Talking with our kids about sex and sexuality can start at a very young age. Children are curious about their bodies and they want to understand what it means to be a boy or a girl. Children also begin to question different kinds of relationships from an early age. This curiosity provides a natural place to begin building a respectful and trusting conversation about sex. A good place to start the discussion is to teach our children the proper vocabulary for their body parts and explain how they may differ based on the gender they were born with. These early conversations create a safe space for the more-complicated future talks as their body changes and develops.
It is important to talk to our children about sex in an age appropriate way. When your five-year-old asks you where babies come from, you may want to give less detail than when they ask the same question at age ten. Encourage your child to lead the conversation. Providing age appropriate material makes them understand it’s a natural part of human development and decreases body shame. There are three main ideas you should keep in mind while discussing sex with your child at any age.
- Let them know it is okay to ask you anything – and then really let it be ok when they believe you and proceed to ask you anything!
- Listen to them closely and inquire about what they already know, “That’s an interesting question, what have you heard about that already?” Let them know that you are interested in their perspective and respect their opinion.
- Promise your child that you will always tell them the truth, so they can trust the information you provide. This confidence that they will always get the correct information from you will encourage them to keep coming back to you for the answers they need.
- Remember you do not have to have all of the answers, “I don’t know, we should look up the answer together” is a great response that will let your child feel confident it is important to you to give them the right answers.
Talking to our children about sexuality should be a lifelong conversation. Many parents are concerned about where to start the conversation about sex or sexuality. The good news is that it is never too early or too late. Since our children are inundated with messages about sex more than ever, it is important to communicate to our children what our family’s values are and how they may differ from that of society. The more comfortable you are engaging your child in discussions surrounding sexuality; the more open they will be to express their feelings.
As our children become teens many have a false belief that they need us less, when in fact they need more support and guidance than ever. This applies to the topics of sex and sexuality as well. Research shows that teens who talk to their parents about sex usually delay sexual activity, have fewer partners, and use condoms and other contraceptives when they do have sex. This is essential as more than 2,000 teens become pregnant in the US every day. Teens also have high rates of sexually transmitted diseases. In fact, about 9.5 million adolescents and young adults (ages 15–24) are diagnosed with sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) each year. For more information about the effect open conversations about sex can have on your child sexual behavior click here.
It’s also important to know that one out of four families has someone in the family who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. Even more families have children who question their sexuality as they develop. This process often leads to feelings of insecurity, anxiety and depression. Help your child feel safe, secure and loved as they grow and explore their sexuality. As their parent, you can be the first to identify such stressors and begin to alleviate them simply by listening. Your child probably feels alone and scared. You can help by validating their feelings; assure them that they are okay. Encourage your child to be patient and kind to themselves as they explore their feelings about their sexuality. It often takes time to know who you are. There is no need to rush.
If you as a parent are conflicted or have negative feelings about your child’s sexuality, you are not alone. There are many supportive resources available to assist you as your child develops. Many parents utilize resources available at PFLAG. It is an organization that offers support for parents who are having a hard time understanding, accepting and celebrating their LGBT or children who are questioning their sexuality. It is often very helpful to speak to parents who are experiencing the same process.
Talking to your child about sex may be intimidating, but the first conversation is always the hardest. Once you’ve had that initial conversation, each one that follows will become easier. It’s probably easiest to start when your child is young and doesn’t have a lot of complicated questions, but it’s never too late. Try to be as open as you can with your child and encourage them to be open to you. Don’t judge them! If they feel they can’t talk to you – they won’t. Take the first step, your relationship with your child will benefit and it will be worth those few awkward moments. But, above all else, trust your instincts. This is YOUR child and no one knows better than you what she needs.
If you feel you need additional information or help getting that first conversation going, contact me here.