Sexual health is more than just having sex. Connecting to this idea as adults in our own bodies is hard enough- butt realizing this truth for our kids is essential to helping them learn a balanced approach to sexual health. Sexual health is our bodies, anatomy, physical health, feelings, love, affection, pregnancy, birth, expressing yourself, making decisions, and interacting in relationships. Making it solely about sex just isn't accurate! Our first tip is getting comfortable with talking about this wherever you are currently at with the topic. Talk with your friends, get some children's books about sexuality, look at pictures of anatomy, and make it your goal to learn correct information but also demonstrate curiosity to your kids. Only you can know what is the right amount of information to cover with your children but in general, parent's usually do not share enough. It's ok to go out of your comfort zone in this area. Consent is a major part of healthy sex talk and this starts much younger than you think! Talking to your kids about consent before they can even talk- teaching them boundaries and permission and respect happens young! A 2 year old can demonstrate consent, so parent's should be thoughtful about the way they model consent to their own young children. This means stopping when they say stop, teaching them that they are in charge of their bodies. If they grow up knowing and expecting for words to be respected it will be much easier for them to practice listening to others about their boundaries. This is for their safety, and the safety of the people your child spends time with. Not all of our parenting gets this perfect every opportunity. This is a practice that take time, reminders, patience and grace. Empower your kiddos to value their bodies and do not have control over them, no does any other adult or person in their life. Teach your small children about what touch is ok and what touch is not ok. Use correct body part terms so that when they communicate with you about theirs they can be accurate and specific. Think about how your daughter may need to describe hurting her labia on her bike, or the symptoms of a UTI. Small kids can learn pretty quickly that privates are private and everyone (even parents) should ask permission to touch them and they should ask before touching someone else. Teach them to talk about secrets that upset them- that these are never ok to keep from mommy and daddy even if someone tell them they will get in trouble. Reassure them that they won't get in trouble for sharing these and if they are scared or anxious about anything someone else has done or said to them that you can help them when they tell you about it. This is not easy to do, parents! Be as aware as you can and keep revisiting this concept while you work on it. So what ages should you talk about which sexual topics? What can your kids handle and how much should you share? We have a simple guide for you to consider while you map out what's best for your individual child:
Age 2-3 year olds can hear correct anatomical terms like penis and vagina.
Age 3-4 year olds can hear where babies come from, learn the term uterus, and will want to start exploring their own naked bodies.
Age 4-5 year olds can hear how babies are born, that a uterus pushes the baby out, and how they were born. Even children who were born by cesarean should hear that vaginal birth is the norm.
Age 6-7 year olds are generally ready to hear about what sex is. You can use very simple terms like "daddies fit into mommies to leave sperm in her egg and make a baby. It's important that as it comes up that we teach our children that sex is not only about making babies, but it's about love and pleasure too. Sex is a caring thing that 2 adults do when they both decide to be close to eachother that way.
Age 8-9 year olds should start to get familiar with puberty so that it's not a new or scary thing if it starts to happen to them and they don't share with you right away. These growing up changes include underarm and pubic hair, body odor, breasts and enlarging genitals. Make as much space for questions as possible, this is a very curious age and they may not want to talk about it all at once, but in stages and spurts. This is also the age when their peers start to share information, they pay more attention to sex in the media and may be more aware of sexually themed topics. That all sounds well and good on paper right? But how do you actually get these ideas into action? We have a couple tips for parents trying to navigate this as smoothly as possible: It's ok if you're uncomfortable, in fact it's super normal. Just admit it, be honest with your kids that it's important everyone works on talking more about these things and you're going to get better as you practice.
If your child asks questions, answer it- even if it seems like they are too young- usually children who are asking questions are ready to hear the answers. Let them know their curiosity is valid and do your best to answer them in developmentally appropriate ways. You want to be the one your child can easily go to when they have a question so make it simple and gratifying for them when they do it on their own. Try not to freak out, and expect at some point you are going to be shocked at something they tell you. Stay calm and collected and a trustworthy confidant to them.
It's ok if they ask you about things you don't know about! Be honest and tell them you don't know but you'll find out the answer and get back to them. Sometimes this is a good opportunity to ask them what they think about something.
Try as hard as you can to allow both parents talk to both gender children about sexual topics. It's a great exercise for your children to get used to talking to the opposite sex about these sensitive subjects. They can use the experience to learn how the other gender views things sometimes and get confident with asserting themselves in communication. It's easy to think men should talk to their sons only and moms to daughters, but consider the tools you can gift your child by breaking that misconception in your family.
Talking about sex with your kids is not an easy or quick thing! Even for those of us that are comfortable and confident talking about these subject are going to find some blip in the journey that we will need to navigate. Our hope is that this encourages you to start small and young, having many little natural conversations over an entire childhood, making sexual health a part of your family's culture.