By Maysee Lao, UWO Peer Wellness Educator
Disparities in Sexual Health Education within the Hmong American Culture
As a Hmong-American individual, I can say for myself that education on sexual health is not talked about very often within the Hmong community. There are many factors that contribute to the lack of education on sexual health. NCBI suggests that “…parents’ lack of knowledge, concern that the conversation will go poorly, lack of efficacy, embarrassment, situational constraints and fear of encouraging sexual behavior” are some of these factors.
Many Hmong-American individuals’ parents and grandparents migrated to the United States involuntarily due to the Vietnam war from countries of SouthEast Asia. With that being said, many Hmong parents and grandparents did not receive the same education that we receive today in the United States, which resulted in lack of health education overall. A lot of Hmong-American parents are not at fault as to why their Hmong-American adolescents today are not open or knowledgable on sexual health. The reason why is because back in our parents’ homeland they didn’t have the same resources or education that we receive today. Nowadays, many Hmong-American kids are fortunate enough to receive an education where sexual education is taught. I can speak from experience because my parents are two of many individuals who came from Laos to the United States. Health education wasn’t taught to them in school like it was for me throughout middle and high school.
One other factor that plays a big role is the communication between the parents and their children. It isn’t a norm for families to openly discuss about sexual health, “It is considered impolite to speak directly about sex, and that doing so will embarrass both speaker and listener” (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov). In addition, “Discussions about sexuality were identified as taboo in the Hmong culture most frequently by the older adolescents. They viewed their parents’ lack of discussion as normal.” Because many adolescents in the Hmong-American community don’t grow up having open conversations with their parents whether it has to do with relationships, emotional feelings, and especially sexual health, it is unusual when such things are brought up. It seems to be that this is a recurring event where if the parents don’t talk about it, then when their kids become parents they aren’t open to talking about sexual health topics to their kids as well. It’s important that families slowly try to overcome this discomfort in talking about sexual health so it can become an easy topic to bring up.
According to NCBI, there is research that shows that the more parents are willing to speak to their children about sexuality, the lower the risk is for sexual behavior. It can result in “… engagement in later and less frequent sexual activity, the use contraceptives and/or condoms, and fewer sexual partners.” It is never too late to educate individuals on such topics as these. As time goes on, it seems to be that the newer generation of Hmong-American parents are gradually discussing such topics with their kids more often now because those parents are the ones that grew up in the United States, and the ones who were fortunate enough to receive better education.
Mescheke, LL & Dettmer, K. (2012). ‘Don’t cross a man’s feet’: Hmong parent-daughter communication about sexual health. Sexual Education, 12(1), 109-123.