Talking to your child about sexuality

Talking to children about sexuality and the “facts of life” is something many parents feel uncomfortable about and often avoid or postpone as long as possible.

And it is a difficult task, as no one really teaches or tells parents how, when and in what way to do so. And if the parents have never really learned to talk openly about sexuality themselves, it can become even more difficult to do.

But it is very important that parents have that talk (or in the best cases many) with their kids about sexuality. Especially in today’s day and age, where young kids have access to television and internet, it is more important than ever that they also learn about sexuality from a mature, experienced adult they can trust.

We can assume that the kids of today already know a lot about sexuality through the different media that are available to them. So they know what it looks like, how it is performed, what is characterised or seen as as “the right way”, what the ideal woman or man have to look like…

But what they don’t know is the emotional side of it, the nitty gritty of things, the highs and lows that are never mentioned in TV, magazines and videos, the responsibility and possible consequences of it… And this is where the parents are needed.

So what can parents do?

The key to a good communication within the family (not only regarding sexuality) is honesty and openness. The more open the parents can be about addressing certain things, the easier it is for the child to understand and for the teenager to open up and talk about things.

There is no “right” time to talk to your kids about sexuality and they are never too young for it either.

From the moment they can ask questions about it, it is a good time to give them age appropriate, but open and honest answers.

Very young kids don’t grasp the whole concept of sexuality just yet, they are mostly interested in the functionality of things and matter of factly want to know why mum doesn’t have a penis, how the new baby got into mummy’s belly or where it’s going to come out and are mostly satisfied with a simple answer.

This is a good time to introduce the kids to concepts of sex, gender and genitalia and giving them easy explanations how certain areas and parts of the body work. For them it is as interesting as learning how food is digested by the tummy or air breathed in an out by the lungs. And if they learn at this age that they can talk about these things with mum and dad as matter of factly as about other things, it will make it a lot easier for them in later life to approach their parents or ask for advice when ever it is needed.

Slightly older kids (school age) have a broader understanding of sexuality and relationships and might want to know things in more detail. But they also start to understand that sexuality has an emotional aspect too and therefore can be taught that sexuality isn’t only a way of making baby’s but that it’s something very special that mostly happens within a relationship when two people love each other. They should also learn that although sexuality is a very normal thing in life, it is something that should only happen in privacy and that their own as well as other people’s sexuality has a right to be respected.

A great way for kids of this age group to get a better understanding about things is through pictures and books. There are a few very good sex educational books for children available which can be read by the kids alone, or involve mum and dad and make it a fun thing to do.

Many parents find it difficult to talk to their teenage children about sexuality. This is mostly because teenagers naturally withdraw from their parents and rather seek advice and information from their peers than from adults. And secondly, because teenagers are just experiencing so many physical and emotional changes (their own sexuality being a big part of it) they might feel embarrassed or ashamed about certain things and don’t want to talk about it, especially not with mum and dad.

But especially this age group needs to be taught about sexuality in a very honest and open way.

The more relaxed and matter of factly parents can address certain things, the easier it is for the teenager to open up and address own issues and questions.

Topics of interest for teenagers are mostly menstruation for girls, masturbation and wet dreams for boys, physical changes, contraception, problems, insecurities and “hang ups”.

It’s not always possible for parents to address all these issues with their teenagers, either because they or the child feel too uncomfortable or ashamed to talk about it. In these cases it could be a good idea to offer the child the possibility to talk to another trusted adult (uncle, friend of the family, etc) instead.

In general, the more open and honest parents are about sexuality towards their children, the easier it is for the children to learn about these things and find trust in their parents, that they can talk about these things with them too.

Some parents might be afraid that they are “sexualising” their kids too early and the longer they keep it away from them the longer they will stay out of “trouble”.

