By Brenda Briones
“My parents would kick me out the house if they found out I’ve had sex.”
“I think I need to see a doctor about my period but in my family we don’t talk about sex or sex related things.”
Recently, I asked a few ninth graders if their parents talk to them about sex? Most of them responded that they weren’t allowed to have a boyfriend and they were expected to marry as virgins, in accordance with the Catholic or Christian beliefs of their families. We should all be outraged that this is the extent of the "sex talk" in many Latino households. Sadly, these experiences are very common amongst my peers in the working class Latino community I am from. Roughly 50% of Latinas become pregnant before reaching the age of nineteen, according to a study by California Latinas for Reproductive Justice. We also have the highest teen live birth rates in the nation. The prevalence of unprotected sex in our community is a serious matter that we must address or expect devastating health consequences. Just as alarming as our pregnancy rates are our communities' live birth rates. These unplanned pregnancies more often than not lead teenage girls to dropout of school and have babies they are not prepared for financially or emotionally. A few girls I know who are my age or younger and have become pregnant never considered abortion. Young women in my community are trained to believe that sex is a sin and if an unplanned pregnancy happens, then we have no option but to have a child. This kind of thinking sacrifices young women. Young women who are raised to believe they have no choice are also raised to believe that their reproductive abilities are more important than their dreams, their education, and their ability to determine their own destinies. Statistically, more than half of households headed by single mothers live in poverty.
I wonder if pregnant Latinas teens came from a community where reproductive justice was valued and recognized, would they have become pregnant in the first place? Reproductive justice recognizes that women of color are impacted by a lack of access to reproductive health services and outdated machista views of sex and sexuality in our communities. It is a human right for a woman to choose when and or if to have children. I have no doubt that if my peers who dropped out of school because of unplanned pregnancies were taught to value their lives and what they can potentially contribute to this world, they would have been able to choose a better future for themselves.
In addition to changing the ways our youth are educated we must also change the views of sex and sexuality among many adults in our community.
“Ese es mijo!” Mi hijo tiene muchas novias”
“That’s my boy!” “He’s got a ton of girlfriends”
I have heard many Latino fathers brag about their promiscuous sons. I have never heard a Latino parent brag about a promiscuous daughter. “Good daughters” are expected to stay virgins until marriage. In many Latino households, teenage daughters are forbidden to even have a boyfriend. This double standard makes boys think that young women are sexual objects that can be used to prove to the world that they are “true players.” When we as a community, uphold these views, we tell young women that their value is rooted in their sexuality and not their talents or intellect. If a young woman decides to have sex, there is nothing wrong with that. The problem is a general view that sex is dirty. When parents approach sex and sexuality this way, they tend not to talk about sex at all with their children. What parents don’t understand is that by not talking to their children about sex, they are putting their children at greater risk for teen pregnancy and STI transmissions. The prevalence of unprotected sex in our communities have increased our HIV/AIDS contraction rates. If we are to reverse this trend, we must begin having conversations about sex that don’t shame young women or set up young men to believe they are more of “a real man” as they rack up more partners. Conversations about STD and HIV/AIDS prevention are not dirty they are life saving.