When my mother finally got up the gumption to talk to me about the proverbial "birds and the bees", the conversation went like this… “keep your legs closed and your dress down”. My mother was good at many things, but sex talks were not one of them. This was VERY impractical advice for a young, intelligent, and curious child like myself. Thank god I had trusted adults in my life that I could go to for accurate, non judgemental information. The harm is that when we avoid speaking to our children openly, and honestly about sexual health, the consequences may follow them into adulthood.
Talking to kids about sexual health can be awkward, and embarrassing for parents. But we need to have these conversations early and often. It’s better for us to teach this information, than for them to hear about it on facebook, or from some kid at the playground. Don’t assume the school, or your child’s doctor will talk to them about these issues. According the Guttmacher institute, 20 states do not require sex education in schools. In some cases, the education is not comprehensive and may leave out topics important to confidently navigating sexual health and life.
Here are some tips to talk to your kids
Communicate clearly and ensure the child understands what you are trying to convey
Sometimes parents talk so abstractly that the kids are stuck trying to figure out what they mean. Ask them - “What did you understand about what we spoke about?” Focus on the gaps between what we say and what our kids understand.
Provide age appropriate information about sexual health -
For younger children, start with correct names for body parts. Avoid euphemisms, like pee pee (for penis) and taa taas (for breasts) as this sends the message that body parts are taboo. Use penis, vagina, vulva, breasts, etc.
Create a safe, non judgemental environment for children to come to you with questions - It is normal to feel nervous to talk to your children about sexual health, and we may want to revert to the scaremongering tactics our parents used with us. But I strongly caution against that! Studies show that kids are more likely to engage in risk taking behavior when we approach sexual health from a negative standpoint. Try as best you can to remain supportive, receptive!
Have conversations about consent - it is important for the child to understand bodily autonomy, and that they have the right to make their own decisions about who they touch, and who touches them. Even for very young children, we need to respect and reinforce their physical space when the child expresses discomfort with physical touch.
Sexual health is many things! Don’t just focus on sex
Here is a short list of topics to get your started
Body parts names and locations
How pregnancy occurs
bodily changes over time
Boundaries & Respect
Sexually transmitted diseases
Body image/ self esteem
Pornography and sexting
inappropriate touching and abuse
Sexual orientation and gender identity
To learn more about these specific topics visit these helpful sites: