Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

Tips for Talking with Kids about Sex

Picture this scene: I’m driving in my minivan with a 2-year-old, 6-year-old, and 8-year-old after picking the two oldest up from school.  We’re on our way to pottery lessons for my oldest and just chatting about our day. Then my 8-year-old says, “At lunch today a girl in my class told me that girls have three holes on their bottoms instead of two and that men put their penis in one of the holes and it makes the girl have a baby. She said it’s scary and hurts and the girl doesn’t want to do it.” Um, great….not exactly how I had planned to introduce the concept of sex to my kids. But these things happen; your child and mine will hear things about sexuality from their peers and the media. It’s important that parents start thinking about how to address issues of sexuality early on so that you can provide your child with the best information possible.

The key thing to remember about talking about sex is that you want to allow the conversation to flow naturally. When I ask my college students what they would tell parents about talking with children about sex, they always say that in their own experience, it’s more comfortable when parents talk about sex in small, natural increments rather than having one big “talk.” In fact, many of the college students said that when their parents took the “sex talk” approach, they felt awkward. They wished that their parents had taken more opportunities to address issues as they arose rather than having a formal talk.

So how do you do this in practice?

  • Sexualized media often depicts sexuality void of context. One thing you can do is talk about how we share physical affection with those who we care about. We share hugs as a family because we love each other. People hold hands, kiss, hug and share other physical affection as a way of expressing their care. This begins to help kids see physical affection in the context of relationships.
  • When you’re ready to talk with your child about sexual intercourse, you can talk about it as an extension of physical affection that two people share who care about each other. It’s not scary; it’s a beautiful and natural way of sharing affection.
  • Sexualized media depicts female sexuality as an object for someone else’s pleasure. You want to build your child’s understanding of both male and female sexuality as mutual. Talk to them about how people share affection with one another because they want to, not because it’s expected.
  • When your child asks you a question or shares something that was said to them by a peer or seen on media, listen and answer them honestly. You want your child to see you as their first source of information about sex and sexuality.
  • Don’t shame your child for asking questions or expressing sexual desires. You want them to know that they can come to you to talk about sex. As your child gets older and becomes involved in romantic relationships, you want to have set the stage for them to feel free to talk with you. Research tells us that those adolescents who feel that there is open communication with their parents about sexuality engage in less risky sexual behaviors.
  • Talk to your kids about pornography as young as 9 or 10. I know this sounds very early, but especially if your child has free access to the Internet, you must address this early. Many boys who struggle with pornography addiction start looking at Internet pornography as young as 11. Addiction to Internet pornography can cause serious problems for a child in learning to build real life relationships.

These are just a few ideas to keep in mind as you think about talking with your kids about sex. The main point, really, is to see sexuality as a normal, natural part of life and development. Your child is a little person with an emerging sense of sexuality. Don’t be afraid of that, instead, approach those feelings and thoughts just like you do with anything else that they’re learning. When you think of it that way, it helps you take advantage of natural opportunities for conversation and sharing of information with your child.

2 comments on “Tips for Talking with Kids about Sex

  1. Pingback: 10 Tips for Talking To Your Child About Sex | Therapy Stew

  2. naomi
    February 6, 2012

    What a lot of information in this blog. It will take me time to absorb it. I am not too sure how I an going to bring up the subject of sex etc but at the moment I just answer my childs answers with what they need to know.

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