Why you should talk to your kids about sex early and often
Talking to your kids about sex is not easy, but it is very important. As a parent you are the most important influence on a child’s or teen’s life decisions. That includes sex and relationships. You are more important than siblings, their friends, or media. Your help and guidance can help them make smart, healthy choices as they grow up. Being transparent and open about talking about sex will also help you open up conversations with your kids about other difficult subjects so that in the future they know they can come for you for advice and support. Talk to them early and often, and don’t forget – not everything has to be resolved in one conversation. Utilizing this methodology means you won’t have to have the dreaded “Talk” later in life that will just be one big awkward/emotional experience for everyone. Having small talks over time mean that conversations will be more natural and comfortable for all involved.
You will also find that your kids will have different concerns or questions as they grow older. The topics or conversations will change. Just be ready to answer their questions openly and honestly. Listen to their opinions, even if you don’t agree with them or share them. Things that come up on television or topics that come up in music are great conversation starters. Don’t shame your kids for any questions or notions they might voice during these conversations. And lastly – be honest and open about how you are feeling in the process as well. If you are feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable or don’t know the answer – it is ok to say so. They will also likely ask fewer and fewer questions as they get older, so it is better to start when they are young.
Walk a Mile in Their Shoes
Put yourself in your kiddo’s shoes. What were you like at that age? Do you remember thinking about sex and puberty? Do you remember trying to talk to your parents or caregivers about it? Do you remember what questions or insecurities you had at the time? What about school? Did they teach you anything? This is likely very similar to what your child is going through as well. But don’t assume. Make sure to ask them what their experiences are. When you can relate to them on this level, respect is flowing in both directions.
Use the right terms for body parts
Don’t use “code words” to refer to your child’s genitalia. Make sure that they know what the medical terms/real names of their body parts are. Words like “cookie,” “wiener,” “muffin,” and “eggs” are best left to describing your dinner. If you can call a leg a leg, you can call a vulva a vulva and a penis a penis. When kids know the proper terms for their genitals, they can more easily explain to you when something is wrong. Not to mention that not naming their body parts makes it seem like it is shameful or taboo to talk about them. Make sure that your kids feel comfortable coming to you to talk.
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Don’t wait until they are “old enough”
Don’t tell them “you’re too young to understand,” or “you’ll learn about that when you get older.” They will learn that you won’t talk to them so they will find another source to get their information. Do you really want someone else to have control over how and what your kids learn about sex? (Unless, of course, they are a certified sex educator.) It’s possible your child has seen or heard something you think is not “age appropriate,” and if you don’t explain the situation or concept, they might think that hurtful behavior is normal and acceptable.
Puberty is different for each child, (girls will notice changes between the ages of 9 – 13, boys usually between the ages of 10 – 15), but make sure to tell them that puberty is a normal part of growing up. Their bodies and feelings change and you can even tell them about your own experiences to make a connection with them.
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Dating and Relationships
Whatever age you think it is ok for your kid to have relationships and start dating, you should have a conversation about it beforehand. Talk to them about what is appropriate and healthy in a relationship. Help them to identify what they should look for in a relationship and in a partner. This may include talking about same sex relationships. Flat out refusing to allow them to date until they are “old enough” might backfire on you. What’s the first thing a teenager is going to do when you tell them not to do something? They will do it just to spite you behind your back where you can’t be there to protect them if something goes wrong. Have a long hard think about what age feels right to you. Why do you think that is the correct age? And don’t forget to walk in your kid’s shoes to think about how they might feel. Have this discussion with your child/teen. Maturity comes at different ages for everyone, so no one person is the same, but knowing your experiences in the past might help yourself and your child make healthy decisions.
Shop for dating & relationship books here.
Preventing STDs and Pregnancy
You want your children to have the right information to make the right decisions. This includes information about pregnancies and various STDs and how to avoid them. So talk about birth control and condom use. Again, you want to have these conversations before they start engaging in sexual behavior.
Be positive and don’t focus on the negative
The most important rule. When your child starts talking about sex-related subjects, don’t freak out! Stay calm. Don’t roll your eyes, or sigh, or scoff, or be dismissive. If you cause a big stir when they start talking about these things, they will assume that they shouldn’t be talking to you about them at all and they will get their information elsewhere. Tell your kids, “I’m glad you asked that,” or “That’s a good question”, and if you need a little bit more time to think about your answer tell them, “I would like to make sure that I give you the right answer to your question, so let me think about this for a couple of days/hours and get back to you”, and make sure to get back to them.
If they have a positive experience when asking about a difficult or maybe even embarrassing subject then they will go to you every time. They might otherwise assume sexual topics or questions are something to be ashamed of. A lot of times when we talk about sex with the younger generation we tend to focus on disease & pregnancy prevention, and consent. While these are important issues that need to be discussed, don’t focus only on the “bad side” of sex. Let your children know that sex should be pleasurable, and they deserve a partner who will respect them. Tell them that they deserve to engage in sexual activity when they feel that they are ready and are being respected, not when they feel pressured by someone.
Myth: If I talk to my kids about sex they will want to do it.
Fact: No child ever said, “Hearing my parents talk about sex suddenly makes me want to do it!” Come on. I know adults that don’t want to even think about their parents having sex. The fact is, studies show that teenagers who talk to their parents about sex are more likely to delay having sex until they are older and are more likely to make healthier choices (like using condoms) once they chose to have sex.
Myth: My kids are too young to learn about sex.
Fact: Teaching kids about sex doesn’t always involve intercourse. Small children can still learn about their sexual anatomy and some very basic things about where babies come from without ever learning about intercourse. You want to meet your children where they are. More complex ideas will just go over the head of small children. We offer sex ed that is age appropriate for every developmental phase of life. Not only that, talking to young children about consent early can stop abuse from happening in its tracks.
Myth: Sex ed is just about sex. (Intercourse)
Fact: Sex ed can be applied to many aspects of our lives. Consent is a great example. You can teach their children that they hold autonomy over their own bodies by teaching them that they can consent to things such as hugging and tickling. By stopping when they say no, you are teaching them that saying no means something. Self-esteem is another great example for pre-teens and teens going through puberty. Body image is a part of sex ed, and teaching your kids that there are all kinds of bodies and that’s ok, is a way to make sure they are mentally healthy individuals.