I don’t remember when I took my first steps or said my first words. I don’t remember my first bike ride. But I do remember when I first learned about sex.
Images and Text by Parenting Editor Michelle
It was the mid-1980s, I was 6 or 7 years old and we were staying at a KOA campground during a summer vacation. I heard some kids talking about finding a “rubber” and I asked my mother what it was. I learned that day not just about condoms but about sexual intercourse and of course, the big realization that my parents had performed this act at least four times because myself and my three siblings were earth-side to show for it.
Here is what I also remember well – my mother talking to me calmly and confidently about sex. In the adolescent years that followed, anytime I heard about a sexual act or other unknown word, I knew I could go to her and get a truthful answer. Thanks, Mom!
So far, the talks about bodies and sex have gone well with my two daughters. My oldest daughter asked great questions when I was pregnant with her younger brothers and at age 5, she knew she had a vulva, vagina, uterus and even a cervix (because she was concerned that the baby would fall out and was relieved to know there was a “door” preventing that from happening).
To prepare myself to better handle these discussions with my sons (and continued talks with my daughters), I researched and sought advice about ways to talk with our children about bodies, maturation, puberty and of course, sex. Most experts echoed the same counsel too.
START WHEN THEY ARE YOUNG
All the experts agree to begin conversations about their body when they are young and to use proper names for the genital body parts.
Planned Parenthood suggests, “Talking with your kid about sex, relationships, and their health is a lifelong conversation. As soon as kids start learning to talk, you can teach them the names of the parts of their body. As soon as they start being around other kids, you can teach them about respecting other people and talking about their feelings. These things lay the groundwork for healthy sexuality and relationships later on.”
Honesty and proper terms for genitals isn’t just good advice – it actually can help prevent (or put a stop to) child abuse too. Dona Matthews, Ph.D. advises, “When kids know and are comfortable using the standard terms for their private body parts – they’ve got one more protection against sexual abuse. When children feel awkward talking about certain body parts… they’re more likely to feel embarrassed about asking questions, and they’re less likely to tell you if someone is touching them inappropriately.”
FOCUS ON REPRODUCTION
Many also suggest focusing on human reproduction for the initial conversations about sex (male sperm + female egg = human baby). Important talks about sexual health, safety, pleasure and consent should follow in the months and years to come when the child is of an appropriate age (many suggest when they attend junior high).
With my daughters, they each took the big reveal of the sex talk in stride and to be honest, were more surprised about the truth of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.
After talking about sex and reproduction, we also talked about body changes. This is also where I really love and recommend the book “It’s NOT the Stork!” because it showed (through appropriate illustrations) the natural changes that will happen to both boys and girls as they grow older.
My oldest daughter is in fifth grade and has been taught a few body maturation classes at school. Each time, she proudly told me she already knew all the information that was explained to her. Knowledge made her feel in control and proud of her body.
TEACH YOUR VALUES TOO
Values are important in the raising of children, especially when it comes to sex and their bodies. The American Academy of Pediatrics counsels, “Teaching kids about sex doesn’t mean parenting without values. It opens the door to continued conversation about how to be safe and responsible when their adolescents begin to engage in intimate physical or sexual activities.”
Psychologist Warren Cann agrees. “I think sometimes parents can be a little concerned that if there is discussion about sexuality, that that may somehow encourage early sexual behaviour or early sexual experimentation,” says Cann. “And what the evidence shows is that the openness about sex and sexuality is actually associated with delayed sexual activity, not speeding sexual activity.”
BE AN ASK-ABLE PARENT
Psychologist Warren Cann continues, “The aim is to become an ask-able parent… somebody who can be asked and to set up from a very early stage an openness and a willingness to provide information and to discuss those issues.”
When our child asks us something about sex or bodies, start by asking questions to your child first (“Can you tell me what you already know about that?”) and then ask them if your answer satisfied their question.
I’m realizing more and more that there are many ‘teachable moments’ too. My 7-year-old son asked why bikini-clad Princess Leia is chained to Jabba the Hutt in the film Return of the Jedi. We had a great conversation about Leia’s feelings, consent, slavery and crime.
Do you remember when you first learned about sex? Have you had any experiences as a parent telling your child about it? Share below, I’d love your feedback.