Inside: There are many myths and facts that stop parents from starting sex education. Find out what's been stopping you and how to get past them.
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, as some of them are just crazy!
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. You can read more in this article about the benefits of sex education.
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.
And if you’re unsure about how best to answer their questions, then The Sex Education Answer Book will give you age-specific answers to the most common questions kid’s like to ask parents about sex.
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.
If you need a little bit of help with talking to your child about their body in a shamefree way, then my parent guide, Let’s Talk About Bodies, can get you started.
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 in this article about the benefits of sex education.
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 more in this article about what sex education is all about.)
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.
A lot of parents worry about younger kids overhearing information that they aren’t ready for. That can happen but it isn’t usually a problem when you take an everyday approach to sex education. Where you talk as naturally as if you were talking about where milk comes from.
So, if younger kids are hanging around when your eldest asks you a ‘birds and bees’ question or you see an opportunity for a teachable moment, then it is okay to just answer it. The amount of detail that you provide in your answer is up to you. You can always provide a simple answer and follow up with more details later on when you are both alone.
And if you feel that your answer isn’t age appropriate for little ones, then just let your child know that you will get back to them later on with an answer.
And remember, if a child isn’t interested in a particular subject, they will forget whatever it is that you are saying ie it will go in one ear and out the other. So don’t get too concerned about them remembering stuff.
Sometimes though, you do need to be careful about what you say in front of younger children when you explain the birds and bees.
If you have a child who is reaching puberty and they are feeling shy or embarrassed about the changes that are happening to them, it is a good idea to respect that. For example, you might want to read a puberty book together alone in their bedroom or when your younger kids are distracted doing something else. As kids get older they can become a lot more shy about the fact that their body is changing. So they may not be comfortable talking about birds and bees or their newly sprouting pubic hair at the dinner table.
You may be wanting to talk to an older child about a difficult topic, that may scare your younger child. For example, you may want to talk about ‘stranger danger’ after a recent case of sexual abuse in your neighbourhood, and you want to talk about why it isn’t safe for children to go into public toilets alone. An older child will understand your reasoning as to why they can’t, but for a younger child, telling them that sometimes people do bad things to kids in public toilets, may make them frightened about going to all public toilets, even when supervised.
If you feel uncomfortable talking about a particular topic, then don’t talk about it in front of a younger child. Sometimes it is better to prepare your answer than to jujust jumpn with an answer. Take it easy and have that conversation just with the child who it is intended for. You don’t always need the added stress of having to worry about what words to use when talking in front of younger kids.
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.
My mission is to create resources that will help you to naturally talk to your kids about sex, all while respecting your personal values.
Which means that inside this website, you'll find lots of resources to help you with talking to your child about love, sex, relationships and growing up.
My Sex Education 101 page includes all of the information on sex education. You'll find lots of different blogposts to help with getting started, on a wide range of different topics.
You'll find videos about sex ed in my Sex Education Videos resource page that you can watch with your child or to learn more about sex education yourself.
You’ll also find an extensive range of sex education books for children, for kids of all ages. There's even some books in there for parents!
If you're looking for some ideas on how to talk to your child about bodies, Let's Talk About Bodies, will help you to start naming the private body parts and to have shame-free conversations with them about bodies. It is filled with lots of different ideas on how to have natural converasations with your child about their body.
You'll also find some child friendly anatomically-correct cartoon illustrations of the genitals and internal reproductive organs that are appropriate for children from the age of 3 and up. Let's Look at Different Body Parts is a printable that will help take the awkward out of talking to your child about their body, so they grow up feeling educated, confident, and comfortable in their own skin.
If you need some help with explaining sexual intercourse to your child, then Let's Talk About Sex, will help you explain sex to your child in a way they will understand. It breaks it down into simple steps that take the stress out of explaining!
If you're unsure about how to answer your child's questions about sex, then The Sex Education Answer Book will give you age-specific answers to the most common questions kid's ask parents about sex. Which means you don't need to worry about finding a child-friendly explanation that your child understands.
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 empower their child to make smart sexual decisions. To find a better way to talk about sex, you can join my community of parents and visit my shop for helpful resources.