As a long time sexuality educator, I’ve come across many people who have done a really inadequate job of talking to their children about basic sexuality. I often ask the teens in my classes if they have any trusted adult they can talk to about sex or what messages they have gotten from home. When doing workshops with parents I learned that it’s a rarity to find an adult that is informed and comfortable enough to give accurate, sex-positive messages to their kids. Here are a few things I’ve learned that might be helpful.
Most parents are terrified of their children’s sexuality
Adults have a really difficult time admitting that sexual feelings are part of being human. All the parts that are pleasurable to be touched as an adult were there from birth. Hormones released during puberty certainly increase sexual feelings but even young children masturbate, have crushes, and crave physical (not sexual) contact. Children are curious about bodies and often have questions from a young age. I ask parents to think about what they want for their children when they are in a healthy, committed adult relationship. Don’t you want them to enjoy sex and be able to communicate openly with their partner? How can they help their child become this adult?
A simple first step is when teaching the names of their body parts use the actual names. This is your nose, these are your toes, this is your penis. It’s your body and you have the right to say no to unwanted touch. As the child grows older and more questions come to mind, you should be the one to answer these questions. If you start giving simple, factual answers to these questions when they are a young child, they are much more likely to come to you as a teen when the consequences are so much greater. If they don’t ask questions, use “teachable moments “to give basic information. “Did you see Aunt Sally’s big tummy? She’s going to have a baby! Here’s a book we can look at together that explains how this happened.”
Most parents are even more terrified that their child will be gay
A child’s sexual orientation is determined before they are born. Hormone levels released during the first trimester form much of a child’s basic sexual preferences, gender identity, and brain patterns. Many parents know from a very early age that their child would probably be attracted to same sex partners. How they support their children throughout their formative years is critical in them negotiating the cruelty of peers that is still a huge fact of life for gay youth. We don’t get to create the child we want. We do get to love and support the child we have.
Many parents feel their child is too young for sexual information
I was so horrified when my daughters came home from elementary school and told me some of the things they heard from their peers. THEY WERE TOO YOUNG AND INNOCENT TO HEAR THIS! But hear it they did. They read words written on the bathroom walls, on the back of the bus seats, in books. They were propositioned by boys. They were told about things kids watched at home. Luckily, they felt comfortable enough to tell me, so I could answer their questions with accurate information, explain what words meant so they understood why we don’t use them and give them responses to name calling and bullying. Try as we might to shelter our kids from sexual information, it will find them at a very tender age. It is critical that we educate them with age appropriate information and create an atmosphere where they feel safe talking to us.
Here at Planned Parenthood resources for parents are available to help navigate this critical, often confusing part of parenthood. A recent blog gives an excellent and entertaining example of positive sex ed parenting.