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How to Talk to Your Child About Sex
How to Talk to Your Child About Sex
Because of today’s hypersexualized society, 10 is the new 16 when it comes to talking to kids about sex. As much as parents hate to hear it, it’s now necessary to start talking to kids about sex even earlier than ever before.
Did you just cringe a little? If so, you’re not alone. Most parents face something between discomfort and terror at the idea of explaining sex to their kids. But it’s important to keep the lines of communication open—not only so your kids will have accurate information, but also so they’ll know it’s safe to talk to you about it.
What to tell, and when
Before middle school your kids should know about puberty, sexual feelings and how to manage them, and, yes, the details of intercourse. Now is the time to broach the subjects of sexual orientation, relationship abuse, sexually transmitted diseases and contraception. And, perhaps most importantly, kids need to start understanding the roles of love, respect and trust in sexual relationships—and how waiting until adulthood to have these kinds of relationships can keep them safe.
It’s a lot of information to digest, which is why I recommend opening the dialog early. In fact, between ages 5 and 7, kids can start to learn about reproductive parts, why certain body parts are private (which leads into sexual abuse prevention), how babies are made and masturbation. Now is the time to start reinforcing the idea that people should only have sexual intercourse as adults and when they love, respect and trust each other.
When your child is between the ages of 8 and 9, you can continue to reinforce the importance of love, respect and trust, and also start to introduce new topics. Kids of this age need to hear about tolerance and understanding of different sexual orientations. You should talk to them about preparing for puberty, understanding sexually transmitted diseases and contraception. Expand on their knowledge of sexual abuse to include basic awareness of sexual harassment and bullying.
When your child goes to middle school, you can elaborate as needed. Make sure that as you’re presenting this information, you’re also conveying the attitudes, beliefs and values you want your child to learn. Lastly, help your child learn decision-making and communication skills so they will be as prepared as possible when confronted with the many choices they will have to make concerning their sexuality.
Think you can’t do it?
Many parents think they can’t talk to their children about sex. They are uncomfortable discussing intimate details with their kids, or they are just plain afraid. They also feel that their voice is not being heard by their teenager and that they simply cannot compete with their child’s peers or the media.
On the contrary, a 2010 report by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy shows that a very significant majority of teenagers actually want their parents to talk more with them about sex. What’s more, a 1998 publication by the Center for Adolescent Health and Development at the University of Minnesota showed that parental influence and involvement actually helps children to abstain from intercourse, can delay the age at which they do become sexually active, minimizes the number of sexual partners they will ultimately have and promotes their effective use of contraception.
The first step in becoming the single most influential source of sexual information and guidance for your child is to believe that you can. At first blush, it can seem a little daunting talking about sexual issues with your child. What to say, at what ages to say it and how to say it have probably kept more than a few parents up worrying at night.
Then there are parents, particularly of younger children, whose fears come from their concern that talking about sex might cause their kids to become more curious or interested in it, or could actually make them want to experience sex. The good news is that there is no research that supports any of these concerns.
Here are some tips on how to become the number-one sex educator for your child.
- Give yourself permission to feel uncomfortable or afraid about talking about sex. The more you discuss sexual subjects with your child, the more comfortable and less fearful you will become, and so will your child.
- Practice your conversations before speaking to your child. By talking to the mirror or role-playing with your partner or friends, you can gain the experience that promotes confidence.
- Over-practice talking about the “tough topics”: intercourse, masturbation, oral sex, sexual feelings and any others you find difficult.
- Read up on what kids of different ages need to learn about sex and sexuality. The more you know, the more confident you will become.
Fred Kaeser, EdD, is the former director of health for the New York City Department of Education and is the author of the book What Your Child Needs to Know about Sex (and When): A Straight-Talking Guide for Parents. He holds a doctoral degree in human sexuality studies from New York University where he still teaches.
August 16th, 2012