Sex talk and children
Heather Little-White, PhD, Contributor
As sex becomes more pervasive in society, it is critical for parents and caregivers to start talking to their children about sexuality from early childhood. Parents want their children to have wholesome and rewarding lives, so teaching them about sex early is very important. However, some parents find it difficult to talk about sex with their children.
When children are armed with age-appropriate sex education, it helps them to cope with their feelings and with peer pressure. Sex knowledge helps them become confident and boosts self-esteem, which fosters healthy relationships. A child who is informed about sex is more likely to be protected from sexual abuse and from becoming a sexual abuser.
When children are informed about sexuality, they are less likely to take sexual risks and more equipped to take care of their sexual health.
Children need sex education but you may wonder when is a good time to start the education process. The answer? As soon as children start to get sexual messages. Some common starters for sex educators for young children include:
Getting children to name their genitals using the biological
Explaining why girls look different from boys.
Explaining what it means for a woman to be pregnant.
At the pre-teen level, young people should be able to understand what is going on in their bodies, dating, consent for sex and why boys are treated differently from girls. Teenagers should be able to determine how much their lives have changed in two years when they have made the quantum leap from childhood and pre-adulthood.
Fear is one of the main reasons why parents find it difficult to talk to their children about sex. There are ways to overcome this and other feelings, as suggested by: Planned Parenthood in the United States:
Be open and available about sexuality-related subjects as they arise.
Looking dumb. It is acceptable to tell your children that you do not know if you are asked a particular question. Be sure to find the answer and get back to them.
Feeling embarrassed. It is not uncommon for parents to feel embarrassed when talking to their children about sex and sexuality. It is acceptable to admit how you are feeling as a totally normal reaction.
Encouraging sexual experimentation. It is a myth to believe that if children are exposed to sex education, they are likely to experiment with sex. Research has shown that children who talk about sex with their parents, are more likely to postpone having sex.
Feeling as though sex talk will not make a difference. Parents should be reassured that children want to talk about sex with their parents rather than hearing it from other people. Children value their parents' counsel in the influences on their value system and attitudes toward sex and sexuality.
The content of your sex education will differ from child to child. Depending on the age, your answer will relate to the child's age and what he/she can understand about the subject. It means that parents have to continuously avail themselves of new information in the field. When deciding on how much detail to give, parents can rely on what they know about their children's level of understanding.
Being honest is an important factor to understand. If you child is old enough to ask a question, the child is old enough to get a truthful answer. If your children have mental challenges and disabilities, they also deserve truthful answers in language they can understand.
Parents should share values which may influence their children's sexual behaviour. For example, when parents share positive feelings about birth control, children are more likely to use it. Parents should never pretend that their own values are facts and you should not mislead children in this regard or they will stop listening and trusting you. You should try not to focus only on the potential negative aspects of sex such as pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and heartbreak. It is better to focus on positive aspects of relationships such as intimacy, mutual respect, sexual responsibility, safe sex and other health benefits of sex. For example, the joy of falling in love is something that children often anticipate and will make positive choices towards that goal.
Observation and emulation
Children live what they learn, and they will observe how you express yourself non-verbally and be able to judge the difference between what you say and what your body language portrays. Your own love life should provide valuable lessons in sexuality in a way that your children will want to live like you.
Resources are available to help with sex and sex education. Books can make ideal gifts for birthdays. The Internet is a very useful resource and with guidance you can identify suitable site for your child to read. Through your children's parent-teacher associations, you can get schools to plan a series on sex education. This provides a medium for your child to get answers to questions they may not want to ask at home. Parents can also play an important role in advocating for effective sex education in their child's school.
Send feedback/questions to Heather Little-White at firstname.lastname@example.org.