When you first start thinking about sex education, it is pretty common to have fears about whether you are doing the right thing by talking to your kids about sex. There are a whole lot of common myths and facts about sex that get mixed up! And as a parent, it can be hard to tell the difference between the most common myths and facts about sex.
You’re not alone, as most other parents have questions and concerns too about sex education, and are wondering about how much information they should be sharing with their kids and how to go about it.
Here you will find some of the most common reasons that stop parents from talking to their kids about sex.
You’ll find more information about sex education in my Sex Education 101 page.
Here are some of the most common concerns that stop parents from talking to their kids about sex.
No, your kids won’t lose their innocence but by not talking to your kids about sexuality, you are leaving them ignorant and vulnerable to sexual exploitation and abuse. If anything, talking to your kids about sex will actually help to maintain their innocence. It is important to remember that ‘innocence’ is different to ‘ignorance’. Innocence can be seen as freedom from guilt or shame, whereas ignorance means lacking knowledge or information.
I think that the best place for kids to learn about sexuality, is in the home, knowing that they have parents that they can trust and come to with all their questions. If you aren’t sure about the benefits of sex education, you can find out more here.
Guess what, you’re not alone! All parents feel varying degrees of embarrassment when talking to their kids about sexuality. It just comes with the territory!
But there are some things that you can do to help manage your embarrassment:
Some kids just don’t ask a lot of questions about sex and relationships but it doesn’t mean that they aren’t interested. It just means that you have to be the first one to bring up the subject.
Here are two ways that you can bring up the subject. You could look for an everyday opportunity to start talking about it eg next time you see a pregnant woman you could say something about her having a baby soon. You could buy a sex education book on a specific topic and read it.
You answer their questions simply and honestly with enough information to satisfy their curiosity. Kids will usually ask another question if they need more information or if they don’t understand you. Keep it short, based on facts and positive.
Trust me, they will ask their questions at the wrong place and at the wrong time – at the supermarket, on the bus, while their grandparents are visiting…
The important thing is to let them know that their question or comment is very interesting and important, but it is one better discussed in a more private place, when alone together, or when there is more time to discuss the question.
Have a phrase ready for inappropriate moments – “that’s a good question. Let’s talk about it when we get home”. It is important to remember to follow up when the time is more appropriate.
No, you can’t tell them too much.
Kids can only take in as much information as they are able to understand. If you give them too much information, they will just get bored and switch off. You’ll see their eyes glaze over and they will stop asking questions or just wander off, meaning that they have probably heard enough, for today anyway. Remember to not turn each conversation into a lecture, but to listen and to ask questions in return.
For the most part, information they don’t understand will roll off and be understood in a later conversation. Again, you don’t have to go into every detail, but be prepared to later. Sex education is about lots of little conversations.
We call an arm an arm and a nose a nose, so it makes sense to call a penis or vulva by the correct name as well. By doing this we normalise these words and parts of the body. By using correct words we are also providing kids with a vocabulary they can use in any situation.
For example, if they tell their teacher that a someone made them eat his sausage (penis) at lunch time, the teacher is likely to interpret this as a silly prank instead of ‘unhealthy’ sexual behaviour. Using correct words helps kids to talk about these parts of their body and in being safe.
And remember – the trend now is to say ‘vulva’ and not ‘vagina”. The vagina is the inside part – whereas the vulva refers to the outside.
If you are worried about your kids using these words inappropriately, just explain that these words are private words and that we use them properly.
No. Talking about sex and relationships with your kids won’t make them go out and act out sexually. Just the opposite is true. By withholding this information, your child will just find it from other sources. One of those sources could include experimentation.
By talking to your kids, you are providing them with factual information and sharing your family values about many sexual issues, such as contraception, sexual intercourse, relationships, etc.
You can read more about the benefits of sex education here.
Kids develop sexually from the day they are born – just as they develop physically, emotionally and socially. So sex education begins from a very young age when we first begin to teach them the names of their body parts and the differences between girls and boys. (You can learn what sex education is all about here.)
We really only start talking about sex once they become interested in how babies are made (somewhere between 6-8 years of age). And then, it is just the basics that they are interested in.
And remember, if your child isn’t ready for it, they won’t have understood a word that you have said. It will have gone ‘in one ear and out the other’.
It is better to be late than to never talk with your kids about sex and relationships.
The best way to deal with this one is by being upfront. Tell your kids that you realise that you haven’t talked about sex and relationships but that you want to change that. Let them know that you want to be able to talk with them about sex and growing up, and that they can talk to you about anything.
Or if you don’t feel that you can do that, you could look at buying some books on sex education (you can find some here) and use them as an opportunity to start talking.
And as they say, you are better late than never!
The fact is, yes, kids want to learn about sex and sexuality in a place that is safe and familiar. And, they want to learn from their parents, whose views and opinions they trust and value whether they say so or not.
If you don’t believe me, you can check out some research that supports this here!
Traditionally parents have approached sex education by having the one ‘big talk’ as their child heads towards puberty. Research shows that a whole lot of little talks beat one big talk any day. And those talks need to be part of everyday conversation
Yes, kids pick up lots of messages about sexuality by observing their parents, talking with their friends and watching television, movies and other media. Problem is though, that you end up having very little control over what they learn and in the sexual values that they develop.
Although kids first start learning about sexuality in the home, they are exposed to other sources of information as soon as they begin to venture outside the family home.
Not speaking with your kids about sex, means that you will have little control over what and how they learn about sex.
As a parent, you should not rely on the school system to teach sex education. Depending on where you live, sex education may not even be available. If your kids are taught sex education at school, you need to make sure that you talk about it afterwards. Ask them what they learned.
Teachers of sex education say they can tell which students have had the benefit of home-based discussions as they are more confident, less giggly, and have more seriously informed views and values.
It can be easier to talk with your kids about sex and relationships if you’re confident that you know the subject matter.Before you answer your kids questions, make sure your own questions have been answered first. If you’re not entirely comfortable having a conversation about puberty, practice what you want to say first or look for help. Let your kids know that it may be a little uncomfortable to discuss, but it’s an important talk to have.
So, did any of those reasons feel familiar? Had you heard any of these myths and facts about sex before?
Hopefully this post has answered some of the questions and concerns that you may have about sex education.
Below you will find a checklist that you can download, of the 15 most common reasons that stop parents from talking to their kids about sex. I hope that knowing about these common myths and facts about sex education, helps you to start taking with your own kids about sex today.
I'm Cath, a sex educator living in Australia with my husband and 2 kids. I help parents to talk about sex (with less cringe and more confidence) and to empower their child to make smart sexual decisions. You can join my online parent support group here and visit my shop for helpful resources.