You may find yourself wondering what age is appropriate to begin “the talk”, should my kid/s know these things, won’t it give them ideas, etc…
Comprehensive sex education is imperative to healthy sexual development in children and youth. Now you may be asking, what is comprehensive sex education? To put it simply, comprehensive sex education is an age-appropriate approach that provides information on physical, mental, emotional, and social aspects of human sexuality. Studies have indicated with comprehensive sex education, youth are more likely to delay engagement in sexual activity, reduce engagement in risky sexual behaviors, are less likely to contract STIs, and can lead to a decrease in teen pregnancy rates. Comprehensive sex education is often a curriculum-based program designed for schools but that is not to say you can’t take a similar approach when it comes to parenting around sex related topics.
It is important to know that sexual development begins while the fetus is still developing in the womb. This includes pleasure from genital stimulation which can be observed via ultrasound in some instances. With this in mind, it is important to begin introducing sex education early. Because there is still a lot of taboo around sex and sexuality, this idea may feel very uncomfortable but approaching it from an age-appropriate stance can be quite helpful. Early sex education would look like calling a vulva a vulva, a penis a penis, etc… As children develop it is also an important time to teach about consent and boundaries. For example, teaching children to touch their genitals in private and explaining why genitals are not to be touched by others. This can also look like empowering your children to choose how they give and receive affection such as hugs and kisses. As children develop relationships outside of their home with school and extended families, exploring healthy relationship dynamics can also be an important factor in age-appropriate sex education.
You may have some concern about when to begin exploring where children come from and similar topics. This can be identified and expanded upon as a child ages. Teaching about the functions of body parts such as sperm, egg, uterus, as it relates to pregnancy and gauging their capacity for understanding is key. It’s also important build on that information as they grow older. If children are asking questions, they are often ready to hear information about these topics and giving them information as it relates to their age and understanding can be helpful in promoting open dialogue around the topic of sexuality as well.
As children become adolescents and young adults, the information we provide should be more in-depth and include prevention such as the use of condoms and birth control. Sex education should also include information about masturbation (as it is age appropriate) and healthy boundaries around masturbation. If you feel ill-equipped to manage these topics on your own there are a lot of resources on YouTube as well as books that have age-appropriate messages.
But what if your children are older and you want to introduce sex education now? If you feel like you may have waited too long to have these conversations with your kids, then start with what they already know. Ask them what they know about their bodies, sex, and reproduction. Correct any misinformation they may have and expand on information as it is appropriate to do so. Kids will always get information from their peers, but this information is not typically accurate or helpful and this is where having open conversations can be of particular help. It may feel more uncomfortable for you or your children to start these conversations later but as you continue to address the topic together it can become more comfortable. As they get older and more interested in sex a more concrete exploration of consent and boundaries is important as well as other values around sex and sexuality.
Sex and sexuality doesn’t have to be scary for you or your children. Providing them with accurate information helps them make better decisions and as you have these conversations about biological functioning and social norms it is also important to explore values that are important to you, your family, and any religious values that may pertain. During these discussions around values, it may be helpful to explore why this is an important value and the benefit of looking at sex with values in mind.
Written by Katie Kissel, LISW