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Protecting your child's sexual health

Published:Wednesday | November 21, 2012 | 12:00 AM

"Morning, I have a student who told me her dad bought her a vibrator for her to use when she feels horny," a concerned and flabbergasted teacher wrote to a friend, who texted it to the National Family Planning Board.

Parents are key players in the protection of adolescents' sexual health. However, some parents are unaware or misguided in the way they seek to offer their children help, especially adolescents, who are at a vulnerable stage in life, and are at risk. This text message can be viewed in many ways but this should not be an option or final resort for any parent.

Sexual health is an important part of physical and mental health and for emotional and social well-being. It is important to take care of your sexual health and, if you have children, evidence shows that it's good to talk with them about sex and relationships.

Parents are helpful

The latest National Family Planning Board's survey showed that, of the number of adolescents asked about the degree of helpfulness from parents on information about family life and sex-education topics, more than half found their support very helpful.

It is, therefore, in your child's best interest that, as parents, you help them maintain good sexual health but, in order to do so, there must be a good relationship and you need to be informed of the healthy, legal and acceptable ways that can help them.

Start talking at age 10

Adolescence starts at age 10 and that is when the conversation should at least have begun, as the approach should be proactive, and not reactive. It is important that parents and caregivers have the skills and knowledge to talk to their children as good parent/child communication about sexual health issues can help delay first sexual experience and limit poor sexual-health outcomes.

The best way to start talking about sex is to:

Start when your child is small, encouraging them to ask questions and answer them simply.

Make talking about sex a part of everyday life, not just a one-off chat, and keep the conversation going as they get older.

Try to introduce the topic before your child reaches puberty, waiting until then can make it awkward.

Ask your child what they think about different situations to find out how much they know already. You can then give them answers and advice that they can understand.

Use everyday media to start conversations (soaps, adverts, TV programmes, magazines), as it is sometimes easier to start by talking about other people.

Use books, leaflets and websites if you need information or ideas on how to start talking.

Recognise that, as your child grows, they need privacy and may not always want to talk to you

Talk about the importance of considering the feelings of others in relationships, not just the biology.

Try to be open-minded and keep talking, even if you are shocked by your teenager's attitudes and values.

Talk to other parents about how they answer difficult questions and discuss difficult issues.

Source: The National Family Planning Board.