Parents, We Need to Talk to Our Children About Sex Top 5 Tips from a Sexologist

I know firsthand how tricky it can be to talk about sex with children. But despite the awkwardness, it’s crucial that we have these conversations to ensure our kids have the knowledge they need to make healthy and informed decisions. First things first, it’s important for me to make it clear that talking to children about sex and sexuality does not equate to encouraging them to engage in sexual activity; instead, it provides them with accurate information and empowers them to make informed decisions about their bodies and relationships.

While advocating for abstinence and no sex before marriage may seem like an easy way to avoid awkward conversations about talking to our children about sex, the reality is that it is not an effective approach. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has reported that almost one-third of Australian teenagers have engaged in sexual intercourse before the age of 16 (AIHW, 2021). Therefore, it is essential that parents have open and honest conversations about sex and sexuality. Comprehensive sex education can lead to lower rates of unwanted pregnancies and STIs. However, it’s not just about preventing these issues. Providing comprehensive sex education can help a new generation go forward with less shame about sex and empower them to have more open and honest conversations with their own children in the future.

As a starting point, here are my top five tips for talking to children about sex and sexuality in an open and informative way. I would recommend this brilliant resource called “Talk Soon” from Healthy WA for more in depth information about the topics below.

  1. Use Accurate Anatomical Language

Teaching children the correct terminology for their genitals can help to promote a greater understanding and respect for their bodies, while also reducing the likelihood of sexual abuse (Davis, 1998).

  • Keep the Conversation Age-Appropriate

Children may have different levels of understanding about sex and sexuality depending on their age and development. It’s important to tailor the conversation to their level of comprehension and to answer their questions honestly and sensitively (Haffner, 1998).

  • Encourage Open Communication

Creating a safe and non-judgmental space for children to ask questions and express their feelings can help to promote a healthy and positive attitude towards sex and sexuality (Rosenthal, 2015).

  • Start the Conversation Early

Research has shown that children begin to form ideas and attitudes about sex as early as 4 years old (Sieving et al., 2017). Starting the conversation early can help to establish a foundation of healthy attitudes and behaviours towards sex that can be built upon as they grow.

  • Promote Consent and Respect

Teaching children about the importance of consent and respect in sexual relationships can help to promote healthy boundaries and prevent sexual violence (McCauley et al., 2015). Encouraging open communication about boundaries and consent can also help children develop the skills and confidence to navigate sexual situations in a safe and positive way.

These top five tips are just the beginning of the conversation about sex and sexuality with children. As our children grow and develop, their understanding and questions about sex will also evolve. By laying the foundation of open communication and providing accurate information, we can continue to support our children’s healthy sexual development throughout their lives. As parents and caregivers, we have the power to shape our children’s attitudes and beliefs about sex and sexuality positively, and it’s crucial that we provide accurate information and support them in making informed decisions.

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References:

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. (2021). Admitted patient care 2019-20: Australian hospital statistics. Retrieved from https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/hospital-care/admitted-patient-care-2019-20-australian-hospital-statistics

Davis, A. (1998). What is a vulva anyway? Journal of Sex Education and Therapy, 23(2), 94-96. doi: 10.1080/01614576.1998.11074068

Haffner, D. W. (1998). From diaries to dirt: Ten steps to sex education. New York, NY: Walker and Company.

HealthyWA. (2017). Talk soon, talk often: A guide for parents talking to their kids about sex. Retrieved from https://www.healthywa.wa.gov.au/~/media/HWA/Documents/Healthy-living/Sexual-health/talk-soon-talk-often.pdf

McCauley, H. L., Tancredi, D. J., Silverman, J. G., Decker, M. R., Austin, S. B., McCormick, M. C., & Miller, E. (2015). Gender equitably and safety promotion interventions in middle schools: Results of the SHAPE-UP trial. Journal of Adolescent Health, 56(2S), S14-S19. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2014.09.012

Rosenthal, M. S. (2015). Talking to kids about sex: How to start the conversation. American Family Physician, 92(10), 864-870. Retrieved from https://www.aafp.org/afp/2015/1115/p864.html

Santelli, J. S., Kantor, L. M., Grilo, S. A., Speizer, I. S., Lindberg, L. D., Heitel, J., & Schalet, A. (2017). Abstinence-only-until-marriage: An updated review of U.S. policies and programs and their impact. Journal of Adolescent Health, 61(3), 273-280. doi: 10.1016/j.jadohealth.2017.03.027

Sieving, R. E., Eisenberg, M. E., Pettingell, S., Skay, C., & Buckelew, S. M. (2017). Friends’ influence on adolescents’ first sexual intercourse. Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, 49(1), 27-34. doi: 10.1363/psrh.12026