Disclaimer: This post isn’t going to be for everyone, but because I am teaching an adolescent class and because the topic of sex, sexuality, intimacy, body image, and gender roles along with plain old “So how DO you talk to kids about all of this?” comes up during every class, I wanted to provide a quick tip list that will help parents address these sensitive subjects in a reasonable, rational and respectful way.
1. Start early. The sooner you start talking to your kids about sex, intimacy, pleasure, body image, and gender identification, the better chance you have of raising a thoughtful, well informed educated teenager who understands all of these subjects and feels comfortable talking about them – openly and honestly. Take into consideration your child’s age, and take into consideration the level of curiosity your children display. Use their questions as a way to gauge how much information to share. If they seem satisfied with your answer, stop. If they ask more, keep answering. Parents wait too long to talk to their kids about sex, intimacy, pleasure, responsibility and healthy relationships and miss the opportunity to establish honest conversation when kids are in the curious stage of life.
Most children are exposed to pornography by the age of 9. The sooner you start the education process, the better informed your kids will be which means they will make smarter, safer decisions when it comes time to decide whether they are ready for sex or not and with whom they want to have a sexual relationship with.
2. Use real language, not pretend words for real body parts. If you are uncomfortable using the word penis or vagina, intercourse, homosexuality, and so on there is no way you are going to be able to talk to your kids about sex and their sexuality. One of the ways you can determine whether your children are ready to explore their sexuality is by how comfortable they are talking about their bodies and how they work. After all, if they can’t say the word penis or vagina, they probably aren’t ready.
Using made up, immature names only confuses kids and lets them know that you are uncomfortable with the entire subject. This means they will rely on other people for information and their education.
3. Get educated. Chances are your parents were not a wealth of information and you grew up with some questions and faulty beliefs of your own around the subject of sexuality and sex. Blow these limiting beliefs open and do the work necessary to be a viable resource for your kids. It is our responsibility to talk to our kids about difficult subjects. Particularly subjects that will affect them their entire lives. Find experts who resonate with you. Practice talking about things that make you uncomfortable and nervous. You want your kids to come to YOU, not the other 9 year-old on the bus, with questions. Be honest and provide accurate information. Don’t confuse education with values. Being educated often makes it easier for kids to live into the value of delayed sexual intimacy.
4. Make it a regular conversation, not a conversation that happens once a year. Sex and intimacy, gender identification and body image are a big part of life as an adult. There are many aspects to a healthy sex life with a life partner. It will take dozens and dozens of conversations, some light, some serious in order to educate our children on relationships, intimacy, sexuality, pleasure, monogamy, and so on. Put it on your calendar and take advantage of every opportunity to talk about sex.
5. Education breeds confidence. Children who are confident about what constitutes a healthy sexual relationship (and that starts with the relationship they have with themselves), are better able to navigate healthy relationships when that becomes an integral part of their lives.
6. Encourage your kids to develop a healthy relationship with their own body. Yes, I know this is awkward, but studies show that people who are comfortable in their own skin, who understand their own bodies and can communicate openly about their own wants, needs and desires, are more likely to enter into healthy relationships. If you can’t bring yourself to talk to your kids, find someone you trust who feels comfortable and make that personal available to your child.
We are sexual beings. Whether you like it or not, it is your responsibility to teach your children about sexuality, sex, intimacy, healthy relationships and the time to start is when they are young and you have time to cover every aspect of what it means to be in a physical relationship with another human being.
Be Brave. Be Courageous. And have FUN.