Who's Talking To Your Children About Sex?

image for blog entry

Who's Talking To Your Children About S-E-X?

Think back to how you learned about sex.  What do you remember?

If you were lucky enough to grow up in a sex-positive home your parents facilitated an ongoing conversation about sexual health and wellness.  You were encouraged to ask questions and received loving, supportive, and accurate answers to those questions. 

Chances are, however, that wasn’t your reality. 

You either learned about sex in school where the emphasis was on anatomy, disease prevention, and avoiding pregnancy. Or you learned from your friends who were probably misinformed or bragging and exaggerating their experiences. 

If you’re a male you likely learned about sex from porn not realizing that most porn is a highly exaggerated inaccurate representation of real sex.

There was probably very little conversation about topics such as consent, the function of the clitoris (by the way, the sole function of the clitoris is pleasure), or any discussion regarding LGBTQI issues. 

So what's the deal? We are, after all, born sexual beings.  Our sexuality is an integral part of our human experience.  So why don't we have these conversations as early as possible?

Talking to children about sex can be overwhelming and unnerving for most parents. And if your parents shied away from the conversation or overshared about their own sex lives, you may struggle to find the right balance with your children.

Parents often wonder when to introduce the subject and deciding what to say. 

How young is too young?

How much information should I give them?

How do I know if I’m giving TOO much information? 

It’s all so overwhelming!

The Conversation Should Be Ongoing...

Having an ongoing conversation with our children about sex, especially in today’s world, is crucial. 

In 2007, the American Psychological Association discussed a study found in the February Pediatrics (Vol. 119, No. 2, pages 247-257), where attorney Janis Wolak, psychologist Kimberly Mitchell, PhD, and Finkelhor, of the UNH center, “found that 42 percent of a nationally representative sample of 1,500 Internet users ages 10 to 17 had been exposed to online porn.” 

People now estimate that age to be as young as 8 years old. 

The reality of today’s iPad, iPhone, Internet world is our children are being exposed to unrealistic representations of sex via online porn at younger & younger ages. 

If you’re not talking to them about sex, I promise you someone else is talking to them about it.

Inhale, Exhale.  Deep Breaths.

Now take a deep breath because I realize all of this can be overwhelming. 

Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.

The good news is you can be highly influential of the values your children adopt about sex.

Here's how... 

Five Tips On How to Talk to Your Children About Sex

Expand Your Definition of "The Sex Talk": Talking to children about sex shouldn't be limited to procreation. The "Sex Talk" can begin when they're babies! Yes...REALLY!  This begins with using the proper terminology for their body parts, theirs and the opposite sex – penis, vulva, vagina!

Doing so empowers them and establishes a positive attitude about sexual health.  

If we send the message that we’re uncomfortable even using the proper terminology for body parts why would children believe that we would be open to discussing more intimate topics? 

Be Receptive To Their Questions: No matter how uncomfortable you get when your children ask you those tough questions, please DO NOT shame or dismiss them. 

Even though it may be nerve-wracking to take on the topic of sex step back for a moment and consider how much your child values your opinion and trusts you. 

They came to YOU for the answer.

You may even want to tell them how thankful you are they trusted you with such an important question.   

Next let them guide you on how much they know. 

For example, if your child asks, “How do babies come out of their mommy’s bodies?”  Start by asking, “Well, how do you think they come out of the mommy’s body?” 

This will help you to gauge their level of understanding and just how much they want to know. 

(Side note: You can use this approach for all kinds of tough topics including questions regarding death, divorce, etc.)

Define Your Sexual Values:  Cindy Gallop of Make Love Not Porn often poses the question to people, “What are your sexual values?”

She highlights the reality that most families are clear about values regarding responsibility, manners, and work ethic.  If asked what their family values are they may answer: 

“Our family values kindness and hard work. 

Our family values honesty and honoring our promises.”

But what about your family’s sexual values?  It's rare to hear someone quickly answer something along the lines of:

“Our family values the importance of teaching our sons and daughters about consent. 

Our family values having an ongoing discussion with our children about sexual health from birth by using the proper names of their body parts and discussing the changes their body experiences as normal and part of life.”

Don't feel bad if you can't answer what your sexual values are right away.  Most people can't. 

Now take some time to talk to your partner/spouse/co-parent about what YOUR family values include, so you can actively discuss them with your children.

Make Consent Part of The Discussion:  For boys and girls, consent MUST be part of the conversation.  Children should be taught as early as possible that their bodies belong to them and solely them. 

By teaching children that being touched or looked at in a way that makes them uncomfortable is unacceptable they can begin to identify when someone is violating their boundaries.

Take it a step further and teach them that they are neither allowed/entitled to touch anyone else in an unwanted, unsolicited manner.

This can begin by teaching your sons and daughters that they don’t HAVE to hug/kiss someone if they don’t feel like it. 

I know this can be tricky when you come from a culture, like I do, where hugging/ kissing people is a form of greeting one another.  Entering a room without doing so may even be considered disrespectful.  But forcing your child to hug someone against their will disempowers them.  There may be a reason they are uncomfortable with that form of greeting including sensory issues or social anxiety.  There is also the possibility that a child’s boundaries may have already been violated.  Instead, teach them they have the option of a hand wave, hi-five, or that a simple, “hello,” will suffice.  Pay attention to your child's cues.  You need not assume the worst right away, but don't dismiss their discomfort either. 

{Check out the following animated cartoon video that beautifully explains consent: Tea Consent.}

R E L A X:  Again...deep inhale, deep exhale. Repeat.  

Remember, you don’t have to be perfect at this.  You may stumble throughout the conversation and feel flustered.  That’s okay. 

Use the discomfort as a teaching moment with your child. 

Laugh at yourself and don’t take it so seriously. 

If you can have an ONGOING conversation, then there will be hundreds of teachable moments and you don’t have to cram EVERYTHING into one conversation. 

What is most important is that you communicate that you are a safe person to come to with questions and you will provide honest, accurate, non-shaming information. 

Empower your children and be their main source of information instead of having them adopt their sexual values by way of default, via online porn, or their peers.

You can do this. 

Even if your children giggle nervously or roll their eyes, keep the conversation going. 

In the long run, they will be thankful that you did.

Be well and remember to always nurture your relationships.

DISCLAIMER:  THE RELATIONSHIP & SEXUAL WELLNESS CENTER blog is not intended to be a substitute for legal, ethical or medical consultation or for treatment and is strictly for educational and entertainment purposes.  Nothing found on the website or email is a substitute for professional psychological, psychiatric or medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical or mental health condition.