I can’t wait to talk to my kids about sex! - Said no one, ever.
Okay I get it. Sex talk can be tricky.
I bet you’re hoping Sex Ed at school will cover all the important bases and conveniently allow you to skip out on doing this yourself.
You can go with that plan if you want. But my goal here is to reduce the fear factor and inspire you to think about the sex talk a little differently.
In the US, we tend to dramatize it and talk ad-nauseam about the dangers of pregnancy and infection. Abroad, the process is a bit different. It’s filled with conversations that normalize sex and reduce awkwardness that we Americans try to avoid at all costs.
I’m here to help you find the balance and reduce the tongue-tying discomfort that trips up parents when it comes to discussing this topic with kids.
Let’s start with a little game of fill-in-the-blank.
Anticipating talking to my son/daughter about sex makes me think ______________.
Anticipating talking to my son/daughter about sex makes me feel _______________.
Anticipating talking to my son/daughter about sex makes me act _______________.
If your answers go something like this:
Thought: “OMG already?!”
...then this article is for you!
Before we get into the details, we need to get one thing out of the way first. The topic of sex is not inherently awkward or uncomfortable. It’s the way you choose to discuss it that can make it so.
I’m not suggesting you get right to the point and have the “penis-meets-vagina” conversation with your 2-year-old. But there are age-appropriate ways to discuss sex that keep the door open for future conversations and help cultivate a healthy attitude/understanding about sex.
We also need to stop building this up as a one-and-done topic. That’s the farthest thing from the truth. This conversation can and should take place many times throughout childhood. Are you terrified yet? Relax...I have your go-to tips to having this conversation successfully with your kids:
Age 0-2 - Toddler
Mind your reaction. As you may have noticed, babies are curious about their own bodies. And I’m not just talking about their toes! If you see your toddler rubbing or pulling him/herself and you yell at them, you will trigger shame and embarrassment. This is the opposite of what you want. Your goal is to communicate that curiosity is normal and healthy. Give them real words for their body parts (read: penis instead of wee-wee) and set limits on appropriate actions (read: dress stays down/hands out of pants in public).
Age 3-5 - Preschoolers
Begin to educate and correct. The classic parenting dilemma at this age is when you find your kid playing doctor with the neighbor’s kid. Don’t panic. Your child is exploring his curiosity, not trying to have sex with his friend. Stay calm and use the opportunity to explain that private parts are private. Teach the difference between good touch and bad touch. Good touch: mom/dad/caregiver changing diapers, taking a bath, at the doctor’s office. Bad touch: touching other’s private parts is off-limits.
Age 6-9 - Prepubescents
Seize teachable moments. Kids at this age will run the gamut from asking specific questions about sex to being curious about erections and menstruation. You might even get a curve ball like one of my clients did recently when her child asked, What is a blow job? Before you keel over, let’s return to the golden rule stated above...Mind Your Reaction. Children learn whether or not their actions are acceptable based on how you react to them. If you overreact, your child will feel uncomfortable and ashamed. You can be sure it will be the last time they ask you a question like this. Your best bet is to answer the question honestly (Ex: Oral sex is when 2 people are making love and put their mouths on each other’s private parts). If you are truly paralyzed in this moment, tell them their questions are really important and you want to make sure you have enough time to explain it later on that day. Take a deep breath. Then follow through. Keep in mind you can answer their question with a question in order to get a sense of what they already know. You can also start with a warm response like, “A lot of kids your age wonder about these things...what do you think about it?”
Age 9-12 - Tweens
Normalizing change. Kids at this age know-it-all. They are completely grossed out by mom and dad talking about sex. They will likely avoid discussing this topic with you at all costs. Rather than forcing it on them, watch a TV show or movie with them and ask relevant questions to segue into this discussion. Ex: “Do you think the characters were old enough to have sex?” Talking about characters instead of themselves makes this conversation less personal, and easier to have. Also keep in mind that puberty is taking its course at different paces, and it’s not all about breast buds and wet dreams. Include topics like acne, body hair/odor, mood swings, and menstruation. Make sure to communicate that it’s all normal and happening to their friends too. It couldn’t hurt to address the elephant in the room and acknowledge the fact that this stuff is hard to talk about.
Age 13-18 - Teens
Don’t let them push you away. Teenagers are an interesting bunch. They are faced with social pressure to become sexually active, are highly influenced by a sex-obsessed media, and have a limited understanding of taking responsibility when it comes to their actions. Research tells us that on average, Americans lose their virginity around age 17. Don’t be that parent who says, “No way, not my kid!” and skip the discussion because you think it’s irrelevant. It’s not. Trust me. Make your expectations explicitly known. Talk about feelings and relationships. Educate them on contraception and how to get it. Discuss STD’s. Bring up teen pregnancy. Their hormones are in overdrive and they need to know you are a safe, non-judgemental person they can turn to. You will never be able to control your kids decisions about sex. But you can teach them about responsibility and provide them with accurate information so they can make the best possible decision for themselves. Don’t give up, even when they tell you they already know everything.
If you need an extra boost of courage when it comes to having these discussions with your kids, keep this in mind: Research studies show that well-informed teens are the ones who wait longer to have sex for the first time, and use contraception when they do.