Hey Nikki, Let’s Talk!

The following guest post, written in observance of Let’s Talk Month, comes to us via Annet Ruiter, vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood Arizona.

mother daughterShe’ll turn 21 this month, my amazing daughter. No longer our little girl, but a young woman trying to successfully transition into adulthood.

Sure, we have our struggles: I expect too much, I am too demanding, and I don’t trust her enough. She, on the other hand, doesn’t try hard enough, doesn’t care enough … You probably know what I am talking about. But, in spite of it all, we manage to nurture our special relationship, based on love and mutual respect.

And I’m still the first one she calls when she is in trouble.

October is Let’s Talk Month — a month where parents are encouraged to engage in conversation with their children about sexuality and relationships. Planned Parenthood promotes such conversations, and has been a great partner for Nikki and me throughout her life.

When Nikki was born, I was already employed at Planned Parenthood, and had the good fortune to have access to its expert information about human sexuality. Growing up in the Netherlands, I was raised in a culture that, just like Planned Parenthood, valued sexuality as a lifelong experience that is part of being human, and I wanted to raise Nikki with that same value. Sex education started early for her: When she was a toddler she knew the correct medical names of her body parts, appropriate ways of showing affection, and appropriate touching by adults.

I was pretty sure I had everything under control.

That is until, at age 5, I found her and a friend playing in her room, naked. I panicked. I sought out Planned Parenthood’s sexuality educator for advice. She reassured me that this was normal behavior for a 5-year-old, and referred me to appropriate books we could read together (we loved the Robie Harris books) and that also ensured I continued talking with Nikki about sexuality.

Today, we still have open and honest conversations. We don’t talk about behaviors, over-sharing is not allowed, but we do discuss sexual health and values — how to prevent and get tested for STDs, be equal partners, stay true in your relationship, and respect one another. And Planned Parenthood continues to be a great resource for us. It’s where I bought the morning-after pill and put it on the shelf “just in case — no questions asked” when she first started dating, and took her for birth control advice when her relationship started getting serious. It is where she still goes for her reproductive health care.

I strongly support schools teaching comprehensive sexuality education to our children. Unfortunately, in Arizona, not many do. But values are not taught in school, they are learned by the examples we set as parents. Not being open and honest with your child about sex and sexuality tells him or her it’s something that’s not talked about, a taboo. It may also send the message that it is something to be ashamed about.

My hope for Nikki is that she will have a healthy, fulfilled relationship and sex life, and I want to make sure she knows she can come to me when she has questions or is in trouble. She will only do that if she knows that this is a subject I am open to and not embarrassed about.

Is it sometimes hard? Yes. I had to laugh when a sex educator gave the following advice: “Talk about it in the car, you have a captive audience, and a good excuse why you can’t look her in the eye.”

Her future is at stake — research shows that when provided with comprehensive information about sexuality, young people delay initiation of intercourse and are more likely to use birth control. Her ability to decide whether and when to have children, with whom, and her ability to ensure her sexual health will determine her future personal and professional opportunities.

I can’t think of a more important value to share with my daughter.

So Nikki, let’s talk!

Planned Parenthood Arizona is proud to offer workshops and resources for parents to help open up dialogue with their children around sexuality and sexual health. Click here for more information!