“The talk” is a conversation most parents fear having. Talking about sex is difficult, especially when you’re not sure if you’re saying the right things or telling them too much to handle. Is there a right age to talk to your kids about sex? Is a child ever too young to begin having these conversations?
DaCarla M. Albright, MD, a physician at Penn Medicine, says every child is different, so there isn’t a right way to educate them about sex. It’s up to the parent to figure out when is the right time to talk to their children about sex, Albright says.
“Once a child gets older and approaches puberty, they’re going to start being educated—mostly erroneously—by their peers. Or they will pick up information from the Internet, from sources that aren’t always reliable,” Albright says. “The onus is really on the parents to guide the conversation and control it before the child gets misinformation.”
Some parents choose to wait to have conversations about sex once their children hit puberty, but many experts suggest talking to your kids when they are younger. It’s also important to note that puberty begins from the ages of 8 to 14. Some children reach it before and after their peers. As parents, you should be prepared for these conversations.
Some topics will come up, particularly for children between 9 and 11 years old, like how babies are made or masturbation. It’s important to be prepared for these topics to come up. It’s helpful to have conversations with children about sex, bodies and sexuality as your child moves towards puberty so that they understand that sex, along with sexuality, are healthy, typical parts of life.
We are all aware that today’s youth live in a highly wired world. Heavy media exposure leaves young children susceptible to sexual subjects presented in distorted and superficial terms.
It’s also important to figure out how you want to approach “the talk.” Through popular culture, we are often told that this will be one conversation when it’s more than one. You should be prepared for many of them.
“Give the information on a consistent, ongoing basis, because one talk is definitely not going to do it,” Laura Berman, assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and psychiatry and author of "Talking to Your Kids about Sex: Turning ‘The Talk’ into a Conversation About Life,'” says.
“Before you even begin thinking about talking to your kids about sex, get really clear on what your own attitudes are and perspectives…Once you and your partner reach an understanding of the optimal context for your child, those values frame your conversations,” Berman explains.
When we have honest and open conversations with our kids when they are young, it can make some of the tougher, later conversations about sex easier. The early conversations we have with our kids can lay the groundwork for making wise, healthy and safer choices when it comes to sex and sexual relationships later in life.
It’s imperative that when you have conversations about sex, you talk about these things at your child’s level. The way you talk to an 8-year-old will be different from how you talk to your 15-year old. The best advice is to be positive, brief and factual. Your child will likely come back to you asking for more information.
It’s also helpful to use the correct names for body parts. While experts say that pet names are ok to use as well, using the correct names will help children understand that talking about the parts of the body is ok and healthy. Don’t forget to talk to your children about the function of each body part. When a child knows that their body belongs to them and the parts of it, they are able to communicate clearly about their body as needed, like when they are discussing the body with health professionals.
Sex conversations don’t need to be one-sided or by one parent. All parents should get involved as they are able. Having both parents discussing sex is another great way to show children that it’s ok to talk about sex and sexuality. This can also allow your children to feel more comfortable when it comes to discussing their bodies, their sexual feels and also communicate in intimate relationships when they get older.
Now, don’t think you need to be a sexpert to have conversations with your children about sex. It’s ok to tell your kids, “I don’t know.” They don’t need you to be an expert. They just need to know that the lines of communication are open. Keep the lines of communication open for them to talk to you and ask questions. If and when you don’t know what to say, tell them that you don’t know the answer, but you will research it and get back to them. Just remember to actually get back to them promptly. You can also suggest that you look the information up together.
It’s important to note that sexuality isn’t just about sex. Sexuality is also about the way your children feel about their developing bodies. It is also about how they express feelings of attraction, affection and intimacy for others. This also expands into hours they develop and maintain healthy and respectful relationships.
These conversations can be uncomfortable. You may even feel embarrassed when talking about bodies, and that’s ok. The key for every parent is that their children receive safe and reliable information. They should never feel embarrassed or scared to ask you questions about sex and sexuality. These conversations will continue to evolve and grow.