How to Tell Your Child about Sex

The child who is told the “facts of life” within the con­text of a value system is a child who knows, “Mom and Dad trust me with this information; they value me as a person, and they can tell I’m growing up.”

When should you tell your child about sex?

Before someone else talks about porn stories with them. If you don’t talk to your child about sex, be assured that someone else will, and chances are, that someone else will be a peer or an older child who doesn’t have all the facts. You’ll then have to sort out and undo myths even before you can share facts.

Don’t wait for your child to have the classes on “sex education” offered at school. Sex education does not, and cannot address, the “rights and wrongs” associated with sexual behavior; neither will a sex education teacher tell your child when and what kinds of sexual behavior are appropriate.

It’s important that you, as a parent, address the phys­iological changes that boys and girls experience during puberty. It’s important that you be the one to explain the differences in anatomy between men and women and that you be the one who tells your child about sex­ual intercourse.

Bear in mind that a discussion about sexual activity and sexual desires should not be a one-time discussion. It should be an ongoing dialogue you have with your child from the time he or she is about three years old— that is, when your child becomes aware that boys and girls have different body parts—until your son or daughter is an adult. Make certain you refer to various body parts by name. Avoid slang or vulgar expressions.

Make certain you share early with your child those parts of the body that should be considered “private” and which should be protected from intrusion or abuse.

When you discuss sexual functions and sexual behav­ior, include a discussion about birth control and safe sex. Be sure you also know the facts about AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. You need to share this information with your child prior to adolescence.

Many parents find visual aids a help, such as charts, a three-dimensional model (such as the “Invisible Man” and “Invisible Woman” models that show anatomical organs), or dolls. You should be the first person to show your child a condom. When talking about sex, speak objectively.

Answer your child’s questions as best you can, and if you are unsatisfied with your answer or your ability to come up with an answer, admit to your child, “I need some time to think about how best to explain that to you.” Give yourself a day or two to think it through and then, at an appropriate moment, come back to your child with the answer.

You may not ever be comfortable talking about sex with your child. Take it upon yourself, then, to get in­formation and to make sure your child reads it. Many parents find it easier to talk about sex with their child if the child already has accurate information.

One couple I know had a jar set up in the corner of their kitchen. They invited their children to put into it their toughest questions. They labeled the jar “Dad Stumpers and Mom Puzzlers.” The parents assured their children that no questions would be discarded or dismissed as unimportant and that all questions would be answered to the best of their ability. Sometimes the parents went to the library to find a book that would give their children the answers. One night a month the family discussed problems, made up a master calendar of events, reached decisions, and handled the questions from the jar. In the context of a matter-of-fact, agenda-based meeting, these parents found that even difficult or otherwise embarrassing questions could be dis­cussed without giggles, blushing, or cute remarks. In fact, the parents themselves sometimes “planted” questions into the jar in order to make certain that some topics were covered!

Share with your child what sexual behaviors are ap­propriate, under what conditions and with whom, and give reasons why. Let your child know what you think about holding hands, kissing, nudity, fondling, and inter­ course. Talk to your child about the difference between love and sexual acts.

One father told me he considered it his obligation to “line proof” his daughter. “We’ve made it something of a game we call The Lines Guys Use.’ She’s not going to be an easy mark, believe me!” As part of their dis­cussions down through the years, this father discov­ered that he and his daughter were exploring a number of differences in the ways men and women communi­cate. He recently told me, “We’ve got a new game go­ing. It’s called ‘What He Means, What She Means.’ I think I’m learning as much as she is! Men and women really do communicate in different ways!”

Your child is going to face a great deal of pressure to engage in sexual activity. Recognize that fact early. Re­gard your child’s sex education just as you would your child’s education in any other area: deal with questions in a straight-forward, unemotional way.

Children who can talk openly with their parents about sexual behavior feel that they have been let in on one of the main secrets of life. Children who know early on how they are created feel a certain degree of continuity between ancestors and future heirs. Such children feel they have a “place” in the culture and a role in the scheme of a family’s history.

Filed Under: Family & Relationships


About the Author: Roberta Southworth is a psychiatrist by profession. She likes to help out people by writing informative tips on how people can to solve their family and relationship issues. She is currently staying in Ireland. She has 5 years of couple counseling experience.

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