But the opposite is the case. By talking to kids about sexuality at an early age we help them understand the changes and differences in their bodies which they are and will be experiencing anyway. And we also make them pay attention to this special part of their (and other peoples) life and teach them that their sexuality and bodies need and have the right to be respected. This is a lesson that cannot be learned early enough in life.


Talking about Sexual Trauma

Sexual abuse and the resulting trauma is something that only a small percentage of affected people find courage to openly talk about.

Most keep their experiences and the connected feelings (mostly of shame and guilt) to themselves, fearing negative consequences and reactions from others or just feeling too ashamed to talk about it.

Sexual abuse refers to any kind of sexual activity that takes place without the consent of the person involved. If sexual intercourse is performed without consent or even physically forced onto someone this is called rape.

Most victims are young girls or boys and the perpetrators are mostly men. In most cases, the offender isn’t a stranger, but known to the victim. It is often a close relative, a friend of the family, a trusted or respected person such as a sports trainer, camp leader or as media is revealing more and more, even the local priest.

When the offender is known, it is even more difficult to talk about it, as the young victims often fear that nobody will believe them or that they themselves have done something “wrong” to have made this happen.

They will often suffer in silence, feeling ashamed and also guilty about what has happened or might still be happening.

Sexual abuse in adulthood very often takes place within relationships or marriages, which can go unrecognised and unreported for many years. In cases where women are attacked and raped by a stranger, violence and physical harm are another big issue and result in further traumatisation.

In any case, the psychological and emotional consequences are various and can affect the victims throughout their whole life. It is very common that victims become depressive, anxious, develop body or self consciousness problems, sometimes including self harming behaviour (such as excessive drinking) and suicidal thoughts and tendencies.

It is very important, that victims receive professional help as soon as possible to deal with the trauma and find ways of coping with what happened. But sadly, this is more the exception than the rule.

For many victims, it takes years until they find courage to confide in someone, if they do at all.

Recently, the courage of some people openly speaking about the abuse they suffered in Irish institutions run by the catholic church has led to a government funded investigation into clerical abuse in Ireland with dramatic and scandalous results which have found worldwide media attention. Since then, more and more people who have suffered sexual abuse of any form have started to speak about it, seeked professional help or even filed cases against their offenders.

This is a breakthrough, as the vicious cycle of taboo and secrecy, which has protected the offenders for such a long time, is thereby finally broken.

Because talking about the sexual abuse is very intimate, personal and shameful experience, it is important that it takes place in a very safe and protected space. A trusted friend or a counsellor or psychotherapist can be the right person to be approached first.

There are many cost-free helplines, organisations and foundations that offer their help to people with this kind of experience (,, and can be approached anonymously. People who have suffered clerical sexual abuse are entitled to funded psychotherapy.

The more society is aware of sexual abuse, openly discusses and persecutes offenders, the easier it is for victims to feel encouraged to speak out about it.

It is estimated, that in Ireland 1 in 5 women and 1 in six men will have experienced sexual abuse at some point in their life. This is an outrageously high number, meaning that every one of us has at least one person in our circle of friends or family who have experienced this kind of traumatisation.

One way of decreasing the number over time is by persecuting offenders and making them responsible for their actions. Another far more important way is by empowering our children

to actively speak up if anyone does anything with or to their bodies they don’t want to happen. The more kids are openly taught about sexuality and sexual abuse, the more they will be able to judge if certain actions are inappropriate and find courage to speak up if it happens or at least confide in someone about it afterwards.

Being silent about sexual abuse only helps the offenders, as it gives them more freedom, space and security for their actions. This needs to change.

Open communication in relationships

One of the most important things in any kind of relationship – be it a romantic relationship, a good friendship or a parent-child relationship- is open communication.

The more we openly and honestly communicate our feelings, needs and wants, the better the other party can be aware of it and can react to it accordingly.

We often think it’s easier to keep things from each other, especially the unpleasant or uncomfortable things. Maybe because we fear negative reactions, or rejection or lack of understanding. We silently keep the things that bother us to ourselves and hope that they will perhaps change some day or sort themselves out some other way. And in the meantime often become frustrated, unhappy or angry while waiting.

