How to Discuss Your Sexual Health with Your Parents

Whether you’re currently sexually active or not, speaking with your parents about your sexual health can be incredibly important—especially if you’re still on their health insurance plan. You can ask them about birth control methods, the HPV vaccine or even treatment for a persistent yeast infection. It might be a little uncomfortable to talk about, but remember that your parents care about your health first and foremost. Read on for a few tips on how to approach a conversation.

1. Talk early—and don’t wait until a problem arises

While it might be tempting to avoid doing so until absolutely necessary, you should open a discussion about sexual health with your parents before a problem might occur. That way, you already have a support system in effect and know what to do if something should happen.

Dr. Ramani Durvasula, clinical psychologist and an expert on college sexual health, recommends that collegiettes talk about what good sexual health looks like with both their doctor and parents. “Waiting until there is a problem is often too late, especially if they are dealing with a health problems that can have major ramifications such as an STI, HIV or other STI,” Dr. Durvasula says.

Basically, you shouldn’t take your sexual health lightly. Start the conversation now, rather than later.

2. Consider the setting of the discussion

Since this can be a difficult topic to approach, you need to make sure that both you and your parents are in an appropriate setting. A loud, family barbecue probably isn’t the best place to bring up the topic—nor is Thanksgiving dinner.

Annie Bryan, a sophomore at Saint Louis University and intern at Planned Parenthood, says, “A big thing I’ve learned over the years is meeting your parents where they’re at. Talk to them in a place and time that is most conducive to when they like to talk. Audiences and discussions never succeed when both partners aren’t as close to the same level as they can be on.”

Maybe your parents like to have deep discussions with you on long road trips, or when they wind down on Friday nights—keep those moments in mind and choose a time that will ensure a mature, respectful conversation that they’ll take seriously.

3. Get a health care provider involved

If it’s very difficult for you to seriously discuss your sexual health with your parents at home, consider a clinical setting instead. It’s not uncommon for teens to discuss their sexual health with both their health care provider and parents at a doctor’s office. That way, you can ensure you’ll without a doubt have a mature discussion—and you’ll have a chance to talk about available resources with your practitioner.

Dr. Durvasula says this is a great option. “In some ways, the discussion will be about health, but also relationships, and the critical need that the parents not be uncomfortable,” she says. “In fact, sometimes it helps for the young woman to meet with a health care provider, the parents to meet with the health care provider and then everyone come together.”

If you think a structured, clinical setting will be less stressful than bringing it up on your own at home, consider trying this option at your next doctor’s appointment.

Related: 6 Weird Things You Didn’t Know About Sex

4. If necessary, pick the “right” parent

Almost all kids know which of their parents will react harshly to certain issues and which will be more understanding. Maybe your dad still sees you as his little girl and won’t react well to discussing your sexual health. Maybe your mom is quite strict on sexuality and might get upset if she finds out you’re sexually active. Either way, you should have an idea on who to speak with.

Abby Piper, a senior at the University of Notre Dame, says, “As a child of divorce, I luckily can talk to one without the other one knowing. I never had any long, serious chats with my parents about sexual health, but with any serious thing I want to discuss I always weigh who I think will respond the best and be the most helpful.”

Abby’s advice is great for any serious discussion you might need to have with your parents, including one about sexual health. Choose carefully if you’re in a situation where one parent might respond better than the other.

5. Discuss birth control, protection and health insurance

Before you discuss your sexual health with your parents, you should have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish with the discussion. Do you want to get on birth control? Do you want to get an IUD? Anything that requires a prescription or a medical professional will also require you to ask your parents about your health insurance. Maybe you can even look through your plan together to see what’s covered and what’s not—and how both you and your parents will cover the excess. They’ll most likely expect you to pitch in, so be prepared with a plan on how you can do that. It’ll make you seem more mature as well to offer financial help.

Dr. Durvasula also recommends discussing the HPV vaccination if you haven’t before. “Were you vaccinated against HPV? Is it too late to begin the vaccination and can you discuss it with your health care provider?” she says. The same goes for safe sex. “Uncomfortable though it may be to speak about—the importance of condoms as infection prevention—birth control pills do not protect against STIs.”

Annie says that your parents might not react well to birth control initially, so you should try to mention other benefits as well. “Many parents really aren’t comfortable with their children being sexually active,” she says. “For example, if you want to go on hormonal birth control, be sure to mention the other benefits…like lighter periods, lighter cramps, a more steady mood and potentially less acne. Once again, try not to lie, but be as honest as you can be with where your parents are at.” Do what you must to get the sexual resources you need.

6. Speak with a trusted adult or doctor if your parents are especially conservative

For college women with strict families that condemn pre-marital sex, for either religious or cultural values, it can be extremely difficult—and even dangerous—to start a conversation about sexual health with your parents. They can make you feel guilty, accuse you of “immorality,” or even refuse to get you the help you need. In that scenario, it might be wise to speak with another trusted adult or your health care provider about your sexual health instead. If you explain your situation, they will have information on where you can find resources to maintain your sexual health without your parent’s knowledge. And hopefully, they will come around eventually!

Dr. Durvasula addresses this issue and recommends the following resources, “Parents need to be reminded that sexuality is a healthy part of life, and morality and pathologization really should not be part of this conversation,” she says. “If college women face these barriers with their parents, then they may want to consider consulting with a health care provider who has expertise in adolescent sexual health and women's health to get their questions answered. Most college health services have people to meet with as well. Ignorance is not an option because the stakes can be very high.”

You can also turn to the internet for help, says Annie. “If you ever need any information, whether you completely agree with their ethics or not, the Planned Parenthood website has a lot of stuff about starting conversations about sexuality,” she says.

Whatever situation you find yourself in, good luck, collegiettes! Reach out to your parents or health care provider to get the resources you need to ensure you don’t have to worry about your sexual health.