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Latina Sexologist Rebecca Alvarez Answers: How To Talk to Conservative Latino Parents About Sexuality

We get it: talking to your conservative Latinx parents about anything even remotely related to sex might sound worse than a “Fear Factor” challenge — A.K.A. eating spiders or taking a deep dive into a container full of worms.

However, having a fluid conversation with your parents on the subject can get you used to the difficult conversations if you’re looking to have kids of your own one day, and ultimately help break the generational cycle of sexual repression.

Whether you would like to start talking to your parents about sexuality, simply want them to understand why being on birth control is not “sinful,” or would like them to be more accepting of your dating life if still living at home, we’ve found the best ways to start.

We sat down with Latina award-winning sexologist Rebecca Alvarez Story to chat about the absolute best methods to talk to conservative Latinx parents about sex and breaking stigmas around it.

How do you suggest opening up a conversation with your conservative parents about sex and sexual wellness if that’s never been an acceptable topic at home?

The best way to become more comfortable with sex conversations in general is to have lots of small, casual discussions over time instead of one big awkward talk (the way that many of us assume it has to be). Second, is to start finding/building a community of like-minded and/or open-minded people (who are supportive of you) over time. This type of network is especially helpful as you navigate new relationship structures and sexual experiences.

If you do choose to tell others, it is important to be aware that even though sex is becoming less taboo than it once was, there is still a stigma around it in certain families and communities (for instance in many Latinx cultures that are highly conservative or religious).

In the beginning, it could be helpful to be selective about who you choose to talk to and opt for friends and family who already respect your life choices. You can practice with these allies first. As with any aspect of your lifestyle, it’s up to you how vocal you want to be about it. You may not necessarily want to volunteer specific details about your romantic or sex life, but if it somehow comes up, you may not want to hide it either.

Why do you think so many families are closed off about the topic of sex in the first place?

When you don’t grow up viewing and talking about sexual wellness casually (like any other health topic) you grow up developing the same stigmas as your elders. So, it is difficult to break those patterns, even when you want to start opening up.

Not talking about sexual health growing up is something you will have to actively unlearn, because abstinence education or having zero sex education is equal to bad sex education. Many of us grew up in households where there was no conversation around sex and intimacy and learned that was the norm; however, we’re seeing that younger generations want to have these conversations and are looking for outlets where they can be open about their thoughts.

Many women still face stigmas and taboos around casual dating, and it is unfortunately a fairly common occurrence in the Latinx community. How can we talk to our parents about being more accepting of a woman’s sexuality?

I think it all starts with confidence and building sexual agency. We now live in a world where things like online dating are the norm. That’s why I love what popular Latinx dating app Chispa is doing with Tragos; they aren’t just giving Latinx singles the opportunity to match based on answers to questions around sex and intimacy — they’re giving them the opportunity to be more confident in those conversations and really own how they want to date and how they want to express themselves sexually.

Many of our parents believed that monogamy was the only way to date or be in a relationship. However, it is actually helpful to be open and open-minded. This is especially important for cis-women who may feel conflicted about exploring different relationship structures. You have to give yourself liberty to explore and discover what works best for you.

Some of us also face barriers when it comes to talking to Latinx parents about our sexuality and sexual fluidity. How do you suggest getting a much-needed conversation started about that?

Not all fluidity exploration needs to be discussed. The beauty of building sexual agency is you get to do trial and error and figure out what works for you. Once you feel comfortable or excited to share what you learn, that’s the time to bring in a family member as a personal ally. Developing supportive family allies may look different for each person. You can start by initiating conversations with family members who feel more like your peers (e.g. siblings or cousins closer in age) vs. an authority figure. Once you feel confident and supported by more open-minded family members, you can then move onto other family members where the discussion may be more challenging.

Lastly, for folks with kids, how do you suggest a parent show openness and acceptance to their children when it comes to sexuality?

Be a role model — one of the best ways to show your children what love, intimacy and healthy relationships look like is to model it in your own life. Meet them where they are — answer their questions simply using dialogue. When they bring up a question, use inquiry to find out more about what they are thinking/interested in knowing vs. making assumptions.

Discuss basic anatomy — offer basic education so your children have a strong knowledge about their bodies. Make sure your kids can identify their basic body parts with accurate language. They should know the proper names for their penis, scrotum, vulva, and vagina just as clearly as they can identify their hands and feet. When children are not taught proper anatomy terms, they can internalize the message that these parts are “secret,” “dirty,” or “shameful.”

Teach body agency — even after teaching basic anatomy, it is important that you also discuss body and hair boundaries. For instance, telling your children that no one should be touching them if they don’t want to be touched (and they shouldn’t touch anyone else), is a simple way to start teaching sexual agency and confidence. Even if it’s something seemingly innocent (like their hair), a child should be encouraged to own their body and express how they feel about it. Teaching them to be comfortable with making statements such as “I prefer people ask me for permission before touching my hair” is a way to build body and sexual agency.

[In regard to] sex and sexuality, once your child enters an age where they are curious about pleasure and/or sex, it is even more important that you are answering their questions honestly. You want to be a source of honest information and encourage conversation with you vs. them seeking external sources (such as online videos or forums). It’s natural that parents may have a difficult time seeing their child grow up, so may find certain topics (such as birth control) hard to have at first. This is why it is important to get comfortable with ongoing “shorter” discussions about body, sex and sexuality first so as a parent you don’t feel overwhelmed when the more serious topics start to come up.

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