Looks like teens really do want to talk about sex—with their parents.
A new survey finds that 49% of Latino teens say their parents are the people who most influence their decisions about sex.
The survey was commissioned by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy and the National Council of La Raza and was released on May 19. The results are based on the answers of 759 Latino teens who were surveyed by telephone in 2008.
"While Latino teen pregnancy has gained national attention in recent years, little work has been done to understand subgroup differences and similarities within the Latino community," said Ruthie Flores, Senior Manager of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy's Latino Initiative.
Latino teens have the highest rate of teen pregnancy of all ethnic groups in the United States. Teen pregnancy is so widespread that the National Council estimates 53% of all Latinas will become pregnant as teens.
The nation's 45 million Latinos constitute the largest minority group in the United States with a growth rate twice that of the general population. If Latino teens continue to get pregnant at the same rate, by 2025, one-quarter of all American teens will be Latinos.
Teen pregnancy is on the rise in the United States for the first time after 14 years of steady decline. Abstinence education may be to blame, but the new survey suggests that the lack of information may begin at home.
Although three-quarters of Latino teens say they have talked to their parents about sex, only 49% say that conversation included talk about contraception. Perhaps most surprising is the most common reason given by Latino teens for not using contraception: they are afraid their parents might find out.
The new survey also revealed a gender gap in the way Latino parents talk to their children about sex. 74% of Latino teens believe that parents send one message about sex to their sons and a different message altogether to their daughters.
“Everybody got the same talk. The girls were told don’t have sex, don’t have boyfriends, wait till marriage”, said Michelle Patricia Gonzalez, a Cuban-American who grew up in Miami. “All the boys were told since they were 12 or 13—here be a man, take some condoms, have fun. That is if they were even told to use condoms, some were just told to go out and conquer.”
Gonzalez had a different experience herself when it came to sex. Her mother gave birth to her when she was 17 and always told her that even though she wanted her to wait until she was married to have sex, she would help her get contraception should she decide to be active.
That combination of tradition meeting reality was evident in the survey as well. 76% of teens surveyed say it is important for a couple to be married before starting a family or having a child, though not nearly that number are.
Gonzalez believes it’s this traditional take that needs to be reevaluated in the Latino community. “It’s a new kind of machismo, where girls are expected to succeed and go to college but without having sex”, Gonzalez said. “Instead of parents informing them about sex, they want to take it away. These girls grow up into sexual beings, but they grow up without information.”