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Sex + Relationships

How To Discuss Sexual Health With Your Parents In College

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 during college. You can ask them about a variety of topics like birth control methods, emergency contraception, vaccines, treatments and medication, and more.Sexual health might be a little uncomfortable to talk about with your parents, but remember, chances are, they care about your health first and foremost, and a little honesty and openness can go a long way. Here's how to discuss sexual health with your parents — or at least start the conversation — according to a clinical psychologist.

1. Be PROACTIVE

Rather than waiting until something is "wrong" to approach the sex talk with your parents, be proactive and have the conversation early on. That way, you can approach sex and sexual health topics with some prior knowledge and education ahead of time — plus, you'll already have a support system in place if something does happen that you're concerned about.Ramani Durvasula PhD, a clinical psychologist and an expert on college sexual health, recommends that students 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 tells Her Campus.Although it can feel overwhelming to talk to your parents about sexual health, it's a topic that shouldn’t be taken lightly sexual health lightly — so, start the conversation now, and someday, you'll be thankful you did.

2. Consider the setting of the discussion

Since sexual health can be a difficult (and, for some, taboo) topic to approach, you need to make sure that both you and your parents are in an appropriate setting where an open, honest conversation can take place. A loud family barbecue with lots of people around 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, tells Her Campus, “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. Whatever it might be, 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 difficult or overwhelming for you to seriously discuss your sexual health with your parents at home, consider a clinical setting instead. It’s not uncommon for college students 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 have a mature, professional discussion — and you’ll have a chance to talk about available resources with your practitioner.Dr. Durvasula says that getting a medical provider involved is a great way to start the conversation about sexual health. “In some ways, the discussion will be about health, but also relationships, and [there is a] critical need that the parents not be uncomfortable,” she says. “In fact, sometimes it helps for the young woman to meet with a healthcare provider, then, the parents to meet separately with the health care provider, and then, everyone comes together.”If you think a structured, clinical setting will be less stressful than bringing up sexual health on your own at home, consider trying this option at your next doctor’s appointment. And if you're on a college campus, chances are, you can stop at your student health center at any time to speak with a professional about sexual health topics. Remember, while it may feel intimidating at first, there are trained professionals who want to help you!

4. If necessary, pick the “right” parent

Almost every college student knows how their parents and guardians will react to certain issues — maybe one parent tends to be more calm, and another is more reactive. Maybe your dad sees you as his "little girl" and will feel out of place talking about your sexual health, or maybe your mom is quite strict on sexuality, and you anticipate she might get upset if she finds out you’re sexually active. Either way, consider who you're most comfortable speaking to about sexual health topics — and know that it's okay to prioritize speaking to one parent over the other.Abby Piper, a senior at the University of Notre Dame, tells Her Campus, “As a child of divorce, I can luckily talk to one parent 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, and remember, it's all about what makes you feel most comfortable.

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. Is it that you want to start taking birth control? Do you want to get an IUD? Whatever the focus of your discussion, remember that anything that requires a prescription or a medical professional will likely 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 chat about how both you and your parents will cover the excess. Depending on your situation, your family may 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 tells Her Campus. The same goes for discussions about safe sex, forms of birth control, condoms, emergency contraception, and more — try to have an open discussion about these sexual health topics, and rest assured you'll feel more comfortable addressing them over time.Annie tells Her Campus that your parents might not react well to the idea of birth control initially, so it can help to mention other benefits of the pill as well. “Many parents really aren’t comfortable with their children being sexually active,” she tells Her Campus. “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.”

6. CONSIDER CULTURAL & RELIGIOUS CONTEXT

For students whose families may condemn pre-marital sex (i.e., for religious or cultural reasons), it can be extremely difficult — and even dangerous — to start a conversation about sexual health. If this sounds like you, there's the very real possibility that your parents might make you feel guilty, accuse you of “immorality,” or even refuse to get you the help you need. If this sounds like a familiar scenario, it might be wise to speak with another trusted adult or your health care provider about your sexual health instead. Simply explain your situation, and they will have information about where you can find resources to maintain your sexual health — even without your parent’s knowledge. Hopefully, your parents and family will come around eventually, since sexual health is a natural part of life. But in the meantime, remember that it's better to ask the hard questions than be afraid of approaching sexual health, and ending up in a potentially harmful situation.Dr. Durvasula addresses this issue often in her practice. “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 tells Her Campus. “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.”Annie tells Her Campus that if you're nervous to discuss sexual health with your parents, you can also turn to the internet, books, and sex-related podcasts for help. There are even sex-positive influencers and educators on TikTok who post helpful content that you can learn from (but of course, always practice discretion and trust medical professionals first and foremost!). “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 tells Her Campus.Whatever situation you find yourself in, remember that sexual health is a natural part of life! While having a conversation about sexual health will probably feel nerve-wracking at first, everyone has to start somewhere, and chances are, you and your family members will feel relieved afterward. Do your research, prepare for the conversation and the points you want to make, then reach out to your parents or health care provider to initiate the conversation. There are plenty of resources out there to help you take control of your sexual health so that you can feel healthy and empowered. Good luck!ExpertsRamani Durvasula, PhDSourcesAnnie Bryan, Saint Louis UniversityAbby Piper, University of Notre Dame
Shereen is currently a junior at Florida Atlantic University, majoring in Neuroscience with a minor in Literature. As the Life Section Editor and Feature Writer for Her Campus, she loves to read, write and express her opinion. When she's not scribbling away in a notebook, you can find her obsessively playing videogames, procrastinating for her physics final or staying up till 4 AM for no reason whatsoever.
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