Are you at a point in your parenting where you need to figure out how to talk to your child about sex? We have the tips you need to be successful at it!
How to Talk to Your Child About Sex
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Could there be a more daunting task for a parent than helping their child learn about healthy sexuality and how to keep themselves safe in our sexual world?
Maybe you don’t know if your child is old enough to start learning about sex, or maybe you’ve been a victim of a sexual act and don’t feel comfortable discussing the topic.
I was raised in a household where sex was never discussed. I was so fearful to bring up topics related to sex that I didn’t even tell my mom I had started my period until months later!
When I became sexually active as an adult, I realized how clueless I actually was about the sexual act. I looked back over previous years and remembered situations that had confused me because I had been so naive.
At that point, I knew I wanted to be different with my own children by teaching and protecting them with facts. The conversations felt uncomfortable at first because I hadn’t been taught to speak openly about the subject, but now I’m able to discuss the topic easily with my 4 children and they feel comfortable asking me questions.
If you are feeling apprehensive about discussing sex with your child, we hope to ease some of your fears and help you get the conversation started. We want to arm you with the ability to be your child’s first and best resource!
WHO should teach my child about sex?
Ideally, you! Hopefully, you have a close relationship with your child and feel comfortable bringing up any conversation with them. The best education can often come from the parents, but this is not always the case. In some situations, parents may feel so much anxiety about the topic that the school educational system may be the best option.
When parents don’t discuss sex with their child for various reasons, school maturation programs and health classes can help children understand the differences in the genders and the basics of puberty. Unfortunately, since most of these programs don’t start until around 5th grade, many kids hear incorrect information from peers and aren’t as prepared for the changes that occur during puberty.
Your home is the ideal setting for teaching children about sex because it’s not a matter of “if” someone will teach our children about sex, but who, what and when.
If our children are completely naive about the topic of sex, their first exposure to sex may come from graphic material on the internet or a peer who takes advantage of them. In these cases, the event can be traumatic for them.
When you approach the subject of sex with your child, you are able to teach it within the context of your value system. What you consider appropriate may be different from your next-door neighbor, so it’s important for your child to know the boundaries you expect from them.
Counselors claim that we often talk to our children 1-2 years behind their actual developmental age because we want to keep them innocent, but their peers are speaking to them 1-2 years ahead of their developmental age. We need to get ahead of the game!
WHY is it important to talk to my child about sex?
Put simply, we live in an oversexualized world. In just a couple of generations, the views about sexuality in our country have changed dramatically. Our children live in a different world than we may have grown up in. They are receiving destructive and false messages from many different angles on a daily basis. With the introduction of the internet, our children have been exposed to an adult world. Even if we are able to keep our children somewhat shielded from the destructive messages on the internet, they are picking up on them from their peers, magazines, and billboards.
Let’s talk about pornography for a moment. Did you realize that children’s initial viewing of pornography happens between 8-11 years old? This article from the American College of Pediatrics has some sobering statistics, and unfortunately, the trends have increased in severity since many of these studies were conducted.
Advantages of Parent-Led Sex Education
Now that we’ve talked about some of the concerns, let’s discuss the advantages for kids who receive sexual education from their parents. Hopefully, these encourage you!
Advantages while your kids are still young:
- Feel more positive about their bodies.
- More likely to talk to you about other things as well.
- Less likely to be the target of sexual abuse and more likely to disclose sexual abuse
- Won’t be so fearful of puberty
- More likely to understand appropriate and inappropriate behaviors
The advantages don’t stop there, however. Here are the advantages for teenagers who began receiving sexual education from their parents when they were young.
- More likely to wait until older to engage in sexual activity
- More aware of how to prevent pregnancies, avoid getting STDs
- First sexual experience is planned and wanted
WHAT do I say when discussing sex with my child?
First, figure out what your values are concerning sex. Do you want your child to feel comfortable with their body and understand the differences between the genders? Is it important to you to teach your child anatomically-correct names for sexual organs? Do you feel comfortable having your child touch their private parts while around other people?
One thing that experts recommend is to never treat sex like it is wrong or dirty. Some of us may have received information from our parents that made us feel as if sex is bad. So when we began to have sexual feelings and thoughts, we felt guilty. This teaching method may be damaging to children’s future sexual experiences. In order for children to develop healthy feelings about sexuality, they need to know that sexual feelings are good!
Start the Conversation
One of the best ways to start a conversation with your child about sex is to ask them questions so you can assess their current understanding about sex. Take their age into account before deciding what questions to ask, but some examples may include:
- What have you heard about sex from your friends or other people?
- Does sex seem confusing to you? How can I help you understand the act of sex better?
- Do you have any questions about some of the ways your body will change as you grow up?
- Has anyone ever touched you in a way that you didn’t like?
