Sexuality is a part of who your child is, and who they will become. It is important to have proactive conversations (aka the “sex talk”) with youth early on so that they can have the chance to attain a better sense of self, their own body, boundaries, and an understanding of the consequences of their actions. This will help them to make positive, safe, and informed choices in their lives.
Defining Sexuality Before the Sex Talk
Sexual health is a concept that we cannot understand without first understanding sexuality.
The World Health Organization defines sexual health as requiring “physical, emotion, mental, and social wellbeing and a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships.” Sexuality is affected even further by how you feel towards your own body, sexual decisions, and intimacy in general.
Breaking these large topics down to a more understandable and digestible level during the sex talk with your child, pre-teen, or teen is actually fairly easy. The truth is that sexuality is affected by more than just the act of sex itself.
Sexuality changes and develops over time, and with experience as well. Consider these things and how they might affect your child, pre-teen, or teen, as you plan to talk to them about sexual health during the sex talks you have now and in the future. Some factors that can influence sexuality include:
- Gender Identity
- Gender Roles
- Sexual Orientation
- Intimacy & Pleasure
- Reproduction Goals & Status
The Consequences of NOT having the Sex Talk
Even before puberty, providing your child with the correct language and an understanding of their parts during age-appropriate sex talks empowers them by giving them the vocabulary and understanding to know when to say NO + to be able to clearly communicate with you and other healthcare teams.
When to Start The Sex Talk
Puberty can begin as early as age 8-10 years old depending on your child’s own development. If your child or pre-teen is going through puberty, then it is likely that they are already beginning to explore their body further and likely have questions. So, how can you help? Empower them (never shame them) through regular, age-appropriate sex talks to help them understand and have ownership of their own parts so they are able to protect them.
10 Tips to Start the Sex Talk
1 . Always be on their side, and let them know
It is important for your kids to know that they are unconditionally loved, you are here for them no matter what, and it is natural for there to be some discomfort about the topics you discuss together during your age-appropriate sex talks.
2 . Use what is presented to you
Kids are bombarded with images through the media. Discussing what they are seeing can be a simple way to ease into the conversation. Do NOT use this as a time to criticize the characters. Instead, use it to open up the conversation about all potential choices available to them, and what good and bad consequences come out of each choice.
3. Be honest
If you do not know something about sex or sexuality, be truthful about that. Then, take the time to look it up together and be willing to learn with one another. It is good for children to be aware that parents do not know everything. Teach them how to look for themselves, and be able to decide which sources of information are reliable.
4 . Let them teach you
Allow them to tell you what they know, or have heard without judgment. Much of the information youth learn is through media or from friends or peers. Taking time to praise them for what they do know, as well as clear up misconceptions when needed during your sex talks, is SO important!
5. Discuss giving AND getting consent
Explain that no one is allowed to pressure them into anything, for any reason, and they should always get consent from any partner they are with BEFORE physical interaction occurs. It is 100% okay if they do not want to do what another person does. Encourage and empower them to understand that they can remove consent at ANY time during a sexual encounter, and so can any partner they are with.
6. Outline pleasure
I find this most easily explained by simply reviewing anatomy, and tying in what is seen in the media. It is important to explain that this is part of healthy sexual health and it is something they get to define for themselves.
7. Keep the conversation going
Adolescence is defined as the time from 10-19 but I know children are very curious about bodies, babies, and how things work well before age 10. Just answer your child’s questions honestly, as they come up. Keep your answers simple, but don’t feel like you need to offer more information than what they have asked during these age-appropriate sex talks. Let them know you are always able to chat further.
8. Encourage body neutrality
Sexuality has a lot to do with how one feels about their own body and self. There has been a rise in eating disorders due to the media. Having a strong sense of self and self-love will help your child feel comfortable establishing strong boundaries for themselves.
9. Outline the consequences of various choices
The media usually outlines sexual activity in a positive light, sex is not always perfect and pleasurable. Without using scare tactics, honestly explain what can occur if one chooses to make unsafe choices. For example, unprotected oral sex can result in an STI.
Outline what that may look like from a physical, as well as a feelings perspective. There are obvious repercussions, but what about the more nuanced ones? Help them learn to think out consequences and make an informed decision.
10. Be gentle with yourself
We are literally changing to be a better generation than before. There are some growing pains with that. It’s okay to acknowledge that! If you don’t know something about sex or sexuality and you want to be a better source of information for yourself and your child, take the time to do research and read more about these topics. (I love this book to help get the conversation going.)
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