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.