Sexual Health Through Education
How can we start those very important conversations about sexuality with our children? Firstly, you need to remember that you have been the primary sexuality educator your children since they were babies. Children first learn about sexuality from the hugs and cuddles we give them as babies and our attitude about their bodies. The need for touch is one of the most basic, life-long aspects of human sexuality.
When children are learning to talk, teaching them the correct names for body parts and functions gives them a language they can use even as adults. This doesn’t mean your family can’t use some of the cute terms children come up with, it just means they also know the correct words.
Young children frequently ask questions about how the world works and about how people’s bodies work. Take advantage of their curiosity. Answer the question with a simple answer and tell them that you will answer any other questions they may have.
Give your child correct information when they ask you a question. Sometimes parents worry about giving too much information. Most three-year-olds can understand that “The baby grows in a special place called a uterus. The baby will come out of an opening called a vagina.” Talking about babies growing in stomachs or being brought by the stork causes confusion.
If your child has not asked any questions by five or six years of age, bring the topic up yourself. You can use books or television programs to help you. For example, you can ask a question about something that is happening in a television program you are watching together. You could also buy a book or borrow one from the library and read it together.
Talk about your family’s values and beliefs. Decide what standards of behaviour are okay in your house and share them with your children. However, make sure that your children understand that other families may have different standards. For example, if it’s okay for your child to walk around your home with no clothes on, they do need to understand that it’s not okay to do the same at someone else’s house.
Once your child is going to school, get to know their environment - who their friends are, what jokes are popular, which TV shows they’re watching etc. Being interested and discussing these things in a nonjudgmental way can tell you a lot about what your child sees and hears. Talk about whether this is the same or different than when you were growing up. Share your own stories of growing up with your children
As your child gets older, she may try to put you off with “Oh, Dad!” or “That’s gross!” but that doesn’t necessarily mean she knows it all or doesn’t want to talk. As children approach puberty they may begin to feel a bit embarrassed by the topic. Don’t force the issue; you can say “That’s alright ... we can talk about it another time.” The important message for your child or teen to get from you is that sexuality is something that can be talked about in your family.
As children move into their teen years they may appear to be more knowledgeable about sexuality issues than they really are. As parents, we may not know as much about a topic as we would like to. Don’t be afraid to tell your teen that you’re feeling uncomfortable or don’t know the answer to a question. The important message for your teens is that you care enough about them to have the conversation or work together to find the answers to a question.
Try to become aware of the ‘question behind the question.’ Like many adults, teens often worry about “Am I normal?” While there is a lot of information around us about sexuality, there is also much misinformation provided by advertising or Internet sites that are really just trying to make us feel badly enough about our sexuality, that we will buy whatever product or service they are trying to sell. Make sure you have the information you need to educate your teen and talk about how differences between people are just a part of our sexuality.
Remember, that facts are not enough. Share your feelings, values and beliefs about sexuality and relationships. Tell your children why you feel the way you do. For example, the worksheet Improving Relationships can help you figure out what you wish you had known about relationships – some of which you might want to share with your teen.
It’s easy to focus on the dangers of sexuality without talking about the pleasures. Be sure to talk about loving relationships and intimacy as an important aspect of life. By sharing your values you are telling your children that you care about their happiness and well-being.
Need some helpful information to share with your teen or adolescent children? Check out the Growing Up Ok! section of our website!