It’s the number one taboo topic that must be addressed: how to communicate with kids about sex. Gone are the days when a parent could simply look the other way and hope that the school’s health class will teach their children the basics and simply hope for the best. The fact is, sex is complicated, and knowing only the basics is not going to give kids the information they need to make a responsible choice about their body and their future. Truth be told, kids will hear about sex from their friends, but having the talk yourself will open the door to positive communication within your household, give you the opportunity to pass on your personal values and morals, and give your child the information they need to make an educated decision.
Uncomfortable? I believe it! Trust and believe this is not comfortable for your kid either. Your child may stiffen up and feel wildly uneasy. If they are not ready to discuss the topic, respect that and let them know that you are there to answer any questions that arise. There are emotional repercussions to sex, as well as to discussing it. Sometimes kids will need time to work up the courage to listen to a discussion.
When your child is ready for “the talk,” you want to keep the conversation appropriate for your child’s age. A 12-year-old may not need a detailed how-to explanation on the female orgasm; however, a talk about the risks including pregnancy and how to prevent it could be beneficial. Mentioning the importance of respecting boundaries and consent are topics to discuss at an early age. The important piece is to eliminate all judgments by opening the door for discussion.
Honesty is key, as telling your child babies come from storks may very well result in an unplanned pregnancy. Give your kids the facts and trust that they will digest and store that information. Address even the uncomfortable topics such as potential pain, the importance of protection from sexually transmitted diseases and infections, and the possibility of that relationship ending. Bringing up these topics in an honest way (not in an alarming way) will promote critical thinking of the situation and of their partner before taking action.
It is also important to discuss the emotional component of choosing to be sexually active. There is an emotional connection that occurs during and after sex that the younger generation may not be completely prepared for. Should they decide to engage sexually with a partner, they should be aware that they will feel strongly toward that partner afterwards, be it more negatively or positively depending on the experience. When your kid’s friends begin having sex, the peer pressure to participate can become almost unbearable. Engaging in intercourse for the wrong reasons will backfire emotionally, so combat their worry to fit in or expedite the maturing process with information will help them make the right choices moving forward.
Additionally, encourage a healthy attitude about sex. Openly discussing sexual behavior with your child makes them more likely to be sexually responsible. Knowing the risks before they find themselves in a compromising situation will encourage them to make responsible decisions to protect themselves. Statistics show that children who have openly discussed sex with their parents in their preteen years tend to wait longer to have sex than children who never got “the talk.” Alongside being healthier and happier, kids with open-dialogue households are also less likely to participate in other risky behaviors.
Children today hear diverse messages about sex from not only their families, but also from school, friends, whatever house of worship they may attend, and beyond. Each of these institutions may have a different opinion on sex, which may make it difficult for them to form an understanding. With your help, your child can be informed of safety options, self-respect and respect for others, boundaries and the potential consequences, which will lead to a healthier attitude toward sex.
Kerry Hart is a limited licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. She received her Masters in Family Therapy from Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA and is a member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT). Kerry has a wide range of experience, including medical family therapy as well as couples work, family reunification, behavioral modification and treatment in children, adolescents, teenagers, and adults. To learn more about Kerry, click here.