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Talking With Children About Sex
Talking to children about sex must be done when they are ready to learn about it. We usually know they are ready when they start asking questions.
Overheard at the time of dismissal:
Trisha, age 5: Mom, have you ever had sex?
Mom: Yes, three times. Now get in the car…
Faced with this question, most of us parents would probably blush and lose our temper. It’s something we feel embarrassed to talk about with children. We dread the idea that our children will end up imagining mom and dad doing this to be born to them. We expect “yikes!” or “ooohhh…” from our children who are actually asking sexual questions innocently and without shame or embarrassment.
Because we are our children’s first teachers, the fact remains that we are also our children’s best sex teachers. Talking to children about sex requires us to have enough experience with sex and to be comfortable with our own sexuality. It is therefore disappointing that my first exposure and lecture on sex education was at school with my Benedictine religion teacher. I was already 10 years old then. While we talk about sex education in schools, we are very aware that the hardest questions start at home, at a very early age.
Talking to children about body parts
Children are naturally curious. By age 2 or 3, they will want to know about their body parts and their names. When it comes to their private parts, we usually give them nicknames. Why? Because we feel embarrassed for them and this embarrassment is transferred to the child. Would we rather our children learn profanity like “cock”, “dick” and “pussy” before learning their real names? They will only result in a lot of confusion for the children. It doesn’t take long to get used to their universal names, and eventually these nicknames will sound barbaric to you. We can use “vulva” which is the female external genitalia. “Vagina” is the canal connecting the uterus and the external genitalia. However, kindergarten teachers incorrectly use the term “vagina” to mean the external genitalia. On the other hand, we can use “penis” for male external genitalia. However, an important reminder. Present these names matter-of-factly, without giggling or blushing, or you will fail to send the facts as they really are – the facts.
Along with learning their names, children will naturally want to explore them in their own body or someone else’s body. I had pupils peeking under my skirt or placing a hand on my front in genuine curiosity. Even though I’m upset at first, berating them or making them feel ashamed about it is definitely not the right way to handle it. “Teacher, why do you have bigger breasts than me?” my girls usually ask. “As we grow, our body parts get bigger, including our breasts,” I reply. Nothing more, nothing less. We cannot give children more than they ask for and more than their level of understanding.
Self touching, is it normal? I had a 2-year-old nephew who was fascinated by touching his penis in the bath and watching it occasionally stand stiff and erect. While this may be a concern for some, we can choose to casually ignore it or acknowledge that even though we know it feels good, we need to make it clear that this is an activity that must not become a habit and must remain private. It’s all part of the exploration process, which usually manifests itself as child’s play.
Talking to children about where children come from?
Now take a deep breath and go for it! When my daughter asked this question, I asked back, “What do you think?” just to make sure and make sure my answer will be good enough for her. I use a fantastic story about eggs for 2-3 year olds, as gross as it may sound. I learned this from a child development specialist. The story goes that babies come from an egg that dad puts in mom’s stomach, which grows over time until it’s ready to come out. When not necessary, we can leave out scientific facts or details about making love.
If we still don’t feel comfortable talking about sex with our young children, there are now great children’s books that explain the facts that we can leave at home for them to read. A good book to try is “Let’s Talk About Sex” by Dorling Kindersley. We can dip into it together when they’re younger, then they can read it on their own when they’re older.
Avoid using animals like dogs to explain sex, or you will be in big trouble when your child sees a dog having sex anywhere, anytime, in any way and with any dog! It is important to convey the moral context of sex to our children. Sex is something you can share with someone you love and are committed to. However, avoid too many moral lectures or you will bore the children.
Looking back to my childhood, I realize that I never asked my parents questions about sex, because I was afraid they might scold me for it. But it’s important to talk to our kids about sex, even if they don’t ask. They might be ready to learn about it at their own level of understanding. Remember, “sex talk” isn’t just about making love. Sexuality and gender issues begin at birth, when children begin to explore their bodies. There is no ideal age for sex education.
So mom and dad, can you make it?
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