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Lots of parents have questions about how and when to have the sex talk with their kids. Kids notice things like when there’s a new sibling coming and want to know- how did the baby get in your tummy? Where do babies come from? They start to notice that Mom and Dad have different parts. I don’t think that there is any one particular right way to do this but I do think that there are some principles you need to keep in mind when you begin to think about how you’re going to present this information.
Earlier is Better
When you begin to talk about sex and discuss bodily functions with a three or four-year-old, they have no context that this information is taboo. They’re just curious. Their curiosity offers parents an easy way to initiate the sex talk and discuss bodily functions in a matter of fact way, without anyone getting awkward. Remember, when your child gets emotional or senses danger, they can’t assimilate new information. So if you wait to talk about this stuff until they’ve already gotten the message that society has decided that this information is taboo and shameful, just the mention of penises and vulvas is going to send them into red brain. At that point, the chances of any information actually sticking is just totally gone.
Use Real Words When Referencing Body Parts
Experts in child sexual abuse have shown that children that don’t know the anatomically correct words for their body parts are much more likely to be abused. When talking about sex and body parts, it is not a ‘peepee’, it’s a penis, it’s not a cookie or a treasure, it’s your vulva. If you never use euphemisms for body parts, and your child suddenly starts calling it something strange like that, that’s going to send off red flags that someone had been talking to your child about their body in an unauthorized way.
Using weird words is also the fastest way to convey shame. We don’t come up with weird strange euphemisms for other body parts. So doing so for these parts of our bodies automatically communicates to children that there’s something wrong with these body parts. It sends the message that we can’t talk about them openly.
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Be Matter of Fact
When initiating the sex talk with your kids don’t talk about genitals and morality at the same time. Explain body parts in plain English and don’t assign any morality to it. Give them the baseline information and if they have more questions- they’ll ask! Lay it out as simply as possible and offer clarifying responses to their questions.
Take a deep breath and give them the information they are looking for and have the morality conversation separately. Any faith-based beliefs, etc., should be addressed in a different conversation, separate from the bodily functions. You want your children to be comfortable talking to you about how their body works and if you infuse every conversation about bodies with moral messaging they won’t. Stick to the topic at hand. They will make the connection.
Don’t Tie Consent Implicitly to Sex
Start the habit of giving, receiving and revoking consent early. Children need to understand the concept of consent before they get to sexual dealings. You can absolutely teach consent without uttering a word about sex. Children need to learn that you need consent to touch people. They need to be taught that they and anyone else has the right to revoke consent at any time. As parents, we need to ensure that they begin to get into the habit of dealing with the giving, receiving and revoking of consent when they’re four and they’re playing ninjas and princesses. That these habits are reinforced when they’re playing with Transformers or My Little Ponies and, still being reinforced, not introduced when they’re twelve and they’re starting to attend dances.
There are many ways to actually go about having the sex talk but these are my tips to keep it not-so-scary. It won’t be just one conversation and done. You will probably have several little micro conversations. If we start them now, then it doesn’t become a taboo. Earlier is better. Use real words. Separate out the topic of bodily functions and morality and don’t tie the concept of consent to sex. You can even introduce the topic while you all are it in the car or in the bathtub or simply when they’re doing other things.
We can raise the first generation of kids that are really informed. Present the baseline information for them, and if they have questions, they will ask. Open the gates to the information and start having those conversations when they’re little and they will continue to have the conversation with you as they become ready for more.