It's Not Just ONE Talk
Sex Education and Your Kids
One of the challenges of being a parent is talking to our kids about sex. The reality is that our kids are sexual beings, whether we are comfortable with it or not. As a parent, the thought of my kids as sexual beings terrifies me. Nonetheless, I have found it to be much more effective to acknowledge it and embrace each stage by giving age-appropriate knowledge with love. After all, I want my kids to come to me first for accurate information that reflects my values rather than going to the intersex educnet and/or asking their peers. Here are some ideas on how to raise kids who are able to make empowered healthy choices.
The most frequent question I hear as both sex educator and parent is “When should I have the talk?” In short, the earlier the better. Begin by using the proper terms for body parts: penis, testicle, vagina and vulva. As they get older, talk to them about touching genitals- when and where to touch their own- and what is appropriate and inappropriate touch. They need to know that others, especially adults, have no reason to touch their genitals, especially when they are told to keep it a secret. As their bodies change and they are seeing and hearing about sex in the schoolyard and in the media, you can have numerous conversations with them according to their age.
Use Opportunities As They Present Themselves
"Why don't you have a penis?" "What is a condom?" "Do you get a disease if you have sex?" "What does rape mean?" These are all opportunities to discuss sex that my kids have raised themselves. It presents the best time to talk about sex: when your kids are clearly interested (even when it takes you off guard). How you answer the question will depend on their age and what they already know. You want to be clear but not overwhelm them with too much information. Give them the basics and they will follow up with additional questions if they are still interested. If you answer the questions with a warm reception and clear answers, they are more likely to come back to you with future queries.
Pay Attention to Their Environment & Know Your Values
Be clear about the values that you want to convey. Kids are inundated with sexual ideas every day from billboard images of a "desirable" woman or man to the messages in pop songs or in movies to what other kids are saying. Pay attention to what they are watching and listening to. Teach them how to analyze these ideas themselves. I have had many conversations about what they notice in a message on the radio, TV, billboard or what a stranger is saying about who is beautiful or what are valued qualities or the pressures to have sex. These are regular and excellent opportunities to teach them how to see through a message. Let your values communicate that their bodies are wonderful and that their experiences, questions and curiosities are valid and respected.
Get Age-Appropriate Books
An easy way to bring up the topic of sex is through books. "It's Not the Stork" is a fabulous animated fun book for 4 year olds with sequels for 7 and 10 year olds. "The Little Black Book for Girls/ Guys" are two books written by Toronto teens for teens. As they get older, some kids don't want to talk with us about everything, so having books around that contain messages that you feel good about will give them more to explore and learn. It also shows them that you are receptive to talking about sex and leaves the door open to them approaching you with additional questions.
All Parents Are Sex Educators
You are your kids' primary role models and your kids are learning from you every day- about interacting, intimacy, touch, and communication between partners. Any parent can talk to their children, regardless of age or gender. While a mom might not be able to address what a wet dream feels like or a dad may not be able to say what it is like to menstruate, you can still impart your values and valuable information about those experiences from your perspective. And like anything important that your kids ask, if you don't know the answer, find out. Look it up together on a trusted website or do some research and get back to them. Acknowledge that it was a good question and that you want to get them the correct answer.
Kids who know about sex tend to delay having sex Is all of this sex talk going to encourage them to be sexual? Rest assured that this is not the case. In fact, studies show that kids who learn about sex generally wait longer before having sex than their peers who are not educated about it. And all of these talks are excellent ways to build intimacy and connection with your kids in ways that you can feel good about and where you can control and enhance the messages that they get as they grow into sexual adulthood. That is something worth celebrating!
Carlyle Jansen is the founder of Good For Her, a sexuality s hop and workshop centre in Toronto. If you hae questions or comments she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or go online to goodforher.com