The idea that if a parent were to teach their children about sex that it would lead to them having (more) sex, has connections to how they were raised sheltered from sex. Avoiding “the” sex talk is strongly rooted in fear. The adults in charge of raising these children and educating them, were also raised to avoid talking about sex and left to figure it out on their own.
It’s a vicious cycle.
Those who never experienced their own parents speaking about sexual issues while they were growing up, can make discussions about sex uncomfortable later on in life. These parents may see that avoiding the discussion is the way to go, because it was normal for them, and will shut down a child who wants to talk about their body or what sex is. This discomfort is projected onto these children who then see how awkward it may be for an adult to talk about sex, leading to the kids being uncomfortable or viewing sex as taboo. And the cycle repeats.
Barring children from asking about sex only heightens their curiosity, encouraging them to seek information elsewhere, risking misinformation or sex practices they are not ready for.
It is inevitable that children will find out about sex. Misinformation from peers, biased, incomplete versions of sex-ed classes, and stumbling upon things in the media that lack context are recipes for confusion.
As puberty rolls around, they may begin attempting to place themselves within norms and/or labels of society. Not being able to understand their own thoughts or how to express their identities may lead them to partake in their own excursions, fueled by curiosity. Teens will hop on Google to gather more information and may mistakenly learn about unsafe sexual practices, or ideas of healthy relationships, treating this as the norm.
When youth are properly educated and informed about sex they are more likely to hold off from sexual intercourse until they reach an older age. The Center of Positive Sexuality’s 4C’s: Consent, Caring, Communication, and Caution, is a good guide to follow to have healthy interactions with other people and maintain healthy relationships.
It is up to the adults in their lives to take the steps to talk about sexual topics and encourage safe environments for them to explore their bodies and their identities. Ideally parents or caregivers ought to introduce the idea of pleasure, as well as consent, in these discussions.
What age should caregivers start educating their kids?
The sooner the better! Using proper names of body parts from birth can help build confidence and comfort in their bodies. As they grow up, parents can continue to educate them on more aspects of reproductive and sexual health in age appropriate ways.
Children look up to the adults in their lives and develop through watching how they behave and how they express love. It’s important to establish a safe and honest environment so that the children will trust their parents and not fear talking about these issues with them.
The talks get easier with practice.
The sex talk is often perceived as an uncomfortable conversation for grownups and kids. The more frequently parents are able to bring it up casually without awkward tension or judgement, the more likely their children will be willing to come to them to talk about sex. It may not be easy, and the adults may not have all the answers, but having a positive support system or a loving family that has your best interests at heart goes a long way.
Tip 1: Being okay with not knowing an answer right off the bat and offering to look it up is a good tool. You don’t have to know all of the things.
Tip 2: Simply ask them what they think “xyz” is. You can gather yourself if your initial response was panicked. You can buy yourself some time to figure out what your kid already knows to guide you in the direction of how to answer.
Thankfully, we live in an age with an abundance of sex positive resources for kids of all ages and their caregivers.
The Talk With Your Kids organization has a step-by-step timeline guide to help parents ease sexual education into their children’s lives. They also have tips on how parents can comfortably communicate and bond with their children while teaching them about sex.
Planned Parenthood has a great online collection of information to guide children (and adults) on various aspects of sexual health, safer sex practices, and figuring out their identities. Planned Parenthood also provides access to reproductive and sexual health care services, such as contraceptives, testing, and treatment at their centers.
Children and parents can visit Advocates For Youth to advocate for reproductive and gender rights and provide answers for those who are questioning their sexual and gender identities. Individuals can also join Youth Leaderships to advocate for rights and meet new people that they can discuss sexual and reproductive health with in a safe and encouraging environment.
A fun alternative would be to check out Netflix’s show “Sex Education” (viewer discretion is advised); it may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Scarleteen (which has been around since 1998!) is a fantastic resource for all genders, orientations, bodies, and a range of ages.
Children have a right to knowledge and educating them about sex holds more benefits than drawbacks. They will be more aware of the choices and safe practices available to them, and teaching them about sex will not encourage them to have more sex.
In reality, “the” sex talk is not just a one and done conversation; it can and will be a continuous discussion over their lifetimes with varying levels of age-appropriateness.
Written (in part) by our intern Ariela Hadiwidjojo.