mother talking to daughter

mother talking to daughter about sex

Most parents find talking about sex and sexuality with their children intimidating, embarrassing, and even somewhat terrifying. This is a normal way to feel in today’s climate where kids are exposed sexual themes earlier than ever but sex is still a “taboo” subject in everyday conversation.

Raising kids in a sex-positive, open environment can improve your relationship with your child and keep the lines of communication open. Here are a few tips to get the conversation started.

Why You Should Talk to Your Kids About Sex

No matter what you do, your child will eventually learn a lot about sex. Your job is to decide what they learn, and who they learn it from.

By taking on the responsibility to educate your child about sex, you are empowering them with information that is better than what they might find elsewhere. Although your child might prefer to search the internet or ask their friends for answers, providing accurate and reliable information that will keep them safe is always worth the temporary awkwardness of talking about sex.

7 Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Sex

1. Know that there's not just one talk. 

As a phrase, “having the talk,” suggests that you should discuss sex with your children only once and then be done. Not only can this approach be overwhelming for parents, but it can be very confusing for a child to process so much information at once.

Instead, start the conversation early and work to maintain an ongoing dialogue with your child on a developmentally-appropriate basis. By breaking “the talk” into small, teachable moments, you can help your child build a much stronger foundation of understanding.

These don’t have to be formal sit-down occasions, but rather a series of discussions that are relevant to what your child is seeing and hearing from the world around them.  In other words, there is no “talk,” but instead an ongoing habit of communication.

2. Don't shy away from questions.

Curiosity is human nature! If you teach your child that certain topics are off-limits, not only will they be less willing to come to you with questions, but they might look for ways around your supervision.

So, when your child or teenager asks you a difficult question, don’t avoid or ignore it. Answer honestly, directly, and as factually as possible. If they catch you off-guard or you’re not sure how to best answer in the moment, promise you’ll get back to them as soon as you’ve collected your thoughts.

3. Keep it accurate and age-appropriate.

When talking about sex, it’s essential to hone in on what your child is asking and answer only that question: don’t bring in outside information they’re not ready for or aren’t asking about yet. Instead, focus on their initial question and answer accurately and age-appropriately until their curiosity is satisfied.

It is also important to use only anatomically-correct language with your child. While addressing the body directly may be uncomfortable for some parents, this practice can go a long way in reducing shame and a lack of body awareness.

4. Beware of scare-tactics.

In your concern for your child, it can be easy to focus only on the “don’ts” of sex: “Don’t get pregnant,” “don’t get an STD,” or “Don’t have sex,” etc.

This approach is commonly referred to as abstinence-only sex education, as it does not generally include safe sex information, but instead warns against sexual activity altogether. Unfortunately, abstinence-only education is very ineffectual because it provides young people with an incomplete understanding of sex without actually preventing sexual activity.

On the other hand, by providing a more comprehensive sex education, you are not encouraging your child to have sex. Instead, by emphasizing your family’s values while teaching your child to “Wait until you’re ready,” and “Practice safe sex if you are,” you are preparing them with the facts so that they can safely make their own educated decisions about their bodies.

5. Always emphasize safety and bodily autonomy.

Family conversations about sex are the perfect time to re-emphasize your family’s rules about body safety. Remind your children that no one is allowed to touch them without their consent, that no adult is allowed to ask them to keep a secret from their parents, and that if they ever feel “icky” or uncomfortable, they must immediately tell a trusted adult or parent. Emphasize your child’s bodily autonomy and remind them that you are always there to listen.

You can extend this conversation to talking about respecting autonomy in others when your child is older. It's important that young adults learn to be respectful and empathetic about others' bodies as well.  

6. Really listen.

When it comes to sex, your child or teenager may have fears, worries, or additional questions that they are probably nervous to talk about, and if they are already sexually active, they may even need your help.

In responding to your child's concerns, always make a point of actively listening without judgement, and show that you are there to help the best you can. Listen to what they are saying and asking, and talk to them rather than at them. 

7. Enlist help when you need it.

Sometimes a trusted friend, pediatrician, or family member can fill in the gaps or talk to your kids if needed. Outside perspective can be valuable, especially if your child could benefit from hearing from another adult.

Talking with your kids about sex won’t be simple or easy, but it’s a crucial part of parenting. With your guidance, your children will be prepared for the world and ready to make their own decisions as they grow.

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