex. If I was talked to about it earlier then it wouldn’t feel so awkward now.” If our parents or caregivers aren’t open to talking about sex, our willingness to ask can decline. Angie, 18, of Aldie, VA, got a “lecture” from her aunt and parents after she asked about sex when she was a kid. “They said that sex wasn’t supposed to be something I worried about until after I was married,” she says. “I was confused because I was genuinely curious. Once I got older, I realized that that’s how they were raised and that’s how they were encouraged to raise their kids.”
Overcoming Racist and Inaccurate Messages
I spoke with Tracie Gilbert, Ph.D., Training and Technical Assistance Manager at Answer, which publishes Sex, Etc. She had this to say about why some Black adults may not talk to their children about sex: “Black parents being nervous about talking with their daughters about sex is not only common, but historically influenced by the desire to protect them from racism and white supremacist ideas about Black sexuality. Historical tropes about Black people included that they were hypersexual and had loose morals.” These old myths are still around and may be why some Black parents and caregivers avoid the sex talk altogether.
“Black women, in particular, grow up within conflicting extremes of both hypersexualized stereotypes of their bodies and sexuality found in music and media and then repressive religious messaging that focus on a need to control their bodies and desires,” says Melissa Carnagey, founder of Sex Positive Families, an organization that supports parents in having sexual health talks with their children.
Parents Are People Too
Many Black adults didn’t receive information about sex from their parents. “It’s difficult to recreate experiences that were not modeled for us, and many Black parents of today grew up with inaccurate and negative messages about sex,” says Carnagey. “Black women rarely grow up within a liberating and positive sexual culture that tells them that their bodies are good and worthy as they are or that gives them the tools to feel confident and prepared to own their sexual health. So when Black people become parents, the lack of positive representation and the inaccurate guidance they’ve experienced or witnessed leads to fear, over-protection and reluctance to talk about sex, especially with their daughters.”
Carnagey encourages us to “remember that parents are people too, with their own journey and fears that sometimes cause them to feel unsure of how to talk about these topics.” If your parents aren’t forthcoming when it comes to talking about sex, Carnagey suggests letting them know that “you’d like to hear this stuff from them, versus strangers.” If your parents seem open to this, check out our Communication Tool and learn how you can encourage conversations with a parent or caregiver about sex.
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