How to Talk to Your Child About Sex Part 2: It’s More Than “The Talk”

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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 our second part (see Part 1 here), the purpose is short and sweet. Just remember this: FORGET ABOUT HAVING “THE TALK”! The idea that sitting down with your kid and having “the special talk” about “the birds and the bees” is antiquated and quite useless, in my opinion. Usually, by the time this talk is had, the kid very well knows where babies come from (and they most likely heard about it from their friends, movies, TV, or the Internet). “The talk” idea also implies that it is such an uncomfortable subject that parents are scared, embarrassed, and anxious to talk about it, so they put it off for as long as possible and then finally just get it over with.

We truly have to move on from this whole idea/tradition.

Do we really want our kids’ peers, or the Internet, or some random older kid on the playground, teaching our children about such a delicate and important subject??? I certainly don’t! I want my kids to feel safe enough and to trust me enough to ask me any questions they may have through the years- about anything! In order to establish that trust however, I need to do my part when my kids are little and educate them gradually, consistently, and correctly.

Here is an article that I think gives great advice on when parents should start teaching their kids about sex, as well as some advice on how to go about it:

In this article, it explains that the teaching of sexuality should happen throughout childhood, starting by the time the preschool years hit. (Again, see Part 1 of this series.)

Here is an example of how a progression of parental sex education could go:

    1. Teach proper names of body parts throughout toddlerhood and preschool years (including proper names of genitals, especially for the child’s own gender)
    2. Teach that our genitals are private parts of our bodies and that the only person who should touch them is the person whom they belong to. Teach that if someone touches or tries to touch their private parts then they (the child) should always tell you (Mommy or Daddy).
    3. Teach in the preschool years that the word “sex” is something that moms and dads do when they are in love, and that babies come from sex.
    4. Teach that all bodies are sacred and that we should treat ourselves and everyone else with respect and kindness.
    5. Start teaching in the early elementary school years the basics of sex. Keep it simple and brief. Start teaching the concept that sex is an act people do when they are in love and when they want to make babies.
    6. Teach in the elementary school years what puberty is and what happens in the body. Start with the child’s own gender, but also teach about puberty in the other gender.
    7. Before puberty starts, make sure child knows what sex is. Always emphasize that it isn’t bad, dirty, or scary, and that when people are in love (and married, if like me you want to teach along these lines), sex is a very good thing. Teach that sex is to be treated very carefully, which is why we wait to have sex until we are in love and/or married.

This is just a basic example of how you can teach your child about sex. The point is that it should be an ongoing, consistent, honest, and loving conversation. The building blocks should be established in toddlerhood and the preschool years, then added to little by little as the child grows and understands more.