Family, Health, Latinas, Latinas and sexuality, Latino culture, Menstruation, sexual health

Latinas and Sexuality: 70’s style 

In a previous post on  cervical cancer awareness I touched on the topic of Latinas and sexuality. 

My experience is that it is often a taboo subject, one that is not discussed between Latina mothers and daughters.

In the late 60’s, early 70’s, the topics of  sexuality or sexual health for twelve year olds usually came in the form of “The Non-Talk.” 

“The Talk” can range from the first talk (menstruation) to sexual intercourse to the last talk (pregnancy). 

In my case, and  for those Latinas of my generation, “The Non-Talk” was usually along these lines:

“The Kotex are in that purple box…Keep your legs closed…Don’t come home pregnant…Wait til your married, only putas have sex before that…” 

or no conversation at all. 

This was the case in my pre-teen and teen age years. My mother didn’t discuss menstruation,  instead my friends had “The Talk” with me on the playground of my Catholic grammar school when I was in seventh grade. I was the oddball who hadn’t started my period  and I was  12 1/2 years old. “Oh my god, it’s kinda of gross, but kind of cool too, ‘cuz you become a woman,” was the gist of the conversation.

When I asked my friends who told them about their periods, all of them said their older sisters. Well, I was on my own. I was the oldest in my family and my school didn’t have sex education classes.

This ‘period’ thing sounded intriguing and yukky at the same time but I had to find out what I was in for so I steeled myself and right before bedtime I asked my mother (in a whisper because my younger sister shared the bed) what ‘periods’ were and when would I get mine. She screwed up her face, shot me a disapproving look and turned off my light. 


One morning, about three days later, I woke up and found a pamphlet under my pillow. Yes, it was the Menstruation Fairy. The booklet described, in cartoon fashion, the wonder of menstruation. I couldn’t make heads or tails of the drawing of the female reproductive system, it looked like a fancy Y to me. 

That evening my mom whispered. “The box you’ll need is in the bathroom closet, in the back, the purple box.” Figuring out how to use these oversized overstuffed pads is another story. Can I get a witness? 

As I thought of this subject I speculated that perhaps my opinion was based on my age and generation. 

Maybe the topic isn’t as taboo as it was in the 70’s. 

Maybe parents having discussions with their sons and daughters about sexuality and sexual health improved in the last 40 years. 

Alas, this is not the case even after thirty plus years of sex education in schools:

  • A 2011 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey indicates that more than 47 percent of all high school students say they have had sex. Among students who had sex in the three months prior to the survey, 60 percent reported condom use and 23 percent reported birth control pill use during their last sexual encounter.
And for Latinas specifically:
  • While teen pregnancy rates have dropped across all ethnic groups over the past decade, the decline has been smallest among Latinas
  • The percentage of female teens using any method of contraception at first sexual intercourse was lowest for Latinas (57 percent), compared to non-Hispanic whites (81 percent), Asian Americans and Native Americans (77 percent each), or African Americans (68 percent)
  • Among teens, Latinas had the highest birth rate in 2000 (94 per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19). By comparison, the teen birth rate among African Americans was 79 per 1,000; among Native Americans, 68; among non-Hispanic whites, 33; and among Asian Americans, 22 (all studies cited in

Religion, cultural norms, access to medical services,  language barriers, and the degree of acculturation (first generation versus third generation) can impact the outcomes.

Studies show that family and culture are very important in the lives of Latina teens. Parents and other family members can be significant in providing positive guidance and emotional support. 

I venture to say that providing an atmosphere of trust, age appropriate information and positive guidance will enhance any young girls development. 

It isn’t easy having a conversation about sex and sexual health, but it is imperative. I scripted out how I was going to discuss menstruation with my daughter when she was nine. I’m so glad I did because she began menstruating a few months later and she was able to tell me and her dad when it happened. (He went out and bought her flowers). 

Having conversations about sexuality, in a series of ongoing discussions, made it so much easier throughout the years with both my daughter and two sons. 

Who had “The Talk” with you? Did you have “The Talk” with your kids? Will you? 

2 thoughts on “Latinas and Sexuality: 70’s style”

  1. It's funny because although my mom can be really nuts and circumvent all sorts of conversations, she had no problem telling me about menstruation. She told me when I was 5 and I really didn't get it. I appreciate that she told me though.

    I remember exactly where we were (in the dining room) and she didn't make a big deal about it. She told me that women bleed and why they bleed and what they use when they are on their period. It was all tied into reproduction, but again I really didn't get it.

    I understood that I would get my period one day and that women got pregnant because of their cycles and sex, but I also thought that if you swallowed a watermelon seed that you could get pregnant that way. My mother never said that you couldn't get pregnant from swallowing a watermelon seed so I thought it was within the realm of possibility. To her credit, I never told her I thought you could get pregnant from swallowing a watermelon seed, but I did always request and prefer seedless watermelons. I felt I was much too young to take on the responsibility of motherhood.


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