Of course it is uncomfortable to address certain issues, especially if they involve our own insecurities or fears. When we talk about our emotions and feelings, we make ourselves vulnerable, or at least we believe that we do.

But no one can look inside of us, not even the most loving spouse, friend or parent, so unless we openly communicate what is going on in us we don’t give the other person the chance to change certain ways or things or help us in a productive way.

A good example for this is a wife who feels that her husband is not respecting the effort she puts into all the housework because after coming home from work and finishing dinner he just gets up without helping or saying a single word of praise or thankfulness.

She doesn’t address this openly but thinks that her husband should be aware of this himself. As a result she gets more and more frustrated by every day that goes on like this and gets angrier towards her husband who she believes is deliberately disrespecting her.

The husband on the other side mightn’t be aware of his wife’s feelings, as she never expressed anything negative towards him. He might feel that after a hard day’s work all he wants to do is to relax and not get into his wife’s way and that this is ok with everyone.

For him to change his behaviour or to be aware that he is actually hurting his wife’s feelings he will need to know how she feels in this situation. So unless they have an open talk about it one day, the issue will remain unresolved and lead to unresolved tension and frustration that might find its release in other, mostly unproductive ways.

Another example for this kind of miscommunication is a father who is very concerned about his teenage daughters well-being and because of his fear of anything happening to her, is very strict about the time she has to be home at or what she is allowed to do in her free time.

The daughter on the other hand may feel that her father doesn´t understand her or doesn’t have any appreciation for her needs, and might even feel unloved and hard done by.

Unless father and daughter have an open chat about this one day, the daughter will not come to understand that her father’s strictness originates from a feeling of love and worry towards her. But if they do, they both have the opportunity to understand each other’s point of view and feelings a bit better and might even be able work towards a compromise which allows the daughter more freedom while the father doesn’t need to feel as worried about her well-being.

Open communication requires a bit of courage. It requires talking about our feelings and many of us are not very good at it.

We either don’t know what to say or which words to find or we might fear that it will lead to a fight or unpleasant confrontation. And sometimes it actually will.

But a little storm is often exactly what is needed to sweep away all the swelling and underlying negative thoughts and feelings and makes way for a clearer view and better understanding.

It opens a window of opportunity, for ourselves to acknowledge our true feelings and concerns, and for the other person to be able to react to it in a more productive way.

So the next time you find yourself arguing with your partner, your friend or relative maybe you could try to step out of the situation for a moment and ask yourself if you actually clearly communicated what you are feeling, or wishing or wanting to the other person. Does your Partner really know that it bothers you that he or she is always 15 minutes late or do you just assume he or she should know by now because you get frustrated whenever it happens? Does your child really know that you love and care for him or her because you openly express it or do you just assume he or she will know because you are there for him or her 24h 7 days a week? Does your mother-in-law know that you love her but think that she is getting a bit too much involved in your life or do you think she might realise this herself someday because you don’t invite her to your house as often anymore?

Miscommunication is the most common cause for fights, arguments and negative emotions towards each other. But only if we address our feelings and state what we think and believe in a clear way, the other person has a chance of being truly understanding and supportive.

It might seem to some that by doing so we are “letting down our guard”, being “weak” or making ourselves vulnerable. But there is nothing negative about that. At least not from a psychological point of view. In the contrary, we have to let down our guard at times, it takes too much energy to always have our guards up. By doing so we might be successful at keeping people out, but sadly miss out on all the loving people we could let in.

We have to be “weak” at times to recover and refuel from all the times we need to be strong, or we end up emotionally exhausting ourselves or “burning out”. We have to be vulnerable at times to be able to receive loving and supportive help from others. And to realise ourselves where our boundaries lie and when we have reached them. A little openness goes a very long way….