- What could you say to someone who is touching you in ways you don’t like? What if you are told you not to tell anyone else about the touching? Who are some people in your life that would be safe to tell about a situation that made you feel sad or “yucky?”
What do you know about pornography?
- How have you felt when you’ve seen someone naked on a computer or phone, in a movie, or in a magazine? (It’s very important for children to understand that sexual feelings are healthy, normal, and exciting, but that those feelings are best kept within the bounds you feel are most appropriate)
- Have you ever had good feelings when you’ve touched yourself in certain ways? Why do you think certain areas of our body feel good when touched?
It’s probably best to only ask one question in a discussion and save the other questions for another time so your child doesn’t feel overloaded. Also, try to have the conversation remain a back-and-forth discussion, rather than turning into a lecture.
When your child asks a question regarding sex, an easy way to refrain from lecturing is to turn the question back on them by asking a question.
For example, if your child asks, “What is sex?” you can respond with something such as, “I’m glad you asked me that question! I would like to discuss it with you because it’s an important topic. What do you already know about sex?” This way you can find out where they heard about sex and what they’ve already heard (which may be incorrect).
The absolute best way to help children learn about healthy relationships is to have a healthy relationship with your own partner. That doesn’t mean children ever need to know what happens in your bedroom, but it is very healthy for children to see you be affectionate with each other in other ways.
Keep it Comfortable
If your child shares an exposure to pornography or a sexual experience with you, try not to freak out. Let’s say you’re helping your 4-year-old daughter wash her hair in the bathtub when she mentions that one of the boys in her preschool class showed her his penis.
Your initial response might be to look completely shocked and start attacking your daughter with questions. “He showed you his penis? That is disgusting! I’m calling his mother right now!” If you respond with anger, shock, or disgust, you may create feelings of shame in your child, which will prevent them from coming to you with future concerns.
If you are able to keep your composure in moments like this, you can actually strengthen your relationship with your child by thanking them for trusting you enough to share their experience. After reassuring the child and gathering more information about the event, you can respond with any action necessary.
Sometimes your child may ask a question, but you don’t feel they are prepared or old enough for the answer. It’s always OK to say, “That’s a great question, but I’m not sure you could understand everything about the answer at your age. I would love to discuss it with you when you are a little older.” Then mention that you would like to answer the question when the child is a certain age.
Make sure you actually bring up the topic again at that age, so they develop trust that you are willing to answer their questions.
WHEN should I start discussing sex with my child?
Sex is not a separate part of life that we can ignore until we think our child may be acting inappropriately. It should be a part of our normal conversations, rather than a once-a-year (or worse: once a childhood) topic.
If you start discussions about sexual body parts early, there will never be a time when the child feels like they are getting “the talk.” Even 2-year-olds can understand basic discussions about appropriate touch and who is allowed to touch them.
As far as discussions about puberty and the physical act of sex, many experts say that children need these facts by at least the age of 8. Remember, however, that discussions at this age don’t need to include all the details that may need to be given at older ages.
The world has integrated sex into nearly every conversation. Shouldn’t we do the same if we want to combat the unhealthy messages our children receive?
HOW can I discuss sex with my child if I don’t feel comfortable?
First, try to remember that the benefits outweigh the discomfort. Remember earlier in the article when I mentioned that teenagers tend to delay having sex when they’ve had a parent educate them about the topic throughout their childhood? Let that fact give you the encouragement to get the discussion started! Truth is, your older child may feel uncomfortable at times also.
If you didn’t begin having the discussions with them at a very young age, don’t get discouraged.
It’s never too late to start!
The best way to make you and your child feel comfortable is to bring up the subject at a fairly random time when you may be discussing something related to the topic.
Kids pick up on our apprehensive ways of speaking, so start with short, well-thought-out discussions until you feel more comfortable. Your confidence and ease during the discussions will encourage your child to have further discussions with you in the future.
WHERE can I find more information to help me discuss sex with my child?
There are some fantastic books on the market that can help you start discussions with your child.
Resources for Adults:
Check out these amazing resources for parent preparation from SexEd Rescue!
Written by Laura and Richard Eyre
SexEd Quickies – Application that has ALL the answers to any question your child might throw at you!
Resources for Younger Children:
Written by Laurie Krasny Brown
Written by Robie H. Harris and Michael Emberley
Written by Peter Mayle
Resources for Older Children and Pre-teens:
Books for Boys:
Written by Cara Natterson
Written by Kelli Dunham, R.N.
Written by Peter Mayle and Lyle Stuart
Books for Girls:
Written by Adah Nuchi
Written by Margaret Blackstone and Elissa Haden Guest
Written by Valorie Shaefer
Written by Cara Natterson
Do you feel better prepared to be your child’s first and best resource on the topic of sex? We hope so! You will never regret developing an open relationship with your child. It will help you stay connected to them during those often-difficult teenage years. We wish you the best of luck!
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