Do you remember when you had the sex talk with your parents? How about at school? You might not have learned what you hoped for but didn’t realize it until you were much older. What is the sex education you wished you received when you were younger?
There is a misconception that by talking about sex you’re putting the idea in the child’s head. The idea is already there because it’s part of normal adolescent sexual development. Stop thinking about the talk as an event and that you have only one opportunity to give your child all the information they need. Start thinking of it as a process. You always have the opportunity to circle back around to add more information. If you’re caught completely off-guard and not sure of the answer, promise your child you’ll get back to them—and follow through.
It’s never too early to start teaching children body boundaries and the correct names for their body parts, including their genitals. When you’re giving your child a bath or changing their diaper, state matter-of-factly, “This is your nose, this is your stomach, this is your penis, etc.” It’s confusing for children to have other names for some body parts and not for others. When you teach a child the anatomical names for their genitals they have no overwhelming shame or shyness around that part of the body. If a child gives their genitals a name, such as “cookie”, and they report inappropriate touching, an adult they report it to may not take the matter seriously. In addition, children do need to know that their genitals are private and nobody else should be touching them except caregivers and the doctor for health and cleanliness reasons. Give your children permission to say no to those who want to touch their genitals.
Teach your children the basics of puberty and what to expect before they get there. Try to take advantage of what is called “teachable moments.” When your child finds a feminine hygiene product, explain to them what it is and how to use it. When your children have body changes, discuss them. Take some time to talk about the overwhelming emotional changes that can make puberty such a bumpy ride too. The car can be a great place to have these conversations.
Monitor what your children are watching on television, online, and on their electronic devices. Talk to your child about sex scenes in movies or television shows. Talk about relationship topics in the media. When they offer their opinions, listen non-judgmentally.
If you wait for your children to start asking questions, it may be too late. Some children just don’t think to ask, or your silence may be sending a message that it’s a taboo subject. A good way to start a conversation is to read an illustrated children’s book together about reproduction. While they may not admit it, children still want support and guidance from their parents. No matter how awkward it may be to talk to them about sexuality, do it anyway. You want your children to learn about sex in the context of feelings and relationships.