How to Talk to Your Child About Sex
by Chris Grannis
In the environment of openness and communication that is today's world it is strange that parents often have a knee-jerk reaction to their children's questions about sex. When my six-year old kid piped up from the back seat with, 'Mom, what is 'copulation?' I almost crashed the car! Having received my own sex education via the scare tactics of playground gossip I had vowed that things would be different for my own children. In this instance I resisted the temptation to say, 'Ask Dad,' and instead gave a simple and honest explanation. It really wasn't difficult as I had already dealt with, 'How does the baby get out of your tummy?' Teaching children about sex is no more difficult than telling them to wash behind their ears and neither should it be any more embarrassing.
Why is it important to teach children about sex?
Every parent has different morals and religious beliefs but, regardless of these, it is vital that our children learn from us and not from peers, television, pornography, or predators. Studies have shown that children whose parents are open and honest about sex and intimacy are less inclined to become sexually active at a young age and, when they eventually do feel that the time is right, they are more apt to practice safe sex.
What is the best age to start talking to children about sex?
Starting early makes it a more natural process and prevents the subject from becoming embarrassing as the child gets older, but it is important to keep the information age specific. Sex education is not a one-off, sit-down lecture, but an ongoing process of communication between parent and child.
Sex education for pre-school children
Using proper names for genitals is a good precursor for discussing sex and maturation. There is no harm in having pet names for genitals, just as with other body parts, but it is important that children are also familiar with proper terms and are not embarrassed with their use.
At age three to four young children often start to ask questions such as, 'How does the baby get into Mommy's tummy?' This is no time for fairy-tales about storks and gooseberry bushes but neither should it turn into Sex and Reproduction 101. The child will usually be satisfied with something like, 'Daddy has a seed inside him and Mommy has an egg inside her, and when the seed and egg meet they grow into a baby.' At some stage in the not too distant future your child will ask how rendezvous of seed and egg takes place and this is the time to give a little more information. If you still feel uncomfortable you can always say to your kid, 'That's a good question! Let's go to the library tomorrow and check out a book that we can read together.'
Talking to older little kids
Leaving sex education till your children are teenagers may be a case of locking the stable door after the horse has bolted. Puberty can start as early as eight-years of age so it is important that kids know in advance what to expect regarding physical changes. Usually a child's natural curiosity will lead them to ask questions but if this doesn't happen it is important that you take the lead and introduce these subjects into everyday life.
Sanitary protection and contraceptives stored openly in the bathroom will often prompt questions as to their uses and this can lead onto further discussions about growing up and sexual maturity. When my six-year old emerged from the bathroom with tampons dangling from his ears I quickly covered my embarrassment and seized the teaching moment. These sorts of incidents are also invaluable in introducing such subjects as private and public behavior, wanted and unwanted touching, and nudity and appropriate dress.
Big kids and teens
By the time your children get to this stage sex, reproduction, and growing up should be no mystery to them. All the important issues should have been addressed from the difference between boys and girls, to protection against unwanted pregnancy and STDs.
At this stage it is natural for older kids to have a greater desire for privacy and a hesitancy to talk to their parents about sex. However, by nurturing open and honest communication while they are young you will have minimized any shutting down on their part and also reassured yourself that, having all the facts, they are less likely to make mistakes.
Dealt with properly, sex education will not only help your kid become well-informed about important issues, but can also be a vehicle to help nurture the relationship between parent and child. So take a deep breath, talk to your child, and enjoy the wonderful journey of helping your child learn about life and love.
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