Do you talk to your kids about sex?
While sex is a natural part of life and sex education is important, most parents don’t know how to raise the topic, nor do they want to. They feel awkward and anxious about when and how to discuss sex with their kids.
I was completely awkward, In the beginning, anyway.
I knew I wasn’t alone. Many parents struggle with talking about sex, so I want to share some recommendations and tips I gathered to develop my own comfort level (guided by my therapist and many, many Google searches). Maybe you will also find these of use.
Build on natural curiosity
Your kids will learn about sex at some point, so why not have them learn from you? Despite the discomfort associated with discussing sex with my kids, I have come to appreciate that the information should come from a trusted parent, not their friends or worse, the media. The media play a huge role in shaping our perceptions of sexuality, and those messages can be confusing or even damaging. If you find your child watching something inappropriate, you can turn it into an opportunity to educate them on sexuality in the real world, not what they see portrayed on screen.
Kids are naturally curious. My kids wanted to know how babies come into the world, or why my son has a penis while his sister had a “front butt,” or why their bodies were changing the way they did in puberty. I wish I had been better prepared early on with more truthful answers.
I knew that kids who hadn’t learned about sex from their parents would hear about it from other sources, which could lead to misunderstanding what happens during intercourse or what causes pregnancy. Over time I became comfortable talking openly so my kids would eventually trust they would not be judged and could safely bring up hush-hush topics.
Opportunity for broader context
When I think my kids are ready for more information, I ask questions to gauge their current knowledge (for example: “What do you know about what happens when people have sex?”). Then I fill in gaps as best as possible without getting bogged down in details or technicalities. They feel pretty comfortable asking questions and with luck, they will continue to turn to me for information and frank discussion.
Talking about sex is an opportunity for parents to teach kids valuable lessons. It was a chance for me to guide them in how to make good decisions and protect against pregnancy before they’re ready (or ever). I could show them how much love there is between two people who are committed to each other by talking about relationships and families.
As the experts point out, it doesn’t matter how old your children are—they should know about consent. Not implied consent, not “ok” consent, but enthusiastic consent. Rape is an unfortunate part of this conversation. When my kids were younger, I would tell them that if anyone ever tried to touch their bodies where underwear covers up, they should scream and tell someone. That message gives children an appropriate response if anyone attempts to do something to them that feels weird or scary, and reinforces that no matter how young they are, everyone deserves respect.
Talk to kids early on
Experts, and experience, suggest that it’s best to start early. Some suggest getting comfortable with discussing bodies before kids are even potty trained. They recommend using words like vulva or penis instead of private parts when changing diapers; as kids get older, they suggest using other accurate words for body parts and explain their purpose.
The sooner you begin these conversations, the more comfortable and open your teen will be discussing sex with you later. Your children will learn how to talk about their feelings and experiences as they grow up in a safe environment where it is okay to ask questions about puberty, body changes, sexual health (including STDs), birth control options and more.
If you have not been comfortable talking about sex with your teen or feel like there’s no point as long as they aren’t having sex yet, you can reach out for guidance on how to begin, and seek out materials to help you explain the facts. It’s better late than never when it comes to developing open communication between parent and child. Waiting too long runs the risk that there will be more pent-up tension to overcome when you finally broach the subject.
Find the right moment
So the million-dollar question… how does a parent get the conversation going? You look for the right moment, or listen for the question from your teen that opens the door, and start.
It can feel like a daunting task, but the more comfortable YOU are with the topic, the easier it will be for your kids.
Sometimes the kids lead the way. One awkward but funny example: when my son entered middle school, he learned a word from his friends-inappropriately (rhymes with mildo). He confidently told me that it was a “penis covering” for when people have sex. The conversation opened up about what a “mildo” was, the correct term for what he was thinking, and safe sex practices. And yes, age-appropriate content and language was used.
As my children grew, we continued to have age-appropriate conversations about puberty and how their bodies change, romantic desires, romantic feelings towards different/same genders, how to talk with friends without being teased or ridiculed by other students at school, etc.
You know what’s right for you and your family
I realize this article may trigger uncomfortable emotions and feelings. It did for me, too. Just wanting to have the conversation is a huge accomplishment as a parent. This was not one of those subjects I was looking forward to discussing and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
The most important guidance I have heard is you should do what is right for your family. Only you as parents know what’s best for you and those miraculous beings we are raising.
Sending you love and compassion through this journey… and a whole lotta courage. You got this.