Talking to your kids about sex
people believe we first become sexual when we are teenagers, but this is not
the case. Sexual feelings start in infancy, from the first time we feel
physical sensations in our genitals. As children get older, it is not uncommon
for them to absentmindedly rub their penises or vulvas. They also commonly play
sex games like “doctor” with same or opposite sex friends. It’s important that you
address sexuality throughout your child’s lifetime, rather than waiting for a
one-time talk about “the birds and the bees.”
you’re aware of it or not, you convey your own attitudes about sex to children
in thousands of ways. Examples include your sense of modesty, the way you
answer questions about sex, the words you use for sexual organs, and nonverbal
cues. Not talking about sex sends a message in itself. As a parent, your
willingness to discuss sexual feelings teaches children to have self-respect,
and to feel good about their bodies and the pleasure they can provide. Your
willingness to speak frankly can help them make good decisions about their
is quite common among children between the ages of 2 and 11. Some parents
assume that toddlers who fondle their genitals have the same intent and
experiences as an adult. In reality, children are not thinking about a
particular object of desire. They rub their genitals simply because it feels
good. This is a perfectly normal behavior.
typical response is to ignore the behavior, or to ask the child to stop.
Instead, a parent should reinforce the idea that it is safe to talk about
sexual matters. In addition, teach your kids the difference between public and
private spaces, and how such play is reserved for private places.
the activity “dirty” or shameful can be harmful. It suggests to the child that
certain parts of their bodies are dirty or shameful. It may also lead to a
child hiding their feelings from a parent.
are filled with curiosity about how the body works. They should learn about
sex, contraception, and birth using real words. Parents should view a child’s
curiosity as healthy. They should encourage questions and supply accurate,
age-appropriate answers, using correct terminology for body parts. In general,
research shows that open communication between parents and children about sex
is healthy and helpful.
sex and reproduction
children ask questions about sex, some parents overwhelm them with biological
facts. Give a simple answer that explains what they are asking. For example, a
sufficient answer to a toddler’s question about where babies come from would be
to say, “It grows in mommy’s uterus,” while pointing to your abdomen. Keep the
age of the child in mind. A discussion about intercourse will obviously be
quite different with a 5-year-old than with a 15-year-old.
often have an answer in mind when they ask a question about sex. So you might
want to ask the child what they think the answer is. This can provide you with
clues about what the child needs to know. As with almost everything else, if
you don’t know the answer, be honest with your child. Tell him or her that you
don’t know, but will do your best to find the answer. Then research the answer,
and get back to your child. Children will feel as though you take their
questions seriously, and that they can ask your opinion in the future.
you may have been open about talking to your children about sex from an early
age, as teenagers they will face these questions firsthand. Teenagers who
experiment with sex are forced to deal with the related problems of
contraception, sexually transmitted infections, privacy, and the general ups
and downs of a sexual relationship. Teenage years are a crucial time to offer
the information they need and be emotionally supportive. Research suggests
that it may be helpful to talk repeatedly about these issues as opposed to
having the “big talk” and then walking away from the subject.
Research published in the journal Pediatrics showed
that more than 40 percent of teenagers in the study had sex before discussing
all the essentials with adults. This included topics such as:
- safe sex
- use of condoms
- sexually transmitted diseases
- birth control
The authors of the study reiterated the recommendation of the
American Academy of Pediatrics that parents educate teenagers about sex early
in the teenagers’ lives. If you need support about how to talk to your teen,
your local Planned Parenthood
office is a good resource for pamphlets on some of these topics.
are strong gender roles that some teenagers feel they must adhere to. Failure
to conform to these roles is not, in many instances, socially acceptable. For
example, some girls think they must appear amenable to sex, but not too
amenable. Some boys feel they must behave in ways that show they are sexually
experienced. You may wish to discuss these roles with your teenagers, and
explain why they are not mandatory.
Mayo Clinic recommends
that adults be willing to address “tough topics” with teenagers, such as:
- drugs or alcohol and sex
- date rape
- abusive relationships
better teens understand the challenges that come with being sexually active, the
Mayo Clinic says, the more apt they are to grow into sexually mature adults.
may also want to discuss issues that sometimes lie beneath the surface. For
example, you may steer girls toward understanding that sexual desire is normal,
and that fantasizing is a way of exploring that desire. You could help them
learn that desire does not necessarily translate into sexual satisfaction, and
that love doesn’t always translate to sexual satisfaction. Boys, on the other
hand, can benefit from help with connecting their feelings with their sexual
activity. It can also help boys to understand that sex makes them vulnerable,
which is one reason sex is so powerful.
these conversations may seem awkward at first, talking about sex with your kids
will become more natural over time. It shows you care about and respect them
and their bodies, which hopefully will bring you closer together.