Sex is an important part of being human. It involves more than the physical act of intercourse with another person. It affects how we feel about ourselves as males and females and impacts important choices we make as men and women.
What you think about sex may seem clear and straightforward. But when it comes to laying the groundwork to help your kids develop a healthy understanding of sex, having that conversation can feel overwhelming. When your child is in middle school (if not earlier), you’re bound to start getting questions, which they’re probably also discussing with their friends. And since they're going to be gathering information, it’s best that it's accurate and that it comes from you.
Why Should I Talk to My Kids About Sex?
The question should be, why shouldn’t you? Talking with your child about sex is important to help him or her develop healthy attitudes toward sex and to learn responsible sexual behavior. Openly discussing sex with your child will enable you to provide accurate information. What they learn elsewhere might not be true and might not reflect the personal and moral values and principles you want your children to follow. You need your preteen or teen to understand the possible consequences of being sexually active -- including pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and all of the emotional trappings that come with being part of a sexual relationship.
If I Talk to My Kids About Sex, Won't That Just Make Them Want to Do It?
It's important for children to understand sexual feelings and relationships before they become sexually active. Studies show that teens who have discussed sex with their parents are more likely to wait longer to begin having sex and more likely to use contraception when they do.
What Do I Say?
Focus on the facts about sex. Consider using the following list of topics as a guide:
- Explanation of anatomy and reproduction in males and females
- Sexual intercourse and pregnancy
- Fertility and birth control
- Other forms of sexual behavior, including oral sex, masturbation, and petting
- Sexual orientation, including heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality
- The physical and emotional aspects of sex, including the differences between males and females
- Self-image and peer pressure
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Rape and date rape, including putting oneself in a high-risk situation such as being intoxicated (drunk or high), accepting rides or going to private places with strangers or acquaintances, and not traveling in groups or double dating with friends
- How choice of clothing and the way you present yourself, including body language, sends messages to others about your interest in sexual behavior
How Open Should I Be When We Talk?
Some parents are uncomfortable talking to their kids about sex. It may help to practice what you are going to say before you sit down with your son or daughter. Be sure to pay attention and listen to what your child says and asks. It may be helpful to have both parents present for support.
Some kids may be embarrassed to talk about sex or to admit they don't know something. So they may not ask direct questions. Look for opportunities to bring up sexuality issues with your children. Opportunities may come from a scene on TV or in a movie, a book or an article, or the appearance of visible changes in your son or daughter, such as the growth of breasts or facial hair. Explain the physical maturation process and the sexual arousal process. Remember to respect your child's privacy and try to show that you trust him or her to make good decisions. Give them the confidence to grow and mature.
Teen Sexual Rights
When talking with your teen, consider the following teen sexual rights, which were developed by the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS). Let your child know these rights belong to him or her and no one else has the right to take them away:
- The right to accurate information about sexuality and HIV/AIDS
- The right to stop being physical or sexual with a partner at any point
- The right to say "no" to an unwanted touch of any kind
- The right to make decisions about sexuality, in your own time
- The right to express your sexuality safely, without risk of pregnancy or STDs, including HIV/AIDS
- The right not to be pressured into being physical or sexual
- The right not to express your sexuality unless you want to