The times have changed, and how we do sex education in the home, is very different to what our parents did with us, when we were kids. Back then, sex education in the home was usually one awkward talk that happened at the start of puberty. But today, we know that kids learn best from small conversations that are repeated many times.
The difficulty for us though as parents, is in what does this actually look like. How do you make sex education a part of your everyday life? What are the things that you do to make it a part of your daily conversation. So that it becomes a comfortable sharing of knowledge, with no shame or negative messages?
So I have spent a few months thinking about the best way to show parents what sex education can look like. The result is a new video that reflects sex education in the home ie what it can look like. And this blogpost will provide you with extra information about the different ways you can do sex education in the home.
You’ll find more information about sex education in my Sex Education 101 page.
You can watch a video of sex education in the home here.
So what does sex education in the home look like? It can look like many different things. And what you do is very much up to you. I love reading books with my kids, and will often pick books that have a lesson to be learnt in them. So for me, books are often a first choice when I look at bringing up a new topic, like puberty.
So sex education can look like many things.
Some kids ask questions and some kids don’t. But if they do ask you a question about sex, it is pretty important that you answer it. Why? Because they are curious about the topic, so if you don’t give them an answer that makes sense to them, they may google it (and find porn) or ask their friends (and get the wrong information). Plus when you take the time to answer their questions, your kids will start to see you as their number one source for information. Now this is a good thing, as it means that you know they are getting accurate information that they understand, plus it gives you some idea of what sort of stuff their friends are talking about (before it becomes a problem). Plus, kids work out pretty quickly that if you are okay for talking about sex, then they can come and talk to you about other stuff that might be worrying them, like bullying. So talking to them about sex actually strengthens your relationship with your child and means that they will turn to you for support, guidance and information as they grow up.
So an important part of sex education in the home, is answering your child’s questions about sex. If you are unsure about how to answer your child’s questions, then my book, The Sex Education Answer Book, gives you by the age responses to questions about sex for kids from the ages of 3 to 14. You can find it here.
When it comes to sex education, there are a lot of possible topics that you can cover. You can find an overview of the many possible topics here. And believe it or not, but there is a children’s book on every single topic that you might want to talk about.
You can use books in a number of different ways. You might just grab a book and discretely slip it into the pile of other books that you plan to read at bedtime that night, and see where the conversation goes. Or you might say to them one day, ‘Hey, I have a new book that I thought we could read together. Let’s sit down and read it now’ and then you might talk about it.
Or you might buy a book for your tween, and hand it to them saying ‘I bought you a book to read about puberty. How about you have a look at it and if you have any questions, please do come and ask me’. And a week or so later, you might ask them if their was anything in that puberty book about periods or pimples.
So an important part of sex education in the home, is reading age-appropriate books about relevant topics eg where do babies come from, puberty, body parts, etc. You can find an extensive list of sex education books for children here.
I don’t think there is a kid on this earth, who would say no to the opportunity to sit down and watch a tv show or a movie with their parents. There are so many opportunities for potential conversations to be found in tv shows and movies.
Here’s an example. My daughter is 12 and wanted to go see that Amy Schumacher film, ‘I Feel Pretty’. It was rated M, and there was a sex scene in it but we still went. And from that movie we have had many conversations about what happened in that movie. We talked about the fact that she had sex pretty quickly with a guy who she had only just met. We talked about the fact that she felt ‘being pretty’ was the most important thing in the world. We talked about how she changed when she believed she was pretty. And we are still talking.
So an important part of sex education in the home, is in sitting down and watching the tv or even going to the movies with them. And if you aren’t sure about that particular show or movie, I often look it up on Common Sense Media first, to see what they have to say, before I will agree.
Teachable moments are when you find opportunities to teach your child something important, in everyday situations. Once you start looking out for them, they are really easy to find. And they are a great way to start a casual (but relevant) conversation with your child in an everyday sort of way.
Here’s an example. When my kids were younger, we never listened to commercial radio in the car. Why? Because they talk about sex all the time! It was starting conversations that I just didn’t want to have with a 4 year old! But now, we listen to commercial radio all the time, because it gives me opportunities to start conversations with my son. Now, my son is a kid who’s sex education is a little neglected because he never asks me questions. His older sister could talk underwater (like me), and asks me questions all the time. But my son, is very different. So I find that I am always on the lookout for opportunities to talk to him about sex. And listening to commercial radio is the easiest way to find them. So some days we might talk about what we are hearing, whilst others days, I might quickly change the channel before he starts asking questions. It depends on the mood that I’m in!
So an important part of sex education in the home, is in looking out for teachable moments. Each week on my Youtube Channel, I share a new teachable moment. Do go and have a look at them, as they will show you how easy it is to find everyday situations that you can use for sex education.