Sexuality after Childbirth

After the birth of a child, sex is often the very last thing on the mind of new parents.

If it’s the first child, the adjustment to the new baby, having to constantly feed, wind, nappy change and hardly ever sleep, can leave both parents, and especially mum, exhausted by the end of the day and desperately longing for some rest and sleep. Never mind anything else.

And if there are older children in the house too, the struggle to meet everyone’s needs and demands can be even more exhausting. Often, there doesn’t seem enough time, room or energy for anything romantic happening between the sheets for a long time.

And this is absolutely fine and normal in most families.

After the arrival of a child, sex changes anyway. What used to be possible spontaneously anytime, anywhere, anyhow suddenly only has little time-frames at certain times in the day in certain places in the house. And even these are not always guaranteed (a crying newborn, teething toddler or nightmare awoken child don’t seem to know about these sacred little times of the day).

Gone seem the days where there was time for clean sheets, lit candles or even music in the background. Instead there are leaking breasts, the smell of dirty nappies and at least one teething ring and a cuddly bear along in the bed with most parents. And this does take its toll, but again, this is absolutely fine and normal in most families.

As long as both partner are aware of this being a special and demanding time in their lives, where for a short while, the needs and demands of little people come before their own, and that this will also change again. And it does in most cases find back to a (slightly different), but enjoyable and satisfying sex life again.

But what if it doesn’t? What when the weeks turn into months or even years?

It can easily happen and can strain the relationship in a big way. In these cases, it is mostly the women not wanting sex as much as before (or even at all), while the men feel the need and want to be physically close and intimate with their partner again. And it often doesn’t take long until a vicious cycle of sexual tension, pressure and frustration builds up which can take its toll in many ways.

And this cycle is very hard to break as both sides have their legitimate reasons and background.

There are many reasons that can contribute towards the woman losing her libido and former need and want for sex.

Childbirth itself can have an effect on how a woman feels about herself and her sexuality. If the birth was experienced traumatic, forceful or involved a lot of medical interventions, many woman can be left feeling “wounded” and as a result feel anxious, fearful or even disconnected towards their genitalia. They can end up not seeing it as a sensual, enjoyable part of their body anymore but strongly associate their genitals with pain and fear (of losing control). And even if the birth wasn’t experienced negatively, childbirth itself literally leaves its “marks” and things can feel different for a while and it takes some time (and effort by mum) to get the pelvic floor back to its old strength again.

For many women the change of their body also affects their self esteem and sexual confidence. While it was absolutely great to show of a bump while pregnant, the bump that remains after birth suddenly doesn’t seem so cute and great anymore. And while it is necessary and important to gain weight during pregnancy (and is further needed for the time while breastfeeding the baby after the birth), it does take time until the body finds back to its old shape again, and in some respects, might never will. So for many woman, it can be difficult to accept their new body, the changes in weight, size and form, and feel confident and uninhibited about it in bed.

And the change of hormones plays a big role too. Especially breastfeeding mothers can be affected by vaginal dryness and a lowered libido for quite a long while (sometimes the entire time of breastfeeding).

But the biggest effect on libido can be the pure demands of parenthood itself. No matter how involved the father or other friends and family are, especially in the early days of parenthood, it’s the mums who are needed most and have to give more than they might receive in return.

And after a full day of giving (milk, and nappies, and comfort and love to a newborn, biscuits, juice, a game of cards and cuddles to a sibling, food and drink and clean clothes to the family, …), many woman can find themselves regarding intimacy with their partner as another thing they need to “give” and that they just do not feel able for anymore.

For men this can be a very difficult situation. Most are very understanding and in the early days of parenthood, don’t feel up to much sex themselves anyway. But after a while, their libido does return, and especially because of the craziness of parenthood, may feel a strong need to reconnect with their partner on a physical level to regain and maintain that adult relationship that doesn’t seem to have much room during daytime anymore.

