Q: How Can I Start Talking to my Kids About Sexuality?
A: Everyday life provides lots of opportunities for talking about sexuality. When watching a TV show that shows a young person going through puberty or going out on a date, seeing an ad that prompts thoughts about body acceptance, or running into a pregnant neighbor, we can use that to initiate conversations with our children. These teachable moments occur every day, and can help make the conversation easier and more natural.
Q: When Should I Start Talking to my Kids About Sexuality?
A: Some of us plan “the talk” for months, expecting to say everything important all at once. Then, when “the talk” doesn’t go as planned, we get frustrated. But talking with children about sexuality is a lifelong conversation. Doing a little bit at a time helps set realistic goals when we talk with our children. It also helps keep children from feeling overwhelmed.
It’s best to start talking with children about sexuality early. Children are curious about their bodies, being a boy or girl, and different kinds of relationships from a very early age. Their curiosity creates a natural opportunity to begin the conversation and start building a respectful and trusting relationship. For young children, you can start by teaching them the names of their body parts or asking if they know why girls and boys look different.
When we talk to our children about sex, it’s important to keep our conversation age appropriate. If a five-year-old asks, “what is birth?” we might respond, “when a baby comes out of a mother’s body.” If a 10-year-old asks the same question, our answer would have more detail and might begin with, “After nine months of growing inside its mother’s uterus, a baby comes out through her vagina…”
Providing young people with information that is age-appropriate makes it easier for them to understand that sex is a natural part of human and emotional development. It also makes it easier to talk with them about the more complicated aspects of sexual intimacy as they get older.
Don’t worry if you haven’t started talking with your children about sexuality yet. It’s never too late. Just don’t try to “catch up” all at once. The most important thing is to be open and available whenever a child wants to talk.
Q: What Kinds of Things Should I Tell my Kids?
A: It’s important to give our kids truthful, useful, and accurate information that conveys our own values about sex and sexuality. It’s also important to prepare them to make responsible choices whenever they become sexually active. By the time they turn 19 years old, 70 percent of teens have had intercourse. So in addition to conveying our own values about sexual relationships, it’s important to talk with teens about preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.
It helps to think ahead of time about what messages we want to express. For example, a common topic that comes up with children is the difference between boys and girls or men and women. Some parents might want to convey the feeling that boys and girls are mostly the same except for some body parts, and boys and girls can do the same things. Other parents may want to express the belief that boys and girls are quite different from one another in many ways.
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