I’ve been wanting to write about this for awhile now, so I’m excited that it’s finally coming together! I studied sexuality and addictions a lot in my major in college (I have a bachelor’s in Marriage and Family Studies). I’m really fascinated at the fact that so much of what adults feels about sex, their body, and intimacy, depends largely on how their parent taught them about these things. That may seem like an obvious thing to say, but think about it: How much do your attitudes about sex stem from your experiences with your parents? I would be willing to bet that as you entered adulthood, most of what you thought about bodies, modesty, and intimacy was a fairly direct result of your parents’ attitudes about it all. Even if you’re like me and you were raised in a part-religious family, with your parents teaching you certain things that were different than what your personal religion taught, the attitudes that your parents have about sex ultimately affect us, even in subtle or subconscious ways.
That being said, why did so many of us grow up in homes where sex was talked about so little, that it was almost a forbidden subject? Furthermore, why do so many parents choose to not be open with their kids about sex, in a society that flaunts sex and treats people like sexual objects? It completely blows my mind that so many parents expect their teens and young adults to be abstinent, modest, pornography-free, and respectful, just simply by telling them to be this way; when at every turn these teens and young adults are exposed to pornography, media that portrays sex extremely causally, and societal pressures that tell them, “if you are not sexy you are worthless”.
How can we even begin to expect our young people to make healthy choices about sexuality if WE- their PARENTS- do not directly, actively, diligently, constantly, teach them how to be healthy sexual beings? Because whether we want to dwell on it or not, sex is one of the fundamentals of life: it is how each of us got here; and healthy attitudes about it are essential for healthy relationships.
So what I want to do is talk about how parents can go about teaching their children about human intimacy. I want to answer questions like “When do we start talking about it? When do we have “the talk”? Is it possible to be too open with my kids about this stuff? How do I keep it age-appropriate?” And, “How do I know what to say?”
For the first part, we’re going to address the question of “when do I start teaching my kids about sex?” along with some ideas on how to start.
Toddlers should learn the proper names of body parts.
Just like you teach your toddler about their eyes, ears, mouth, and nose, you should teach them the names of their private parts. According to an article in Psychology Times, a knowledge of correct body terminology could be “one more protection against sexual abuse” (Matthews, 2017).
It’s important for your kids to learn the official names of body parts in toddlerhood.
This is at the time when kids are learning terminology for everything in the world: house, pet, Mom, Dad, friend, sky, apple… everything! It is especially important for kids to know about their body parts by the time they start school, or whenever they start spending lots of time with other children. At school, kids start getting exposed to terms and phrases that they haven’t heard before. It isn’t all bad, but you do need to arm them with the correct terminology so they can be prepared and feel safe. New things are scarier when they don’t come from Mom and Dad.
Teaching your child the correct names of body parts helps them feel safe talking about their bodies.
It is us adults that are embarrassed to talk about genitals, sex, and intimacy. Our kids are learning everything for the first time, so they will learn to have the same or similar attitudes as you do about bodies and intimacy. I strongly believe that. As long as you talk about it in a loving and matter-of-fact way, then your child will take what you say at face value and absorb the knowledge.
Teach them a little bit at a time.
You don’t have to have a formal sit-down with your little kid about their body parts. It can (and I think, should be) informal and matter-of-fact, periodically, and consistently.
Here are some articles that explain why we should teach our children the correct names for body parts:
And here are some articles about preventing and identifying sexual abuse in children: