By Isiah McKimmie
Educating children about sex can be a daunting task for any parent.
Most of us haven’t been taught or had any experience talking about sex with kids, and many of us struggle to talk about sex with our partner, let alone our children.
You might think that your child doesn’t want to learn about sex from their Mum anyway.
However, the average age that children are first exposed to porn on the internet these days is 11 years old. Our young people are increasingly being influenced by this culture, so it’s more important than ever to provide them with a real sex education. And to make yourself available to answer any questions your child may have about sex.
The truth is, we all have questions about sex and our children are no different.
Children naturally explore relationships, sensuality and sexuality from a young age. Ultrasound images have been captured showing erectile responses in male foetuses as early as 16 weeks. Yes, children’s experience and understanding of these responses is likely different to adults’, but it’s part of their experience and natural exploration nonetheless.
The explicit and implicit messages we receive about sex from our culture and family impact our experience (and enjoyment) of sex throughout our lives.
In educating your child about sex you have an opportunity to help them become safer, impact their future enjoyment of relationships and become someone that your child easily receives advice from.
So, when is the right time or age?
Deciding at what age to start educating your children about sex is challenging. The truth is, there’s no ‘appropriate age’ to start talking to kids about sex. Children need age-appropriate sex education at all ages.
This includes using the correct words for genitalia from an early age.
It can be tempting to wait until they’re old enough to understand or until they’re approaching adolescence to broach the subject, but children often will have already received information (or misinformation) elsewhere by the time their parents feel it’s appropriate.
Children’s ability to understand sex and the stages of their own sexual development will change over time so we need to try to meet them with appropriate education at each age.
We shouldn’t just be having ‘one talk’, but an on-going conversation, that will change and evolve over time.
If sex is something that’s openly talked about often, it takes the pressure off an individual conversation, supports your child, and allows them to feel more comfortable discussing it with you. Education around sex doesn’t translate into an earlier age of sexual initiation.
Not wanting children to engage in sexual activity can be one of the reasons we ‘shield’ children from knowing ‘too much’. But research shows that comprehensive sex education doesn’t impact the age of a child’s first sexual experiences. It’s been shown that comprehensive sex education lowers the rate of teenage pregnancy drastically.
It’s normal to feel a little awkward and uncomfortable talking to your children about sex, but here are some of the things you can do to make it easier on all of you.
Your comfort will make the biggest difference.
As human beings, we’re wired to detect emotions and reactions. Although it can be difficult, if you have feelings of shame, anxiety of discomfort discussing sex, your child will pick up on that, and is likely to feel uncomfortable in the conversation themselves.
The more comfortable that you are talking about sex, the more your children will understand that sex isn’t something they should be ashamed of. And they’ll feel that they can approach you to talk about it.
Use correct terms
It can be tempting to use euphemisms for referring to genitals such a v-jay, or doodle, but using anatomically correct terms is important.
Using nicknames or baby terms for genitals sends a signal that it really isn’t okay. We have to give it a special name in order to be able to say it. We take on a message that what we’re talking about is shameful.
It’s also important because if your child experiences sexual abuse being able to use correct terms in describing what happening is going to support them in reporting the experience to a trusted adult.
Penis is used for men. Though vagina is commonly used for women’s genitalia, this actually only refers to the inter vaginal canal. Vulva is a term now widely used that includes the external areas.
Talk about consent
Sexual education needs to include more than biology. Educating your children around consent is vital.
We need to know exactly what consent is – and that we’re all entitled to it. Conversations around consent will change as your child ages, but the fundamentals remain the same: They – and they alone – have autonomy over their body. They do not need to tolerate touch from anyone that isn’t wanted – this includes tickles, kisses and cuddles from family and friends and any kind of touch from someone they don’t know. Learning to say ‘no’ is something we need to practice – and know that it will be honoured.
As children approach adolescence, they also need to know that not saying no isn’t considered consent. Unless someone specifically says ‘yes’ and is cognisant of mind enough to do so, their sexual contact may be considered assault.
It’s about safety
Let’s be clear that being able to have open conversations with your child about sex also adds to their safety, both as children and adolescents. With open, honest conversation and a good relationship with your child, you can be someone your child feels comfortable coming to should issues arise.
Our increasingly digital world offers new challenges for children navigating the world of sexuality and relationships.
- Children sometimes seek information online and can be left confused and even traumatised about what they find.
- The ease at which children engage in conversations and disclose personal information to people online places them at risk, both physically and emotionally.
It is possible to have open, honest conversations with your child about sex that increase their safety, sense of empowerment and enjoyment of sex and intimacy throughout their life.
Keep in mind – our own experiences from our cultures and families also impact our experience (and enjoyment) of sex throughout our lives. So, when discussing sex with your child, be aware of the perspective you are transferring to them
Isiah McKimmie is a Couples Therapist, Sexologist and Sex Therapist.
She spends her days helping couples have important conversations about sex and intimacy – and helping women discover their sensual and sexual selves.
She offers online courses and coaching via Skype to women and couples around the world.