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? 

Cervical Cancer Awareness, Chingona, Health, HPV, Latinas and cervical cancer, Latino culture, PAP test, sexual health

Chingonas and their Health

“Improving health” is usually a top resolution for the new year. Maintaining a healthy body all year round is also good idea. 

 It’s important to remember that much of your health and wellness is in your own beautiful hands. A wise woman, a real chingona, will take care of her health.

Information and awareness are primary tools needed to help combat potential health issues. So let’s start by discussing National Cervical Cancer Awareness Month (January). 

Latinas are more likely to develop and die of cervical cancer because they are less likely to have access to early screening and early treatment or be able to pay for vaccines, screenings, or treatment. 

Based on personal experience there is also a cultural norm that may be true for other Latinas: The issue of sexuality is often a taboo subject, one that is not discussed between Latina mothers and daughters. This impacts information and awareness of sexual health. 

If I took a poll of twenty of my female relatives and friends and asked “Did your mother have a discussion with you about birth control, sexual health, or let you know it was okay to go to the doctor to get a pap test?” The answer, after snickering, a few “humpf,” and eye rolling, would be “NO.” 

The “sex” conversation is usually, “Don’t come home pregnant…I’m not going to babysit kids…keep your legs closed…” or no conversation. But that is another story for another time. 
Poverty, poor access, and lack of health coverage are a triple threat to all women.Each year approximately 12,000 women get cervical cancer in the U.S. This cancer, caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), is sexually transmitted

It can take weeks, months, or even years after exposure to HPV before symptoms develop or the virus is detected.

HPV is so common that most people get it at some time in their lives, but don’t know they have the virus since it usually causes no symptoms. In 90% of cases, the body’s immune system clears HPV naturally within two years.

When HPV infections are not cleared from your body, it can cause genital warts, cervical cancer, or other cancers of the reproductive system.

The types of HPV that can cause genital warts are not the same as the types that can cause cancers. There is no way to know which people who have HPV will go on to develop cancer or other health problems.

              Prevention is always better than treatment. See this site for more information.

. Think of these as more tools that can help you lower your risk for cervical cancer:

  1. Two FDA approved vaccines, Cervarix and Gardasil, are available to protect females against the types of HPV that cause most cervical cancers. One of these vaccines (Gardasil) also protects against most genital warts. Either vaccine is recommended for girls as young as 9 years of age through 26 years. Approximately 35% of girls and young women who are eligible for these vaccines have completed the three-dose series.
  2. One available vaccine (Gardasil) protects males against most genital warts and cancers. Gardasil is recommended for 11 and 12 year-old boys, and for males 13 through 26 years of age, who did not get any or all of the shots when they were younger.
  3. Condoms may lower the risk of HPV or developing HPV-related diseases, such as genital warts and cervical cancer. But HPV can infect areas that are not covered by a condom , so condoms may not fully protect against HPV.
  4. Maintaining a faithful relationship with one partner, limiting number of sex partners, and choosing a partner who has had no or few prior sex partners. But even people with only one lifetime sex partner can get HPV. 
  5. The only sure way to prevent HPV is to avoid all sexual activity.

Cervical cancer usually does not have symptoms until it is quite advanced. This makes routine cervical cancer screening and follow-up of abnormal results critical. The Pap test can find abnormal cells on the cervix so that they can be removed before cancer develops.

The Pap test is recommended for all women between the ages of 21 and 65 years old. 
If you are older than 65 and have had normal Pap test results for several years, or if you have had your cervix removed as part of a total hysterectomy for non-cancerous conditions, like fibroids, your doctor may tell you that you do not need to have a Pap test anymore.

The good news is that cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers: when caught early, the five-year survival rate is nearly 100 percent.

Planned Parenthood health centers also offer affordable health care and confidential services like HPV vaccinations and Pap tests to women and teens. Many health insurance companies cover the vaccine, and some programs allow people without insurance to be vaccinated for little to no cost.

If you have a low income or do not have health insurance, you may be able to get a free or low-cost Pap test through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. Find out if you qualify at this CDC site.
Now go out and share the information, schedule your own pap test, and/or open up the conversation about sexual health with your own kids. Make “Health” a resolution you will keep.