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'Birds and the Bees' Talk No Longer Embarrassing, Says Study

Science says the sex talk is getting easier for parents

If you found the "birds and the bees" talk with your kids to be fraught with anxiety, awkwardness and sweaty palms, you might just be in the minority, according to a recent study. In fact, the research uncovered that most families are finding it much easier to navigate the uncomfortable waters of "the talk" than they used to—they just aren't doing it as much as they probably should.

The research was led by Planned Parenthood and New York University’s Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health, which surveyed 1,663 pairs of parents and their kids, who all sat between the ages of 9 and 21. Their goal was to look into how American families with differing backgrounds are communicating (if at all) about sex, healthy relationships and more.

In total, 8 out of 10 kids were found to have talked to their parents in some way about sexuality, while half of the parents surveyed said they started having "the talk" by age 10, and 80 percent had at least brought up the subject by the time their kid was 13. Eighty percent of parents had also said their talk went beyond just the basics, covering topics like dealing with peer pressure and how to keep safe from online predators.

Patting yourself on the back right about now, Mom and Dad? Not so fast.

“The great news is that parents and teens are talking about these topics,” Leslie Kantor, vice president of education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, told TIME. “Most parents and their children report starting these conversations before the age of 14, and they are talking about topics like peer pressure, puberty and staying safe online. The bad news is that people don’t necessarily have a lot of conversations, so [it] doesn’t become ongoing.”

Another 20 percent of parents said they'd never even spoken to their 15-21-year-olds about sex at all, and that conversations about saying no, birth control methods, or where to learn more about it had just never come up. What's more, 30 percent hadn't had any chats about where to go for reproductive health services and about 52 percent discussed sexual values.

"Young people are dealing with some different contexts than in the past," says Kantor of the role social media now plays during those pivotal teen years. “When was I was growing up, I couldn’t meet up with someone by meeting them on a game online. These things didn’t used to happen.”

Speaking with TIME, Kantor shared that the part most parents find tricky about all of this, is learning to understand this new world their kids are living in—one they didn't experience themselves. Discussing sex in the digital age is decidedly murkier.

To help combat some of that (and alleviate the pressure on Mom and Dad), Planned Parenthood has developed chat and text sex education programs, which allow kids and teens to chat in real time with a Planned Parenthood staff member. The relatively new feature gives adolescents a method of asking all those questions they're otherwise afraid to ask or Google on the home computer—everything from STDs to morning-after pill questions. And so far, the program has been catching on. According to TIME, there were 10,974 conversations in the month of September alone, and 393,174 since it first launched in May. The organization also launched an app this year called "Awkward or Not," which first gives the user an online quiz and then offers them the chance to text their mom or dad to start a conversation.

Have you started having "the talk" with your kids?

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