And while most mums have had their fair share of cuddles and physical closeness through their children by the end of the day and might not long for it as much as they used to do from their partners, the dads often feel the extra need for this kind of intimacy in order to feel connected and reassured in their role as lover and partner.

So what to do if you find yourself in this kind of situation? The most important key to overcoming this situation (and any other sexual problem or difficulty) is being honest about it and talking about it with your partner. Sometimes just putting it into words can make it easier to understand for both sides and may make it easier for both to deal with, in short and in long term.

For a man it is important to hear and find out (and to be reassured) that their partners lack of libido hasn’t to do with the fact that she has lost sexual interest in him as a person, but far more in sex in general. And for the woman it can be important to get her partners reassurance that he still finds her attractive and sexy no matter what is going on in life at the moment.

The second key to this problem is to acknowledge that despite the craziness of parenthood and the demands of little people and responsibilities of having them, mum and dad are still two independent people with own needs and wants that have a right to be met, too. Of course, in the early days, these often need to be put aside, but there comes a time when mum and dad can claim some more time and space for themselves again (and are often surprised at how willing and uncomplicated their kids accept this and go along with it). For this to happen, mum and dad will have to create some space for themselves and might need to cut back on something else for it. It is very important that the parents not only talk about it (“wouldn’t it be great to have a weekend without kids somewhere”) but also make it happen.

And the last important key to this problem is accepting that things do change and need some time, and for some perhaps more than others.

The more you beat yourself up about it and problemise it, the bigger the pressure (and in return the frustration) can become. Losing your libido after childbirth is rather common and most women go through it, some longer and some shorter than others. Talking to friends about it can help to see that you and your partner are not the only ones going through this crisis, as every mum has a story to share. And seeking professional advice and support from a counsellor can be very beneficial, too. Becoming a parent is a huge milestone in every person’s life and besides the joy and love, can also bring up other emotions, insecurities and issues (often linked to our past or our relationship with our own parents), that can negatively influence our everyday (sex) life. Talking to a counsellor or psychotherapist (either as a couple or individually) can help to understand your feelings and help to find ways of dealing with this situation in a more satisfying and less frustrating way.

Relighting the spark

At the beginning of a relationship couples are mostly drawn to each other in a very strong way, enjoying each other’s company and sharing an exciting and pleasurable intimacy and sexuality.

Everything is new and exciting, feelings are fresh and there is seldom a problem in finding time and space for each other.

But for many couples this changes after a while. In long term relationships the initial flame and spark that was once there can become a bit suffocated by the demands of everyday life.

To some extent, this is perfectly normal and part of being in a commuted long term- relationship. While at the beginning all that matters is being with each other, over time, other everyday life matters become more and more important too, and need their space and time as well.

Ideally, there is a good balance of both: special time for the couple just with each other and time and space for everything else that matters and needs either individual or joint attentions or energy.

But we don’t live in an ideal world, do we?

After a busy week at work, deadlines that need to be met, worries of unpaid bills, commitments to family and friends, many couples just long for the end of the day, exhausting into bed without any intentions other than sleep.

Or because everyday life is in such a rut, work from 9 – 7, kids home from school at 4, football at 5, dinner at 8, intimacy and sexuality also find a similar slot, maybe Sunday mornings at 10 (when mum takes the kids), making it foreseeable, planned and maybe even boring.

So what can couples do to relight the spark in the bedroom and be physically drawn to each other again, even after many years of being together and maybe living a very busy and demanding every day life?

The first step is just recognising what is actually going on and when and how sexuality is lived in the relationship. Have both partners lost a bit of their initial spark or is it more the one than the other? Has sexuality and intimacy become a rut that only happens in the same way at the same time all the time, because there doesn’t seem to be any other time and space for it?

Has one or the other partner (or both) lost sexual interest in the other? Have other circumstances (for example childbirth, illness, etc..) taken an effect on the desire for sexuality?

As soon as the effects and causes are recognised and identified it actually only takes a little work to make some changes.

