Discussing Sexuality With Your Child

  • Answer questions at the time your child asks, don’t put them off.
  • Listen carefully to the question to make sure you understand what she/he is asking.
  • Use “teachable” moments to open discussion with a child who does not ask questions e.g., commenting on the pregnancy of a friend or a relative may be a good introduction to the topic of pregnancy and how a baby grows in the uterus. Television programs, newspaper articles or books are other vehicles that can assist in initiating a discussion.
  • Don’t try to cover everything at once, but also don’t worry if you think you have said “too much”.
  • Your child will sift the information, or let it pass – perhaps catching a phrase here or there to ask you about later.
  • Keep the language simple and age appropriate e.g., a three year old may be satisfied with “babies grow in a special place inside the mother’s body – called a uterus”. A six year old will likely have more questions about how the baby grows, and may want to know how it will come out.
  • Use correct terms. It is confusing to children to have cute names for some body parts and not others.
  • Check out what they already know. Older children in school will inevitably hear comments or words that they don’t understand. Show your willingness to discuss these by asking what they can tell you about a particular sexual topic. This encourages communication and also you may correct any misinformation that they have.
  • Let your children know what you think, and what standards of behaviour are alright in your house.
  • It is also important to let them know what is socially appropriate/inappropriate, and what to do if they have difficulties or questions. As children mature it is also important to help them understand that other people’s standards may be different from theirs.
  • Don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’ or to let your child know that you’re embarrassed. You can say “I feel a little uncomfortable, but this is important to talk about – let’s find out some answers together.”

Discussing Sexuality With Your Teen

As A Parent, What Can You Do?

Providing an atmosphere where open, honest and two-way communication can take place is a major way parents can assist their children in avoiding problems with drugs, alcohol, sexual decisions and peer relationships.

To open and maintain the lines of communication between you and your teen we suggest the following:

  • Remember that your children care about what you say and do, even though it may not seem like it at times.
  • Work hard at talking with your teen, not at them.
  • Demonstrate responsible, health-conscious decisions with your own use of alcohol and other drugs.
  • Discuss and help interpret issues as they arise in TV shows, ads, music, the news, and in the community. Help confirm what is meaningful, realistic, and important to the sense of values you show.
  • Encourage your teens to express thoughts and views. The open exchange of ideas is a way of clarifying the values we hold.
  • Do a variety of things with your teens. Stay involved in their lives.
  • Encourage your children to be actively involved in determining their lives, not passive spectators.
  • Avoid acting as if you have learned all there is to know. Be an active learner yourself.
  • Help your teens learn from both good and bad experiences.
  • Remember that teenagers still view family members and parents as their prime role models.
  • Remember that almost all parents agree that the way they manage and model their own behaviour will have a big effect on their children.

What They Need to Know

Children in Grades 1 to 3 (The Bathroom Humour Types) Need to Know:

  • the names for genitals, penis, testicles, scrotum, anus, vulva, labia, vagina, clitoris, uterus, ovaries
  • the scientific words: urine, stool, bladder, urethra (tube draining the bladder)
  • that reproduction happens when a man’s sperm joins a woman’s ovum by sexual intercourse
  • that a baby grows in the uterus and is born through the vagina
  • the difference between the digestive and reproductive systems
  • everything about menstrual periods and nocturnal emissions as clean and healthy processes basic information about body changes at puberty
  • not to pick up used condoms

At this age children often think that girls have one opening for “poop and pee”, and that what girls eat goes into the same place as the baby grows. They need to know that menstruation is the time when a girl’s body begins to grow and practice for being grown-up. You might explain the “facts of life” something like this: The uterus practices too by making a kind of “water bed” inside itself for the baby. The bed is made of water, soft skin, and a little bit of blood. Each month, when there isn’t a baby, the uterus changes the bed and the old one comes dripping out of the vagina. Nocturnal emissions happen when boys are 8-9 years old or older, and their testicles begin to make sperm for practice. Some nights, when boys are fast asleep, the extra sperm come out of their penis. Only a spoonful of milky-white fluid is let out and often looks like a small wet spot on their pajamas. Menstruation and nocturnal emissions are private, of course, but not a secret.

Children in Grades 4 to 7 (The Gross-Me-Outers) Need to Know:

  • all of the previous information, plus
  • all about body changes at puberty
  • basic information about STIs and pregnancy
  • how to question and critique the distorted, popular, commercialized views of the perfect body
  • how to talk about the ways that sexuality is portrayed falsely in the media through television, movies, magazines, music videos and even some computer games
  • how sexuality is exaggerated in pornography and the participants are exploited
  • that a teenager does not have to be sexually active

This may be your last chance to talk! At this age they still have a million questions in their minds that they won’t ask aloud. They may have questions about gay/lesbian relationships. You can watch television or movies together and use opportunities when they present themselves to discuss the way that sexuality is presented. Talk “at” them. Car rides present great opportunities. Leave literature around. Talk about “body science” rather than sex.

Adolescents in Grades 7 to 12 (The People Who Don’t Know What They Don’t Know) Should Have:

  • all of the above information, plus:
  • information about the correct use of contraceptives, and their potential failure
  • information about emergency contraception
  • detailed information about STIs and safer sex
  • knowledge about the connection between alcohol, drugs and adolescent decision-making and sexual activity
  • the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships
  • practice with negotiation skills, refusal skills, and relationship skills like how to break off a relationship
  • information about what to expect when they visit a doctor.