The Parent’s Role

Parents want to provide the guidance and knowledge their children need to become responsible and happy adults. Parents, however, are sometimes afraid of talking about sexuality with their children because:

  • They are uncomfortable talking about reproductive body parts and functions. For many parents, the topic of sex never came up when they were growing up.
  • They wonder if talking about sexuality and reproduction will encourage their children to experiment. The fact is young people, whose parents discuss all aspects of sexuality with them, tend to delay becoming sexually active, compared to those parents who do not discuss this topic.
  • They are not sure what their children need to know and at what age they need to know it.

As parents, you are already teaching your children many things about sexuality and have been since the day they were born. They learn from:

  • the way they are physically touched by others
  • the way their bodies feel to them
  • what your family believes is okay and not okay to do
  • the words that family members use (and don’t use) to refer to parts of the body
  • watching the relationships around them
  • observing male/female roles

They are also picking up a great deal from outside the family whenever they watch television, listen to music, and talk with their friends.

Sex vs. Sexuality

What is the difference between the two?

Sex: Sex refers to the biological characteristics that define humans as female or male. While these sets of biological characteristics are not mutually exclusive, as there are individuals who possess both, they tend to differentiate humans as males and females. In general use in many languages, the term sex is often used to mean “sexual activity”, but for technical purposes in the context of sexuality and sexual health discussions, the above definition is preferred.

Sexuality: The World Health Organization (2004) defines sexuality as a central aspect of being human throughout life and encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. Sexuality is experienced and expressed in thoughts, fantasies, desires, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviour, practices, roles and relationships. While sexuality can include all of these dimensions, not all of them are always experienced or expressed. Sexuality is influenced by the interaction of biological, psychological, social, economic, political, cultural, ethical, legal, historical, religious and spiritual factors.

As Parents you teach sexuality education, not sex education. Parents have the chance to teach about the broader concept of sexuality, not just biology.

WHO. (2004). Sexual Health – a new focus for WHO, No.67, Department of Reproductive Health and Research, World Health Organization, Geneva, Switzerland.

What is Sexuality?

Sexuality is not just sexual intercourse or sexual activity. Sexuality has to do with:

  • being female or male, and how females and males are alike and different in the way they look and act;
  • how we view our bodies and our relationships with each other;
  • how we grow and change over the years;
  • who we are as women and men (girls and boys); and
  • how we reproduce.

Sexuality (our feelings and behaviours) is an important part of being human, and healthy sexuality is an important part of a person’s overall health and well being. Sexual health education is key to providing children and youth with the knowledge and skills they need to ensure healthy sexual development.

Parents have a chance to…

  • answer questions honestly. Tell your children what they want to know using words they can understand.
  • provide correct information. Studies show that young people tend to obtain most of their information (or misinformation) about sexuality from friends.
  • start conversations. Some children never ask about sexuality.
  • share their beliefs, concerns and values. Your children need to know where you stand.
  • help their children make good decisions and stand by their decisions.

 Some Facts About Sexual Health Education

“Effective Sexual Health Education should be provided in an age-appropriate, culturally sensitive manner that is respectful of individual sexual diversity, abilities and choices.”
-Canadian Guidelines for Sexual Health Education, 2008.

  • In 2005, a national survey revealed that approximately 43% of Canadian teens ages 15-19 had sexual intercourse at least once compared to 47% in 1996/1997.
  • 29% of teens ages 15-17 and 65% of teens aged 18-19 had intercourse at least once;
  • Parents have reported that school-based sexual health education makes it easier for them to engage in conversations with their children as it creates natural opportunities for communication to occur and information to be shared within the home.
  • In a recent study, 45% of Canadian teens who participated stated that they looked to their parents, regarding them as role models and valuable sources of information. Youth prefer to receive their sexual health information from their parents as many expressed that they saw their parents as credible sources of information and felt that their parents had their best interest in mind.
  • Most parents would like to play a role within their child’s sexual health education. Some parents reported that their motivation to do so came from a desire to provide information to their children that they wish they had received from their own parents.
  • Research indicates that parent-child communication about sexuality can have a positive influence on teen sexual behavior.
  • From recent studies, it has been discussed that the majority of parents feel they should be talking with their children as a way of protecting them from negative sexual health consequences, such as STIs and unintended pregnancies.
  • Evaluations of comprehensive sexual health education programs (full information at appropriate ages) revealed that they result in postponement of first sexual intercourse and increases in condom use. Evaluations of abstinence-only programs indicated that they are ineffective at delaying intercourse, preventing pregnancy, and preventing STIs.
  • Teens should be encouraged to consider or re-consider abstinence. When trying to avoid STI, abstinence means avoiding vaginal, anal, and oral intercourse and other behaviors that expose a person to semen, pre-ejaculate fluid, cervical or vaginal secretions, and blood.
  • Many parents support comprehensive school-based sexual health programs as they see schools as knowledgeable and competent sources of information for their children.
  • Youth have reported that they do not trust that the Internet is providing them with the accurate information they are looking for, but will use the Internet to verify what they have been told by their parents, teachers, or peers.