Sex education is a continuous process in a lifetime, but it has been found to be especially essential during childhood and adolescence. Since the parents are the child’s first resource , most of the time the question in parents’ minds is “How to open up the conversation?”. If you are a parent baffled by this question, you might want to read the following…
Talking about the topics related to sexuality might create anxiety and concern to both the parents and the children. This might lead to avoidance of discussing this subject altogether. Different sources of anxiety have been found for parents when discussing sexuality such as, “Not knowing the answers”, “Providing too much information than their child is ready for”, “Revealing family secrets”, “Fear of difficult questions, etc.
When discussing sexuality, children may be anxious when discussing sexuality. The reasons for this are “Not knowing the right questions to ask”, “Revealing sexual thoughts or behaviours to the parent that might elicit criticism or punishment”, etc. Although the anxiety is present on both sides , ultimately parents have the responsibility to give their children accurate information. This will help them make healthy decisions and protect them from risky behaviour as they grow up.
It is important that parents are aware of how to start the conversation related to sexuality. These are 4 tips on how to open up the topic of sexuality with your child, that might help you:
- Learn age-appropriate topics of discussion: In each age group, specific questions and ways of behaviour occur according to the developmental stage. In each stage, you might want to start to talk about a new topic related to sexuality or talk about a previously discussed topic. Some key concepts and their subtopics should be repeated and detailed along the way, according to the developmental stage the child is in. These include but are not limited to relationships, understanding gender, violence, reproductive health, and so forth.
- Demonstrate openness: A conversation is a two-way street. That’s why opening the conversation in a way that reassures your child where they can be open and honest might reduce anxiety in the first place and help to share without the fear of judgement and criticism.
- Use “teachable moments”: “Teachable moments” are everyday opportunities that can arise the conversation and provide information about a topic at hand. As opposed to “big talk” or “the birds and the bees”, it might be easier to open up the subject of sexuality within a given context which also makes the content more memorable. For example, you can use shared media experiences (such as television, movies, music) or everyday occurrences (such as overhearing the use of sexual slurs in the street, a pet giving birth or laying eggs) to discuss sexuality.
- Keep calm when they open up the topic: Sometimes, children open up topics related to sexuality and most of the time, they ask questions. Being calm and asking them what they think the answer is a good way of starting the conversation because often they would have heard something related to the topic. As a parent, it is for you to decide what is appropriate for them to learn after learning about what they have already known.
Keep in mind that sex education comprises and acknowledges the topics like emotions, building a relationship, protecting privacy, respecting boundaries, expressing wishes, expressing closeness and so on, not just safe sex practices, information about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), or other topics that might seem to be more relevant in late teenage years. That’s why the earlier you start the conversation on sexuality, in an age-appropriate manner, the better.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Seray Soyman is working as a Trainee Psychosexologist within the Willingness team, providing psychosexual education and sexual support sessions, as well as delivering training and workshops. She is also pursuing her master’s in Clinical Psychosociology at Sapienza University, Rome. Seray’s research interests are sex-positive behaviour, sexual habits, LGBTQIA+ studies, and sexual communication.
Ashcraft, A. M., & Murray, P. J. (2017). Talking to parents about adolescent sexuality. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 64(2), 305-320.
Bundeszentrale für Gesundheitliche Aufklärung. (2016). Standards for Sexuality Education in Europe: Frequently asked questions. https://www.bzga-whocc.de/fileadmin/user_upload/FAQ_WHO_BZgA_Standards_English.pdf
Planned Parenthood of Greater New York. (2009). Hey, What Do I Say? A Parent-to-Parent Guide on How to Talk to Children About Sexuality. https://www.plannedparenthood.org/files/2514/0034/8138/ParentGuide.pdf