Opportunity Knocks: Creating a Safe Space for Talking with Youth about Sex

Date: September 21st, 2012

Gina Desiderio

This blog post is the second in of a three-part series (see also: Part 1, Part 3) highlighting Healthy Teen Network’s resources on using teachable moments to reach youth, through our Opportunity Knocks resources, including a fact sheet and pre-packaged, fully designed presentation, ready for you to use.  The Opportunity Knocks series is based on Healthy Teen Network’s belief that with accurate information and adequate support, young people can make healthy and responsible decisions about having sex and using contraception. Adults can be most effective by providing the information and support needed to promote responsible decision-making in youth and help ensure transition to adulthood is safe and healthy.

Confidentiality is the first step in creating a safe space, but you’ll want to try to build a safe space, to help build an ongoing relationship, in other ways, too.  Create a safe space to talk about sex. Use verbal and body language that signals that you are receptive to discussion about teen sex and sexuality.

For example:

  1. Clarify what is being asked.
  2. Determine why they are asking the question.
  3. Affirm them for asking.  It’s okay to talk about sex!
  4. Be aware of your own boundaries.
  5. Give direct responses.
  6. Use positive body language
  7. Be accessible for future opportunities to interact
  8. Bring it up!  Open the door to conversation.  For example: Relate to a media event or something from pop culture (e.g., tv show, movie, song, etc.)
  9. Keep it private: a one-on-one conversation may be best.  Remember your organization’s (or credentialing agency, state law, etc.) policy regarding confidentiality.

Some tips for body language, to support a safe space:

  1. Stop working, typing, etc.
  2. Make frequent eye contact, as appropriate, but avoid staring
  3. Face youth squarely
  4. Nod, as appropriate
  5. Use appropriate facial expressions
  6. Don’t cross your arms
  7. Lean in, but don’t stand too close
  8. Don’t fidget
  9. Be aware of cultural differences.  It’s important to note that cultural differences can make a difference in how body language is interpreted, so it’s important to be aware of the appropriate body language as relevant to the youth with whom you are speaking.

What other tips do you have about creating a safe space to talk with youth?


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About the Author

Gina Desiderio, Healthy Teen Network Director of Communications, has over 10 years of capacity-building and project management experience, supporting professionals to provide programs and services to empower youth to thrive.

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