Getting Grandparents to talk Gonads (and other Important Topics Related to Sexuality)

When I first jumped into sex education my initial thought was to work primarily with parents. I wanted to support family conversations about sexuality – support parents on their paths as primary sexuality educators. I met with a few parents privately to get a needs-assessment going and then I jumped in and started running classes.
The classes started off successfully – the parents who attended were enthusiastic, engaged, and devoted to the process of learning how to engage with their teens and pre-teens.
But then, and this took me by surprise, the parents who attended my classes started asking me to teach their children sexuality education classes – fully comprehensive ones that encompassed all aspects of sexuality rather than only information pertaining to biology, contraception, STIs, and abstinence.
So now I have a range of classes I offer for parents and youth. And that’s great. But my classes for youth are far more popular than my classes for adults, and that bothers me. In reaction, I started talking with youth about how to talk with their parents about sex: I wrote an article for Scarleteen and led workshops at conferences.
What I found was that both adults and youth want deeper intergenerational conversations about sexuality, but no one really wants to be the first one out of the gate to start those talks.
So, to honor both the work I’ve done in the area and Let’s Talk Month, today’s lesson comes from Older, Wiser, Sexually Smarter:
Sexuality Educators Par Excellence
Participants will:
1. Compare becoming a sexual person for youth today with when they were young.
2. Identify the many forces influencing young people and the importance of responsible adults taking on such a role in sexuality education.
3. Explore the specific ways grandparents can be a positive influence in the sexual learning of their grandchildren.
Although there is much agreement about negative societal influences on the sexual development of young people, for a variety of reasons many parents do not provide sexuality education sufficient to help children and youth negotiate the difficult decisions they must make in today’s world. Savvy grandparents can play an important role, by providing nurturing love and support and also by providing specific information, counseling, and resources. This lesson encourages grandparents to think of ways they can help grandchildren develop values and skills in a sexually challenging society. In doing so, grandparents must respect the primary responsibility and rights of parents, so that their messages do not conflict with parents’ values.
What a fantastic lesson and idea! I never had any grandparents in my classes, although I’ve talked with a few at parties and other social gatherings about their work towards being a sexuality educator for their grandchildren. I’ve also had a few grandparents contact me about their grandchildren being in my comprehensive sexuality classes – although the parents are always the ones who have to give permission.
One of my favorite parts of this lesson is the section on helping children think for themselves. It advocates the following questions:
  1. “What do you think?”
  2. “What will happen if…?”
  3. “What could you do when…?”
  4. “How would you feel if…?”
There’s no reason to restrict this sort of fabulous guidance for adults talking with young people to grandparents. Almost every adult could benefit from a reminder that these types of questions support independent thinking, consideration of a variety of perspectives, and open further conversation rather than shutting it down.