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Talking To Your Kids About Sex & Sexuality

Talking To Your Kids About Sex & Sexuality

Communication, Culture, Education

For a lot of parents talking to their kids about sex and sexuality is the very definition of awkward. Fortunately, however, there is a way to approach the subject matter with a minimum amount of discomfiture. More importantly, there is significant value for kids when parents ensure these conversations are ongoing. Clear and consistent messages about their bodies, desires and functions set kids up to feel positive about their own bodies from the get-go, and, as they grow and mature, to make conscious, well informed decisions that protect their sexual health and integrity.

Here are five suggestions to help shape and inform the way you talk to your kids about sex and sexuality:

First, gather your thoughts

Before you engage your child or children, take some private time to consider your own point of view on sexuality and sex. Do you view the subject positively or negatively? Think about how and when you first learned about sexuality and how it may have shaped your views. Once you have done some soul-searching (and possibly rid yourself of some childhood baggage), formulate a clear, conversational approach that places a premium on imbuing your child with self-confidence rather than shame or embarrassment.

Do not use cutesy language

One of the most important things you can do for your child is to refer to body parts using their proper names. When you do so, you indicate that there is nothing to be embarrassed or shy about, which fosters positive body image and self-confidence. More importantly, it opens the pathways of communication, which means children are more empowered should the need arise to communicate an incident of abuse, for example.

Be casual and consistent

Forgo the urge to tackle the subject all at once. Instead, make it part of your daily life. For example, talk freely during normal conversations and activities when appropriate. Do not shy away from using TV shows, music videos and overheard conversations when looking for an opportunity to engage on the topic. Encourage your child to come to you with any questions they may have and be sure to listen carefully to what they say,even if it means biting your tongue occasionally. The respect you give their feelings will teach them that their perspective is valuable. Make it a point to keep things fun while you are at it, too. It is totally acceptable and encouraged to get a little silly with things if it helps.

Give your child freedom to explore

The innocence of youth is real and kids should not be shamed or embarrassed for their natural curiosity. There is nothing wrong with a child exploring his or her body – and letting you know about it how it feels – so try and react accordingly with acceptance and encouragement when they inevitably do. Do not embarrass or scold your child during these times as it can lead to them feeling ashamed, fearful and insecure. These feelings will shape their views on sexuality and hinder their ability to grow into healthy, sex-positive adults. Encourage your child to embrace their senses, too – to take pleasure in creature comforts like a warm bath or the feeling of the sun on their skin.

Keep it age-appropriate

Parents must use their own judgment when it comes to determining what is an appropriate level of knowledge for their kids at different stages of development. On the plus side, there is a lot to discuss at varying stages. Sex education is not only about reproduction, sexually transmitted infections and contraception. It is a vast subject matter that includes discussions about love, pleasure, consent, preferences, self-image, gender stereotypes, what constitutes healthy boundaries, relationships and more.

Here are some general guidelines for talking to kids about sex at different stages in their development:

Birth to age 2: infants are curious about their own bodies and will often touch their genitals, and baby males experience regular erections. Toddlers have no sense of privacy and may masturbate quite openly. These behaviors are normal and parents should not feel the need to interfere with these explorations, or cast them in anything but a positive light.

3 to 4 years: at this age, many children touch themselves for comfort or pleasure. On such occasions, parents can make a point to reassure the child that self-exploration is normal, while at the same time, gently informing them to do so in private. Questions like “where did I come from?” may emerge and offer an opportunity to touch on how babies are made, albeit for a preschool mindset.

6 to 8 years: children in this age group vary widely in their curiosity about the facts of life, and they’re also exposed to a lot of information (and misinformation) from TV, films, and other kids. It is a parent’s job to put these subjects in context and to answer questions with solid, accurate information. Curiosity-focused sex play with friends of both sexes is common and it is important not to scold your child if you catch them playing doctor, as these explorations are more about curiosity than sexual activity. Gently explain that privates are private and that touching one another’s body parts is off-limits. At this point, the answer to the “how are babies made?” question can include a brief description of sexual intercourse.

9 to 12 years: in this age group, children require solid, factual information about puberty,everything from body changes to menstruation, and wet dreams. Keep in mind that children develop at different ages – some females get their periods as young as 9 and 10 and need to be reassured they are normal. Many are anticipating dating and are ready to begin learning about sexual decision-making, STIs and pregnancy prevention, too. They are often interested in how the media presents sexuality and conversations about dealing with that influence provides an opportunity to introduce ideas about healthy sexual behavior, the principles of good relationships and body confidence.

13 to 18 years: these are the years when most teens make a foray into the world of dating, and as a result, they need both fact-based information and compassionate support to make conscious, informed decisions that protect their sexual health. Sexual orientation also emerges and all teens need assurance that they are loved regardless of sexual preference. Parents should be receptive to any overtures their teens make to talk—nothing shuts down a teenager like a lecture from a parent. The topic of consent should be introduced using clear examples of what it means and your teen should know about different forms of contraception and where to get it. Studies show that well-informed teens are more likely to wait longer before becoming sexually active and to use contraceptives when they do.

And remember: it takes a village. If you are ever at a loss, talk to your friends, family members, family physician, teachers, community agencies, or your local certified sexologist for support.

 

Sexology International, like all of our work, is for people of all sexual preferences and all forms of gender expression, including people whose identity is something other than male or female. As such, we like to use gender-neutral pronouns. More recently accepted alternatives include words like “ze” and “hir” or the universal pronoun “they.” Throughout our work, we will be doing our best to use alternative pronouns, such as “they,” whenever gender or plurality is unimportant. In doing so we hope it helps everyone to feel included in the discussion and that it inspires you to think outside of traditional sex and gender binaries.



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