One mom’s take on how to address the topic of sex with our children, and “the talk” that most parents dread to have.
In this new age of technology, it’s hard to keep up with everything our kids might be up to. As much as we’d like to know about every aspect of their lives, it’s more likely that we’ll be left in the dark when it comes to certain things— like sex. But it’s a different generation and it’s fair to say that old rules may no longer apply. So, how exactly do we tackle this topic without being awkward or making our kids cringe?
After speaking to a handful of parents, we discovered that majority of us never even spoke to our own parents about sex, much less learned about it from them. Aside from passive hints like leaving girly magazines lying around or a casual mention of where the condoms were kept, most were completely mum about the subject regardless of how close their relationship was.
Mind you, those hints only apply to the boys, but hardly any of the women experienced “the talk” at all.
Here are 7 ways to talk to kids about sex
1. Keep it real
Sex is one of the most natural things in life, but the topic in itself is still quite taboo. Especially in the Philippines where pre-marital sex is highly discouraged (or downright forbidden), most young teens tend to avoid this topic completely. However, due to the rapid influx of information our children digest on the daily, it’s only a matter of time before they discover it on their own. When we were younger, we couldn’t just Google it. Our kids can, and most likely will.
We believe that the best way to approach matters regarding sex is to keep it simple, objective, and unbiased.
It’s important to remember that we are, after all, raising human beings who will inevitably make their own decisions about their bodies. So, if they’re going to do anything about it, they may as well be properly informed.
2. Start at an early age
Children will start familiarizing themselves with their bodies at a very young age. Instead of stifling their curiosity, you can take this opportunity to engage. The conversation about sex doesn’t have to be the one big “talk”. You can gradually ease it in, because it’s something they will constantly be learning about. It can come up in casual everyday discussions, in which case, you can layer in more information over time and introduce certain concepts at the appropriate age.
Even before they are verbal, you can begin to lay the foundation of open communication about sex. That means incorporating the proper names for genitals into everyday activities like bath time. Saying, “penis, vulva, or vagina” should be as common as indicating shoulders, knees, and toes. When everyone is comfortable with this, the conversation becomes easier down the road. As daunting as it may seem, this also helps in cases where they need to communicate health issues or injuries.
3. Different strokes for different folks
It would do us all some good to remember that our kids are unique in their own way. Every child will respond differently to a specific approach, so it’s best to gauge what you feel will work comfortably for them. The amount of detail you go into really depends on how much you think they can comprehend. Ask questions and listen— you will most likely get your cues from what your child tells you.
Children will form their own opinions about sex earlier than we’d like to think. It’s in movie posters, advertisements, subtle jokes (even in animation/cartoons!), and all over the internet.
They will learn about it eventually; it may as well come from you. You can be straightforward and still keep it age-appropriate.
4. Don’t sugarcoat it
As they become more curious about their own anatomy, they will also start to show interest in other people’s bodies. If a toddler has the tendency to touch their genitals, we can use this time to explain how that’s something that is only done in private.
When it comes to teenagers (which is the phase that most parents fear the most), know that your candor will be appreciated more than anything. Even if it starts out a little awkward, they are more likely to value your thoughts and opinions than reject them— especially when you give it to them straight. When their hormones are raging, and the urges become stronger, you’ll know it’s a good time to bring up consent, safe sex, STD’s, and unwanted pregnancies. Because that’s just the reality of it.
Our kids are growing at an exponential rate. We cannot underestimate them and they deserve to be given more credit. If we want their respect, we have to treat them with respect— also another good touching point when it comes to sexual behavior.
5. Keep it positive
Nobody likes a nag, right? We want our kids to want to talk to us, not run for the hills when they see we’re about to sit them down for a one-on-one. By keeping an open mind when it comes to sex, we set the tone for a more comfortable conversation. Try to focus on what they can do instead of dwelling on the don’ts.
It’s safe to assume that they know exactly what they shouldn’t be doing, but even if it does bear repeating, we don’t have to make that the focal point of the discussion.
Don’t have sex.
Don’t get pregnant.
Don’t get herpes.
Does that look like something our kids want to keep hearing? I know I didn’t. But our default as parents are usually the don’ts, which means the do’s get lost somewhere along the way.
So, what can they do to be sexually healthy? What are their boundaries with a partner that they care about? What do they do in cases of peer or partner pressure? These are all topics that need to be part of the package when they ask about sex. Discuss what they can do.
Set positive expectations. Let your kids know that great sex exists and it’s something that they deserve. These discussions will help them to have positive standards by which to judge sexual experiences. Help them understand why sex is worth waiting for, and give them realistic guidance about how they can be more aware of when they are ready to move forward.
6. Teaching kids about sex doesn’t mean parenting without values
Acknowledging sexuality is not the same as condoning or giving permission to have sex. Helping our children understand that sexual thoughts and feelings are normal gives us the opportunity to follow up with conversations about how to be abstinent, and how to regulate their impulses and urges. It makes way for continued conversation about how to be safe and responsible when our adolescents begin to engage in intimate physical or sexual activities.
Talking with your kids about sex and sexuality early in life really pays off once they’ve hit their teens. If you’ve established yourself as open to discussing those topics, they’ll probably feel more comfortable talking to you and asking you sincere questions. If you’ve been quiet about it this whole time, you can always explain that you’ve decided to open up because you feel it’s important to do so. A simple statement can be all the reassurance they’ll ever need.
7. Empower your children
Ultimately, you want to empower your child to be able to evaluate risks and make good decisions when the time comes. Helping our children understand that they have good instincts and an inner voice to listen to is a huge part of what sex education is about. These conversations with appropriate topics for the right age sets your child up for that.
The goal is really to open up communication that leads to healthy discussions and making well informed decisions. More than friends, social media, or even siblings, teens are more likely to take your opinion into consideration and hold it in high regard. Yes, your opinion matters, and will most likely have an impact in the way your child views sex.
This is all part of the parenting gig— and with great power comes great responsibility.