Have you started talking to your kids about “the talk,” the birds and the bees, “the facts of life?” Talking about sex with your kid can be a dreaded thing that fills parents with anxiety. Heck…most adults aren’t comfortable talking about sex, so talking to your kids about sex can be a bit overwhelming.
How do you start this conversation? When do you bring it up? What do you tell your kids? What do you not tell them? But parents and caretakers can take a deep breath and relax. Talking to your kids about sex isn’t one big conversation, and it’s not just about the act of having sex.
Licensed Sex Therapist Emily Jamea, Ph.D, LMFT, LPC, wants parent to know that having the “talk” can range from simply naming body parts to puberty to consent to intercourse and all the things in between. She explains it’s more like an ongoing back and forth between kids and their caretakers that starts from birth.
When To Start Talking About Sex And What To Start With
Yes, these conversations should start as soon as infancy. Dr. Jamea explains that discussions about sex start when you begin helping your child identify body parts. And the great news is that parents tend to naturally point out basic body parts like eyes, mouth, knees, etcetera. But, parents often leave out what’s between the belly button and the legs, and kids need to become comfortable using anatomical names for all their body parts.
Dr. Jamea expresses, “As soon as they [kids] can identify an elbow, they can identify a vulva or a penis, and we need to use the anatomically correct names for all of the body parts.” She explains that when using little pet names or euphemisms for body parts, the underlying message is there’s something wrong or different, whereas using the anatomical names helps kids know there is no shame or stigma around body parts.
The fact is, kids are naturally curious. They will ask questions, and it’s okay to answer them honestly. Dr. Jamea shares, “They don’t need to hear anything about the stork that brought the baby. You can answer them completely honestly and confidently because there’s nothing to be ashamed of; it’s how they were brought into the world.” And some kids are fine with the basics, and some kids may need more details.
According to Dr. Jamea, the essential things to focus on for younger kids are using adequate terminology, teaching them privacy, and emphasizing boundaries. For example, let kids know that their genitalia is private and people shouldn’t touch them there. And boundaries can be taught by example. It can be as simple as you putting a stop to tickling them as soon as they ask to show that you respect that boundary.
What You Might Be Missing
Remember that talking to your kids about sex is an ongoing conversation that expands over time as they go through puberty and move into young adulthood. Dr. Jamea encourages parents to talk to their kids about puberty, especially girls as young as eight years old. And yes, that may seem early, but girls are getting their periods earlier and earlier. So they should learn about their menstrual cycle before it catches them by surprise.
Moreover, Dr. Jamea emphasizes that kids need comprehensive sex education that includes non-intercourse sex acts, masturbation, and pornography. She explains that parents often overlook these things, but it is important to teach kids about more than just intercourse. Kids should know about sexual acts that are lower risk, less likely to transmit an STD, and less likely to result in pregnancy. In addition, it lets kids know that being sexually active doesn’t mean they have to jump right into intercourse.
The topic of consent, although more prevalent today, is also often overlooked. Dr. Jamea points out that it is important to teach kids to acknowledge and respond to nonverbal cues when interacting with others. And it’s also important to teach kids how to use their voice to communicate their needs and boundaries.
And you can’t forget to talk about pornography and healthy internet use. Most kids have access to the internet, and their curiosity will get the best of them at some point. And Dr. Jamea believes it is unrealistic to expect kids to never google about sex or look at porn on the internet. So, the important thing is to talk to them so they can distinguish between reality and fantasy and navigate what they may be exposed to healthily.
How To Prepare For Awkward Moments
Talking to your kids about things like sex, masturbation, or pornography can be uncomfortable for both you and them. Dr. Jamea reveals that many parents ask her, “Well, how do I do this without feeling awkward?” And the answer is, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you just have to deal with the awkwardness of the situation. She says you can even put it out there and say something like, “I know it might be uncomfortable, but it’s important that we talk about this…So, let’s just, like, push through together.”
Another way to deal with awkwardness is to talk to kids about sex while doing another activity. It could be walking the dog, driving in the car, or any activity where you don’t necessarily have to make eye contact. Dr. Jamea shares, “Believe me, their ears will perk up. They’re listening to what you’re saying even if they’re rolling their eyes, even if they seem like they’re not paying attention… “
But Dr. Jamea wants to remind parents and caretakers that it’s okay if you don’t have the answers right away. You can say to them, “You asked a really important question, and I want to thank you for coming to me with that. I want to make sure that I give you a really great response. So, let’s talk about it tomorrow.” And if you are taken off guard, you can also throw questions back at kids to find out what they’ve already heard.
Not to mention, there are lots of books like “Sex is a Funny Word” by Cory Silverberg, websites like Scarleteen.com and SexPositiveFamilies.com, and apps like Real Talk. And parents can refer to these as resources or make them accessible to their kids as a gateway for more conversations.
Ultimately, information is power. And the goal is to empower your kid with sexual information so they can make confident, informed choices about sex. Dr. Jamea explains, “You want to think about it just like you’re teaching them any other important life skill, whether it’s driving or the importance of having a job, because at the end of the day, it’s something they’re going to do. They may do it earlier than you wish they would, but you want them to be well equipped with the information.”