How Do I Talk About Sex With My Child
In the past, many parents did not feel comfortable in talking to their children about sexual matters. At most, children received ‘The Talk’ or perhaps a book under the pillow just before puberty. Today, most parents and carers want their children to feel positive about their sexuality as they grow up.
A person’s sexuality is made up of many different components. Physical, social, emotional and behavioural characteristics are all part of sexual development. Sexuality reflects our sense of self, and how we understand, feel and express ourselves. It is a lifelong process, which starts at birth. As we grow, we are influenced by social expectations and gradually learn about our sexuality by incorporating new information and experiences.
Children live in a world where they receive sexual messages daily, from television, films, music, advertising, computer games, the internet and from their friends. Sex is often joked about and discussed in a derogatory or stereotyped way. Many parents are worried about the sexualisation of children in the media and the ever increasing exposure to sexuality messages.
How much information is too much information
While parents recognize the lifelong benefits of communicating openly and honestly with their children about sexuality, they are often unsure about how much information to give and are often embarrassed or worried about this topic.
Parents often don’t talk to children about sexuality because they fear they might destroy their child’s innocence or give them ideas about engaging in problematic sexual behaviours.
However, there is considerable evidence to show the opposite is true. Studies have shown that when parents talk to their kids about sexuality and are involved in their sexual development, the likelihood of their children engaging in risky sexual behaviours in adolescence is reduced.
What happens when you talk about sexality with your children?
Generally, children who receive positive sexuality and relationship education from an early age are:
- More accepting of individual differences
- More likely to make informed and responsible sexual and relationship decisions later in life
- More capable of communicating about sexual matters
- Less vulnerable to exploitation and sexual abuse
However, not every parent feels comfortable with talking about sexuality matters or knows how to respond to their children’s questions, especially when those questions take them by surprise.
It is normal to have reservations about teaching children about sexuality. Being aware of these concerns and discussing them with other parents and health professionals can help parents feel more confident and comfortable about having such conversations with their children.
Guiding and supporting a child’s sexuality can promote healthy and safe sexual development in children. Responding positively to children’s questions about sexuality and building their self-esteem also helps children feel more confident about themselves and more comfortable in seeking information and help when needed.
Get the help you need to start the conversation
Researchers at The University of Queensland’s Parenting and Family Support Centre (PFSC) are trying to help parents talk to their children about sexuality. They are looking for parents of children aged 3-10 years to participate in a two-hour group parenting session which aims to increase parental knowledge, skills and confidence in communicating to their child about age-appropriate sexuality topics.
Parents can gain practical tips and valuable information about:
- Understanding sexuality in children
- Being aware of parent traps of child sexual development
- Responding positively to child sexual behaviours
- Age appropriate sexuality topics for children
- Using correct terminology for genitals
- Answering children’s questions about sexuality
- Conversation starters for talking about sexuality to children
This article was written by Sarah Teo and Associate Professor Alina Morawska. Alina is the Deputy Director (Research) at the Parenting and Family Support Centre, the University of Queensland.