Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

Talking with Kids about Sex and Sexuality

As a school psychologist, I understand the importance of talking with children about their developing sexuality. As the mom of three kids, I also understand how awkward and confusing it can sometimes be to know how and when to talk with your kids about sexuality. Should I have “the talk” or have several talks?  When should I bring up how babies are made? Should I use the proper terms for body parts or give them nicknames so when my child yells something in public everyone won’t know what they’re talking about?

On my Facebook page, I asked parents what they most wanted to talk about regarding children and sexuality and I got an overwhelming response that this is a very important but also confusing issue for parents. So today I’m starting a blog series on talking with kids about sex and sexuality. We’ll explore as many issues as you want to, and I’d love for you to share your own experiences in the comments to each post. It helps us all grow in our knowledge and understanding when we’re able to share our questions and thoughts with each other.

I’ve enlisted Dr. Dae Sheridan, licensed psychotherapist, board certified clinical sexologist, and co-author of the upcoming book, Have a Daughter, Be a Man to partner with me as we talk about how to provide children witha  healthy education about sexuality. In this post, we’ll look at some general advice. In the next posts in the series,  we’ll move into some specific ways to talk with children about sexuality at different ages and stages and address particular issues that you find most important.

Dr. Dae and I have both had conversations with our university students about sexuality education. The majority of them report having “the talk” in about fifth or sixth grade. Most of them agree that this conversation did not suffice to give them what they needed to make good decisions for themselves as they matured. So, keep that in mind as we go through this series. Instead of having one talk, we’ll focus on developing a plan to talk with your child about their developing sexuality many times and in many different ways. This will allow you to build a natural, open, and on going conversation with your child.

I asked Dr. Dae  to share some specific thoughts with me, and this is what she said,

First and foremost, strive to eliminate the concept of “the talk.” Sexuality Education is not a one-time speech about “the birds and the bees“, but a series of age-appropriate teachings and ongoing conversations with our children throughout the different ages and stages of their physical, emotional and sexual development. I like to call this Collaborative Sexuality Education. 

When your child brings up a topic or asks a question about sex or sexuality, don’t shy away. Instead, say, “Let’s talk about that.”  Just knowing that they can come to you with any question empowers your child. I asked Dr. Dae  if she had specific thoughts on how to respond to questions that children may ask about sex. She said,

One of the greatest myths, misconceptions and outright errors in thinking about human sexuality is that if we teach children ABOUT sex, they will go out and HAVE sex.  Quite the opposite is true. Many parents fear that giving information about sexual health equals giving children permission to have sex. However, research shows that parents who are more open in their discussions about sexuality have kids who are LESS likely to become sexually active at a young age.

Dr. Dae and I agree that when it comes to sexuality, parents need to be prepared to talk early and often to their child, giving guidance, information, and answers. Waiting until puberty to talk with your child may be too late. Research tells us that rates of teen pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) are higher for those adolescents who don’t have information about sexuality and what kinds of behaviors may lead to unwanted consequences, such as pregnancy or STI’s.

Guess what else research tells us? That children and adolescents WANT to talk with their parents about sexuality! They want their parents or caregivers to be their primary source of information, but many parents are uncomfortable talking with their children about sexuality. When they can’t get information from parents, kids will look to their peers, the media, and other sources such as the internet.

So, get ready parents. We’re going to spend some time digging into how to talk with kids about sex, from toddlers to teens and everything in between. If you have questions or issues you’d like to see answered, comment on this post. I’m looking forward to having this conversation with you!

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3 comments on “Talking with Kids about Sex and Sexuality

  1. thekidscoach
    October 16, 2013

    I cant wait to see what you post as I have a nearly 10 year old and not much has been addressed of yet but I need to start. Thanks

    • Jennifer Shewmaker
      October 16, 2013

      Naomi, do you have specific questions or issues that you want to talk about?

  2. Naomi Richards
    October 16, 2013

    Jennifer I cant wait to see what you post. I know my nearly 10 year old will be asking me lots of questions soon and could use the help.

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This entry was posted on October 16, 2013 by in Talking and tagged , , , , .
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