By a ‘moral compass’, I am talking about how sharing your family values and beliefs can guide your child when making decisions about love, sex and relationships. Values are something that we all work out for ourselves, but as a parent, you can help to shape your child’s personal values by sharing what yours are. You can’t tell your child what values thave, but you can help them to work out which values to choose, when you share and explain yours to them.
So an important part of sex education in the home, is in sharing your sexual values and beliefs with your kids. You can learn more about sexual values here.
Kids don’t always ask questions, which means that it is up to us to remember to start a conversation. So it is important to take the initiative and to start a conversation, especially when it is about something that they need to know about. My favourite way to start these conversations with my own kids, is to refer to something that I may have heard or seen about. So I might start a conversation with ‘Hey, I heard something on the radio (or Tommy’s mum told me OR I read something in a book) that I thought we should talk about….’
So an important part of sex education in the home, is in starting conversations about topics that are important, like keeping safe, what to do if someone shows them porn or touches their private parts.
No parent can know everything. And if you think you do, well you are only fooling yourself. And as parents, sure it is nice to know a lot about sex things, but usually we have more important things to remember, like turning up for parent-teacher interviews (I just missed 2 in a row! OUCH!)
What’s more important than knowing everything though, is in knowing where to find the information, when you need it. S be kind to yourself and be okay about the fact that you won’t know the answers to all of your child’s questions. Because you now know where to get the answers that you need. I have an extensive list of resources on my website, plus my blog is full of articles that are based on parent requests. So if you can’t find what you are looking for, just email me and I write about it for you (or point you in the right direction). Plus I have a Youtube channel for parents, where I share lots of information, tips and ideas.
So an important part of sex education in the home, is in knowing where to go for information when you need it.
Sharing stories with your kids is a great way to teach them. It let’s them know that you have some personal experience, plus it helps to strengthen that bond between you both.
Here’s an example. My kids like to crawl into bed with me, early in the morning. The other morning, my husband had slept in, which meant that by the time he crawled out of bed, he had an audience, watching him as he got dressed. So I started to tell my kids a story about how I never saw my parents naked as a child. Which then led to a great conversation about privacy and when is it okay to be naked (or not).
So an important part of sex education in the home, is in sharing those stories from your own childhood, and using them as a springboard for a conversational lesson!
Feeling uncomfortable, or embarrassed, is something that happens to us all. It might be general discomfort when talking about sex or it might be related to certain topics (like how many partners you may have had in the past).
The good thing about sex education, is that the more you talk about sex, the easier it gets. It is a bit like riding a bike. You may be a bit wobbly at the start, but with more practice, you eventually get less wobbly and start to feel a lot more confident.
So an important part of sex education in the home, is in accepting that we all get embarrassed, and that it will get easier, the more you talk! My book, The Sex Education Answer Book, includes activities that can help you to get more comfy with this sex ed thing.
The days of ‘the talk’ ie one big talk at the time of puberty, are over. We now know that it is impossible for kids to learn everything they need to know about love, sex and relationships in the one conversation. Today it is about many small conversations, that you keep on having. Slowly adding in more details as your child becomes more curious or it becomes more relevant.
A great example of this is contraception. Your 7 year old might ask you a question like this, “Do you make a baby every time you have sex?’. And you might say ‘No, a woman can take special medicine that can stop her from making a baby’. Now, at the age of 7, you aren’t going to give them lots of details about contraception, because they aren’t really all that interested. You will leave the details until they are more curious or when it is more relevant ie closer to the time that they might be thinking about having sex.
So an important part of sex education in the home, is in remembering that it is a lifetime of conversations that you will have to keep on repeating. Eventually what you are saying will sink in and make sense to them!
Parents will often share with me that they are worried that they will forget to include some really important detail, when talking with their kids about something. And I tell them that yes, they probably will forget things but it doesn’t matter as they can talk about it next time (or the time after). That is the joy of having the sort of relationship with your kids where you talk about sex in an everyday way. Because you can always talk about it later on, because you know the conversation will happen again. And if it doesn’t you can just start a conversation yourself!
So an important part of sex education in the home, is in keeping it simple as you have plenty of opportunities to talk again!
When talking to kids about sex, try to talk about it as if it is an everyday thing. So in the same way, that you might talk about what they are having for dinner tonight. This way your kids will grow up knowing that it is okay to talk about sex, and that it isn’t something shameful.
So an important part of sex education in the home, is in talking about sex in the same way that you talk about everything else!
That is what sex education is really about. It is about the fact that your child knows that if you are okay with talking about sex, then you are also okay with talking about other things. They know that they can ask you questions, and you’ll give them an honest answer. And you end up with a closer relationship with your child, where you know that they can turn to you for the support, guidance and information that they will need as they grow up.
Sex education in the home, happens in a number of different ways, but at the end of the day, what matters is the fact that you are talking about it!
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.