The biggest problem is that over time, sexuality and intimacy are less and less prioritised in a couple’s life. While at the beginning, it might have played a very big role and had a high priority, after a while, other things just become more and more important. And again, this is absolutely normal and natural, too. But sometimes intimacy and sexuality can fall further and further down the line of priorities, maybe even to the end of the list. And maybe this should be reconsidered.

Time and space for sexuality play an important role, and often there just doesn’t seem any left for it, especially not in families with young kids. But time and space are also just a question of priorities.

Couples who find that they don’t have any time for each other or feel that their sexuality is suffocated by the demands of everyday life could ask themselves, how much priority they actually give their sexuality compared to other things. If there is always time for aunt Mary to call for tea on a Sunday afternoon, always time for neighbours kids to come and play at the house at the weekends, always time for a football match or a soap opera, why shouldn’t there also be time for intimacy? And if there isn’t, then maybe some priorities could be reconsidered, for example the kids playing at the neighbours for a change, aunt Mary going to town for her tea, TV programmes being recorded…

Another thing that can be helpful to relight the spark is to break the rut in which sexuality normally takes place. In long term relationships this is mostly in the evening time, in the bedroom, when both partners are prone to be worn out and tired.

But intimacy and sexuality can take place anywhere that is private and is not exclusive to the evening time. By doing things differently, unexpectedly or “out of the box”, things may light up a bit more and get more exciting.

Giving sexuality and intimacy more space doesn’t only mean having to give it more physical space or places to do it, but also giving it more space in the mind, too.

When sexuality is less and less prioritised, we also pay our own sexuality less and less attention.

By creating some new space in the mind, allowing oneself to think about sexuality more, broadening the horizons, maybe getting interested in new things, things might get more exciting and different, too.

Over time, things do change in every relationship, and it is part of a very normal and healthy process. But relationships are on-going work and need on-going care and attention, sexuality and intimacy being a part of it.

By identifying what priorities sexuality and intimacy have become in a relationship over time and re-prioritising certain things, the initial fire that drew to people together can be relighted and kept burning for a very long time.

Relationships and Intimacy in old age

When it comes to relationships and intimacy, there is no time when things are too late or not appropriate anymore. The way we share intimacy and live our relationships may change, but there is no reason why we shouldn’t carry on sharing our lives or ourselves with someone we love and appreciate.

For elderly people who outlive their previous partner, a new relationship is often the last thing they want for themselves or think they should be allowed to have.

After many years of being with someone, the grief for the beloved can be overwhelming and it can take a long time until the biggest hurt and lonesomeness is overcome. But having loved a previous husband or wife doesn’t necessarily mean that there can never be a new love or special friendship in future life.

Many bereaved people may fear that they are betraying their previous partner when committing to a new relationship, but that doesn’t have to hold true. A new relationship doesn’t mean that the former is forgotten or not appreciated anymore, it might just open a new – and different- space in the heart for someone else too.

The way we form relationships in later stages of our life can be very different to times before. Where beforehand physical attraction, joint dreams and aspirations for life as well as sexuality might have played a bigger role, in later life, common interests, friendship and companionship can be the more important factors for two people finding together.

The way we share and live intimacy and sexuality changes to a great extent too. The focus isn’t so much on performance and satisfaction anymore, but far more on being close and feeling comfortable with each other.

Every couple defines itself, what sexuality means for them, so there is no right or wrong, or things that need to happen or are not allowed to happen anymore. Whatever goes and feels right can be good and satisfying for two people..

There is no reason why elderly people shouldn’t enjoy the physical pleasures of each other, to the extend they are capable and comfortable with.

Finding a new partner or a very special friend after a long time of lonesomeness or after bereaving a previous partner can bring a whole new quality of life.

Many elderly people find new motivation to do things, might develop mew interests with the new partner, and might even feel “fresh wind” and rejuvenation in their lives.