Ahhh, the classic birds and the bees talk that every parent looks forward to. As therapists, we see many parents struggle with this topic, causing some to avoid the topic altogether. Talking about sex openly in America is a taboo. Some parents are afraid that by talking about sex will cause their children to think about and consequently have sex. Rest assured, this is a myth! If your child does not learn about sex from you, they will learn about sex from peers and others. Take your chance in talking to your children first, before others potentially misinform them. Here's a few tips to help you get started:
1. Be calm and Relaxed
Your child looks to you on how to respond to situations. If you talk to them about sex in a ridged manner, they may receive a message that sex is bad. This message may follow them into their adult life which can lead to an unhealthy sexual appetite. If you respond with anxiety or anger related to this topic, they may leave in confusion and fear about ever coming to an adult to speak about sex at all. If you stay calm and confident while talking to your child about sex, chances are your child will respect and value what you say and feel comfortable coming to you with further questions or concerns regarding the topic.
2. Let them ask questions
This is a topic not discussed by many adults in a child's life. Most likely, you are the first (and only) adult to talk to them about sex; therefore, they likely have many questions about the reality of sex. Be prepared for a lot of questions, even questions that may catch you off guard. Letting your child ask questions gives the child some power in the conversation and helps ensure that all of their questions are answered, so they don't have to turn to peers, or worse, explore, to get the answers themselves. If they say they do not know what to ask, ask them what they know about sex, and go from there.
A lot of how kids get (mis)information from the internet and their peers. Take this time to teach them what you want them to know about sex. You can take this time to teach them what values you and your family have about sex. Educate them on the reality of sexually transmitted diseases and the potential for conception. Warn them about peer pressure and the difference between a relationship about love vs a relationship about lust. Ask them what they already know about sex, and help them with areas they may be confused with.
4. Use the correct anatomical words
It is common for parents to use terms like "cookie" or "hoo-hoo" with their toddlers. However, it is important to use anatomically correct terms in order for their to be no confusion on the topic. If a child needs to report someone violating their private areas, but uses the word "cookie," the information may get lost in translation.
5. Only explain what they need to know
Developmentally, each age group needs to know a little bit more or less when it comes to talking about sex. For instance, a 3 year old does not need to know the logistics of sex, because developmentally they will not be able to understand. But, believe it or not, talking about sex should start as early as 12 months! Here is a rough schedule of what to say and when to say it, but keep in mind every child is different and may need to hear each topic sooner, depending on development & environment:
- Age 0-4: use correct anatomical names & redirect immodest behavior (lifting shirt in public).
- Age 5-7: discuss male vs female parts, talk about good touches vs bad touches (sexual assault) & teach them how to report if wrongly touched.
- Age 8-10: educate children on the reality & dangers of porn and sexual predators on the internet, also remind children of what sexual abuse looks like .
- Age 11-12: educate on how the body & emotions changes during puberty, what healthy romantic relationships look like, and talk about how their bodies may experience sexual desires.
- Age 13+: discuss the physical acts of sex, how sexually transmitted diseases can be passed (oral and penetration), and the importance of protection if engaging in intercourse.
Educating your children about sex is one of the most important jobs you have as a parent. This is where you as a parent get to play an important role in teaching the values of sex and how to remain healthy and safe. It is important for your child to feel comfortable to come to you with their questions or concerns so that they can have you as a guide. Regardless of whether you want your child to know about sex, they will learn about it, so now is your time to ensure they are getting accurate information from the one that cares the most about them!