How to have conversations about sex: A guide for parents (part 1)

Having conversations about sex is something that many parents fear. But sex is a topic that’s crucial to broach with your children. After all, you want them to be informed and safe, right? In this article, I’ll explain a few helpful basic principles, and give you some tips for how to think about the whole idea of having a discussion with your kids about sex.

Conversations about sex should start when they’re very young

The best time to start having conversation about sex is when your kids are young, from approximately 2 – 3 years old. But the second best time is now.

It’s easy to talk to small children about sex, because they’re accepting. However, if your child is already older, keep in mind that it’s better late than never. 

Even if they’re already teenagers, or at university. They may know more than you think about some things, but they probably know less than they need to know about other things. 

Biology class or school sex education is not enough

If you don’t talk to your kids and teach them the basics about sex, privacy, consent and boundaries, they will learn these things from influences in their environment. Such as their friends, their peers, social media, and, horrible though it is to think about, porn. 

Your child may already have seen porn

Children are exposed to all kinds of information, including porn, in a way that people growing up prior to the age of social media can’t properly comprehend. Yet it’s a reality that parents have no choice but to acknowledge. 

It is really helpful for your child to have some context and perspective for what they see online if they stumble across porn. So if you’re wondering how do you even start having conversations about sex with your children, here’s a quick guide on how to think about your approach to the subject. 

Success Formula: How to have conversations with your children about sex: A guide for parents Part 1

1. Be open and honest, even if it’s awkward

One of the most important things you can do when talking to your kids about sex is to be open and honest. This means preparing yourself internally. 

You need to acknowledge that you might feel awkward. But be prepared to speak plainly, and answer any questions they might have. 

2. Use cues from life or from the media 

When someone in your life or their life is pregnant, you can use it to begin the discussion about how babies are made. Pregnancy is an ongoing event and it’s easy to take the conversation from there. 

When someone does something sexual in a TV show, or a sexual topic arises in social media, go ahead and talk about it. 

3. Have lots of mini conversations over the years

There is no need to have “The Talk”. In fact, it shouldn’t be one big conversation, because that puts everybody under way too much pressure. 

As your children grow and mature, they’ll likely have more questions–and that’s perfectly normal! So be prepared to answer their questions in ongoing mini-conversations, in an open and non-judgemental way.

4. Use neutral language

When having conversations about sex in general or about a particular person or scenario, be careful to avoid using judgemental language or making assumptions. Especially avoid saying negative things about sexual orientation or gender identity. 

Remember, this is a conversation, not a lecture. 

5. Don’t make it into a big deal

There is no need to launch into a preamble, or sit the kids down and point out what an important conversation it is. Sure, when you have conversations with your kids about sex or anything else, you need to check that you have their attention.  But you don’t need to make a special occasion of it. 

You can have these conversations in the car, while washing dishes, at the dinner table. Sex is an ordinary part of life and can be discussed just like any other part of life. You can talk about it with the same emphasis as you’d discuss healthy ways of eating, for example.  

6. Keep the mini-conversations short and simple.

Use clear, simple language that is age appropriate. Always avoid graphic details, no matter what the age of your kids is. 

(Do not tell them details of your own sex life or sexual experiences! Never show them graphic pictures, porn or semi-porn.)  

7. Use the proper names of body parts

Don’t use euphemisms or metaphors. Talking about the “birds and the bees”or “the private area” or “down below” or any such vague language is mystifying to any child. Ideally, use the proper names of body parts from birth. Let your children learn the proper names for their genitals along with the names of all their other body parts. 

But if you have already established some kind of euphemistic name for your child’s genitals, then clear it up. Say the real anatomical name followed by the term you use in your family. For example, “a person with a penis (what we call your pee-pee)”, or whatever it might be. After that, start using proper terms as the norm in your family.

8. Discuss consent and birth control (appropriate to age and in relevant language) 

Express everyday issues around consent and discuss physical boundaries. Don’t force them to hug and kiss relatives and friends, for example. Teach them to ask another person if it’s ok to give a hug, and that if someone asks them for a hug or kiss, they have the right to say no. 

If your child is older and you have already set a precedent of making them “kiss Aunty B”, then start by acknowledging to your child that you made a mistake doing this, and ask them what they feel and think about it. Then allow them to set their own physical boundaries going forward.

9. Be curious, ask questions

Your children know things and think things and have opinions on everything, including sex, just as you do. Approach your children from a stance of curiosity, wanting to understand what they know and what they think and feel about it. The conversation will flow a lot more easily. 

Keep in mind that you are the most important model to your children about how they should live their lives. Teach your children about treating other people with respect and dignity by demonstrating it with your own behaviour towards them. 

In conclusion, remember that it’s ok if you’ve made mistakes. Parents always make mistakes. It’s not about the mistakes you made in the past, it’s about how you can heal these mistakes and move forward from here. 

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