Ah parenthood…one day you’re sat there watching your squidgy-cheeked little darling contemplating whether to watch Peppa Pig or Paw Patrol; and the next you’re stifling a giggle at the same time as trying not to sound too scientific, as you explain your way around the ‘S.E.X’ talk. But just when is the right time to talk about it and how should we approach it? Should we wait until they ask or just leave it to school?
As I’m faced with the reality of a fast-developing almost 11 year old. I’ve been doing a bit of research to help me ‘get it right,’ so I thought I’d share what I’ve learnt and hopefully when this situation comes along for you, the awkward stuff won’t be so difficult.
Here are some of the top tips I’ve come across:
Get your facts straight
Accordingly to the NHS, “Children need to know about sex, pregnancy, contraception and safer sex before they start any sexual activity. This is so they will know what to think about, such as safer sex and not doing anything they don’t want to do. This way, they can make decisions that are right for them when the time comes.”
Nevertheless, its us parents that are left dealing with a difficult subject and that can be a overwhelming. There are so many brilliant resources that can help you out though so don’t panic (I’ve listed some below). Don’t worry about needing to ‘know it all,’ do a bit of research to make sure you know the age appropriate ways of dealing with the questions that may come, but above all don’t over complicate things and always use facts. A question of “Where do babies come from?” from a 4 year old, can simply be met by “they grow in a woman’s tummy and when they’re ready they come out.” Telling a child that babies are delivered by a stork or come out of a belly button can lead to all sorts of strange imaginings that can actually really confuse them when they learn the truth.
Call it what it is
Vagina, penis, breasts – these are all words that seem to hold a really uncomfortable position for some parents. Whether it’s the recollection of our own awkward and outdated sex education, or the fact that they seem a bit clinical, who knows. The point is that our kids need to know the real names for their bits and pieces. It’s ok to have cutesy names for genitalia, so long as we’re actually telling our kids what their body parts are called. Using code words at all times imply there’s something shameful about their parts, or that they’re so secretive they can’t be named.
Don’t put it off
It goes without saying that raising any topic remotely sex related can be a bit awks, but once you start it will be much easier and become more normal for you all. It’s a good idea to start early on when your child is eager to learn and less embarrassed (with age appropriate detail and subject matter obviously). You can bring the topic up as it arises naturally – use media, images, or people to naturally spark the conversation. A pregnant lady, a TV programme about body acceptance, or a comedy about the awkwardness of puberty (cue Kevin and Perry!). In western culture, sexual images are used to sell everything from chocolate to cars, so almost anything can be used to trigger a conversation.
Teachable moments that require a talk will also pop up in your child’s life. For instance, if you find out your kid has accidentally (or accidentally-on-purpose) seen porn, talk with them about what real sex might look like and how it’s very different to porn.
4. Ask them what they know
Always ask your child what they know and praise them for any accurate information. Don’t ridicule things they get wrong, let them speak and take their time, but make sure you set the facts straight for them. My son read a chapter in a book I bought him about wet dreams and then told me that he knows that during puberty he might “wee the bed” and I had to check what he actually knew and explain the fact it isn’t wee at all! Yes it was weird and yes I struggled a bit, but he now knows the facts and is now prepared for the changes. Incidentally, there’s no reason that boys and girls shouldn’t learn the same things – for example, you can teach your sons about periods and your daughters about erections. It’s all normal human stuff!
It’s not “the talk” is an ongoing conversation…
There’s nothing worse than making every question into a big deal. Some stuff certainly is a big deal, but in order to make it ok to come to you with future questions, keep it more casual. The last thing your pre-teen needs is to be marched to the sofa for “the talk” in a formal manner. I find the car a great place to chat with my son, but it’s also good when I’m cooking and he sits at the table. Of course, if something is more serious, then it’s important to stop what you’re doing and take the time out to sit down.
It’s not just mechanics
The new curriculum guidelines now mean schools are to teach kids about positive relationships, and how sex fits in as just one part of that. I remember learning the biology of it all and thinking how weird it all was, so I think it’s a great idea to explore subjects like healthy relationships, rather than just the mechanics of making a baby! While you may expect your kids to hide away at the first mention of touchy subjects like porn, consent, gender roles, or sexual violence, it’s been found that teenagers actually crave more, not less guidance from the adults in their lives.
Despite your upbringing, education, experiences or feelings towards all things sex, it’s really important that you try not to impart any negativity onto your child that may cloud their judgement as they grow into young adults. This includes negative comments about body image. We all stand there and criticise ourselves in the mirror from time to time (men included) and you may hate your legs or wish you had bigger/smaller boobs or rippling muscles, but it goes without saying that each time you point out your flaws, you’re highlighting to your child that their body might not be perfect just as it is.
8. Safety first
Talking about safe sex and what you need to do to prevent STIs, infections and pregnancy doesn’t mean you are encouraging your child to have sex. When the time is right for them, they will want to do these things and wouldn’t you rather they know exactly what’s what?
9.How was it for you?
Think about your own sex education. Many adults never had a “sex talk” with their parents, which means a lot of us were left to ‘fumble in the dark’ and learn lessons the hard way. Use your own experience to prompt what to say to your child to help them avoid a similar awkward or hurtful situation. Likewise, think about what misconceptions you picked up along the way. Heterosexual boys, for example, might learn from society and the media that women are sexual gatekeepers, and that “the game” of getting together is to convince women to open those gates, perhaps through any means possible. Similarly, girls can receive the mixed messages of female sexuality as “slutty” rather than “empowered.” Just keep talking and challenge the misconceptions together.
Let them decide
Teaching your child to know their personal boundaries and allowing them to enforce them could be the most valuable thing you could do for them in terms of their later physical encounters. One of the best ways is not to force them to be physically affectionate to visitors or relatives. A young child can’t separate mind and body and if their body is forced to do something his mind doesn’t want, it’s confusing and distressing. By showing you respect your child’s body and space, you’ll help them to learn that same awareness and respect for their own personal boundaries as they grow.
Above all, remember that it’s a crazy old world out there and you aren’t expected to have all of the answers. The main thing is that you keep your ears as open as your arms, even when talks induce an eye-roll.
I have by no means covered all of it here and I am totally open to ideas and suggestions so please feel free to make helpful comments.
Here are some resources that can help…