Let’s be clear; I am talking about that taboo topic that most parents put off for way too long in the hopes that their children learn the information from school, aka “the sex talk.”
I’ve heard some pretty cringey stories about how children have perceived the often awkward conversation with their parents about sex. More often, I hear frightening stories from sexually active teens who have never talked to their parents once about sex!
Let me clear the air. Schools are NOT where children are getting sexual education information from; social media is. Unfortunately, early messages from social media have lead to increases in early sexual activity, teens feeling pressured into agreeing to sexual advances from peers, early exposure to pornography, and increased risk of molestation and rape.
This is a critical conversation as the impacts of not having these conversations can have lifelong consequences on your child’s development.
Most parents that I have talked with about these issues have reported that they either feel incompetent themselves about sex education or they want to “protect” their child’s innocence. In many cases, the parents never were exposed to these conversations with their parents. They didn’t recognize just how important they are to have.
First, let me give you my philosophy about “the sex talk.” It includes seven stages, as shown below. Later on, I’ll give you some of my favorite resources to help you gain comfort, knowledge, and confidence to have these difficult conversations.
Stage 1: Gender, Body Health, and Consent, oh my!
“The Talk,” in my opinion, should start at age 3. Hear me out! I’m not about to tell you to try to explain intercourse to a 3-year-old. Developmentally, at three years old, children begin to recognize the significant differences between boys and girls. Usually, children have started preschool, and preschools tend to have open bathrooms to allow teachers to see students in multiple classroom areas. The open bathrooms also expose children to glimpses of the genitalia of the opposite gender.
It is appropriate to talk to your children about their bodies and the similarities and differences between their bodies and those of the opposite sex of their peers, and how it is different from adult bodies.
Children at this age naturally begin to compare themselves to others. It becomes essential to discuss issues around body image which includes, shape, size, and weight. Equally important are conversations about nutrition and exercise. Children should also be exposed to consent, appropriate and inappropriate touch, and stereotypical societal messages about gender differences.
YES! This is a big part of the sex talk and sets up a foundation of understanding and safety for your child.
These early messages should continue to be expressed often to help your child internalize what they mean and to see you, their parents/guardians, as a reliable source of information and a person who is open to talking about these things.
Stage 2: Reduce Risk of Predators
The next milestone is when you start to allow your child opportunities to use technology unsupervised. Before this happens, you should talk about pornography. There are, of course, other aspects of internet safety that you should have, but in terms of talking about sex, we’re going to focus on pornography.
The important thing is that they know how to recognize what pornography is and that they know to tell you if they have been exposed. There are several parental control options, Kids YouTube, etc., safety features on products. However, I have to caution you that those products are imperfect. There is still a risk of exposure to very inappropriate material, so continually monitor and check-in as they are using their devices.
Stage 3: Puberty and Me!
Next, around the ages of 8-9 years old, it is vital to have a conversation regarding puberty, specifically, the changes your child’s body will be experiencing in the next few years. It’s also important to focus on the values you want your child to have on how they treat themselves and other people.
Stage 4: Puberty and You!
Soon following a conversation about your child’s puberty changes, you want to discuss the opposite gender and their body changes. You can also talk about how other people should value and respect your child.
Stage 5: S-E-X
The two previous conversations in Stages 3 and 4 lay the groundwork for the “big” talk about intercourse. This conversation should focus on the scientific aspects of baby-making. It may mean a bit of research on your part to make sure you are giving accurate information. The level of detail you give your child will be based on their maturity and developmental level.
Stage 6: What is Love?
The lastish aspect of these discussions will relate your child’s changing emotions with the values that you have already instilled in them. This conversation should be before middle school as some relationships start in 6th/7th grade.
Stage 7: Safe Choices
The remainder of your child’s adolescence should be to reiterate what you’ve already discussed and added in additional details regarding intercourse, such as contraceptive methods and STDs. At this point, your child should recognize their boundaries and feel empowered not to let anyone break those boundaries.
Now, as promised, resources!
I love the Sex Ed Rescue website, which is dedicated to educating parents about having “the sex talk.” I like to teach concepts using books because it allows children to go back and reread as much as they want to. Here is a list of books I often use with my therapy families.
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