Talking to your Kids About Sex

There is no question that talking to your children about sex can be an uncomfortable topic. However, it is a very important topic to discuss with children. Research shows that when parents or caregivers talk to their children about sex, they are more likely to be responsible, practice safe sex and not engage in high risk sexual behaviors.

With the amount of sexualized language, images and behaviors children are exposed to in the media today it is important to educate children about sex both early and often. When you are talking to your kids, make sure you are telling them the truth, developmentally appropriate information and information that is aligned with your family’s beliefs and values. This is a lifelong conversation.

Creating an environment of love, honesty and support allows parents and caregivers to have healthy conversations about sex that affirm children’s needs for unconditional love while sharing information about respect, integrity, boundaries, and making appropriate and safe choices.

Having a conversation about sex with your child does not mean you are giving them permission to have sex. It is simply educating them about sex and sexual relationships.

Shape your Conversation Around Their Age:

  • For younger children parents can start conversations about sex by providing books on anatomy and puberty. Make sure to check in with your child afterwards to see if they understood what they read. Ask them if they have questions or want to talk about anything.
  • Do not give nicknames to body parts. When talking to your child, it is important to use real names. Nicknames and slang will only confuse children as they gain more information.
  • For children in middle school, it might be a good start to discuss various types of relationships people have. Ask them to give examples of the types of relationships they have with different people.
  • When children move to high school it is now appropriate to talk to them about girlfriends and boyfriends, sexual desires, and whether they think they are ready to have sex or not. Remind children that it is normal to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable when discussing these topics, but there is nothing to be ashamed of.
  • These conversations give parents an opportunity to dispel myths children might have heard and give factual information.
  • This also opens the doors for your child to feel comfortable talking to you when situations around feelings of love, relationships and sexual relationships occur.

Be Honest and Straightforward:

  • When your child comes to you with a question about sex, no need to worry. Take a breath and congratulate yourself for being an open and receptive parent. Your child would have asked another adult or a peer.
  • It is important to know that when your child engages in a conversation about sex, it is a sign that they feel comfortable talking to you. This means they trust and respect you. Feel free to ask them what they do know about the subject and fill the gaps in their knowledge.
  • For younger children keep your answers simple and do not answer questions that have not been asked.
  • If you do not know the answer to one of their questions, it is okay, be honest with your child. And work together to research information with child if you are not sure.
  • This can all be awkward but try to work through your embarrassment.

Establish Boundaries in Line with Your Values:

  • Have a clear conversation of expectations. This is the first step towards managing their behavior. As children grow into teenagers, they become more independent.
  • Setting these boundaries will prevent them from engaging in risky behavior but allow them to be heard during these conversations.
  • Discussing topics that include curfew, sleepovers, dating and visiting friends helps your child understand your values. This will help them determine what is appropriate and what is expected of them.
  • When talking about family rules, let your child know these are established out of love and a desire to keep them safe.
  • Remind your child that when they spend time at friends’ houses, there needs to be an adult present.

Will Talking to your Child Really Make a Difference? 

  • Parents/caregivers have the most influence over children’s decisions. This will take precedence over their friends, siblings and the media if they have the conversations and open communications on these topics.
  • Teens agreed it would be easier to make decisions around sex if they felt they could openly and honestly talk to their parents/caregivers about it.
  • Teens who do talk to their parents/caregivers are more likely to delay sexual encounters until they are older and ready.
  • Teens who talk to their parents/caregivers about sex are also more likely to make better choices around sexual behavior when they do choose to have sex, like wearing condoms to prevent STI’s, and pregnancy.

Be Prepared to Have the Conversation:

  • These conversations are difficult but needed. Make sure that before you start this conversation you feel comfortable and are prepared emotionally.
  • When talking to your child, particularly a teenager, it is critical that parents/caregivers are non-judgmental or condescending towards the child.
  • If road blocks in the conversation occur, children are likely to shut down and not feel they can really talk to their parents/caregivers about sex.
  • Make sure to be open-minded and hear the child’s feelings. This will lead toward more open and honest conversations later in their life.

If you need support, please call our Parenting HelpLine: 1-800-243-7337

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