The brave new world of sex ed

Published on
February 23, 2015

Like many Asian American cultures, sexual health and reproduction are not openly discussed in the Vietnamese family beyond discouraging premarital sex. Yet with nearly a quarter of Orange County's Asian American population under the age of 18, there are few resources to help families navigate the challenges of a cross-generational, cross-cultural "sex talk."

Although many parents do not discuss sexual relationships and health with their children, discussing sex is shown to impact their knowledge and practice of safe sex later on. One study of Asian American college women found parents were the least reported source of sexual education and school as the main source of education.

Asian Americans as a whole have lower rates of contraception use than the general population and are significantly less likely to get tested for HIV or other STDs. Asian women, in particular, are at a high risk for STDs, with higher rates than white women and are nearly four times more likely to have an STD than their male counterparts.

My project explores norms for discussing and teaching sexual health and relationships among Asian American, specifically Vietnamese, families. In addition to learning more about how health providers have crafted culturally competent discussions about safe sex and sexually transmitted disease, I'm interested in the relational effects of talking about sex.

How does a lack of discussion about sexuality affect a parent’s relationship with their second-generation child, and how might that affect how young Asian American seeks and experiences early relationships? 

For example, in recent years traditional Vietnamese views on gender and sexuality have become the topic of public debate after a group of LGBT Vietnamese Americans was barred from participating in an annual Lunar New Year parade, sparking protests from the group and the formation of a parent support group in response to division over homosexuality.

Immigrant parents of LGBT youth now meet regularly to discuss challenges in supporting their children and to deepen their own understanding -- an opportunity to examine how discussions of sexuality in both interpersonal and public settings can affect parent-child relationships and a broader cultural conversation.

Because of the large size of Orange County's Vietnamese community, nearly 195,000 people, it is rich in sources and health care professionals: the county attracts physicians and health care providers who serve many generations of Vietnamese. A number of local nonprofits and public health agencies already do work that discusses sexual health and family planning in traditional social contexts.