Talking to your children about sex can be uncomfortable for you and them, but it is a crucial part of parenting. Your kids will inevitably learn about sex, so it is important for them to get accurate information from you. As a parent, you have the opportunity to help your children develop a healthy understanding and attitude towards sex, and encourage them to behave in a sexually responsible way. It’s important to remember that talking to your children about sex will not in turn make them want to have sex! In fact, current research shows that talking to kids about sex makes them more likely to wait longer to initiate sexual activity and when they do, more likely to use contraception.
Since learning about sexuality is a normal part of development, start talking to your children in age appropriate ways beginning in early childhood. By nature, children are curious about their bodies and will ask questions. This curiosity creates a natural opening to initiate conversations about sexuality. Realize that this is really a lifelong conversation – not a one-time event. If you take this approach, you can practically eliminate the need to have “the talk” formally.
Everyday life also offers many opportunities to include discussions about sex into normal dialogue. For example, you can initiate a conversation while watching a television show, movie, news, etc. that deals with topics like a child going through puberty, teen dating or seeing a pregnant woman. Use these situations as a springboard for a dialogue with your kids. If you think of these experiences as “teachable moments” it will make the situation less awkward and more natural.
By ages 10-12, when puberty can begin for many children, the importance of keeping an open discussion on the topic of sex is even more important. Kids this age have likely seen and heard things in school, the news, television, magazines, from their peers and siblings, etc. related to sexuality and getting your message heard on the topic is vital. When they come to you with a question, ask questions in return to find out what they really want to know. Ask “What have you heard about that?” and “What do you think about that?” to gauge their level of knowledge and their own opinion on a subject. Also be sure to ask “Is there anything else you want to know?” and “Does that answer your question?” to make certain you clarify any information they don’t understand.
By age 12, children begin to formulate their own values and sense of self identity, so having an ongoing dialogue on such an important aspect of their development as sexuality is key. Here are some general suggestions to guide your conversations:
- Think ahead about what messages you want to convey.
- Be truthful and provide accurate information.
- Be open to discussing sex without embarrassment.
- Spend time listening, instead of jumping in with your viewpoints.
- Keep answers short and simple, explain new words if your child has not heard them before.
- Realize that it’s okay if you don’t know an answer to a question, find out together.
- Model how to appropriately communicate about the topic of sex.
- Remember that it’s never too late to start the conversation.
Parents, you will get through this! Work through your discomfort and engage your children in meaningful conversations about sex. They really do want to hear what you have to say on the subject.