How To Talk To Your Kids About Sex
There comes a time when every parent has to face it, the sex talk. It’s awkward, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s so important. These days “the talk” is about so about much more than just where babies come from.
We have to tackle sensitive subjects and we have to start young. If we do it right then we can empower our children to embrace the changes ahead, have confidence in themselves and respect others along the way.
Talking about sex and sexuality with your kids isn’t easy but fortunately we found an amazing expert on the subject to help guide us through it. Dr. Trish Hutchison is a pediatrician, mom of two, and co-founder of Girlology and Guyology with OB-GYN and mom of three, Dr. Melisa Holmes. Their mission is to bring parents and kids together to have honest, real-world, cringe-free conversations about sex and sexuality.
Get ready to be the rockstar of awkward parent conversations. Dr. Hutchison uniquely uses her medical expertise and experience as a mom to help you connect with your children in ways you never thought possible.
What is the proper age to have “the talk” with your children and how will you know they are ready to hear it?
Parents have to realize that if they’ve never talked about sex or sexuality with their kids before and they try to have “the talk” with them, the kids may be shocked and horrified since they’ve never heard anything from them about it before. Or they may actually be excited to have these conversations! We want parents to realize that sex and sexuality incorporates so many different things besides just “the talk.” So, start early and talk often.
Start by teaching body parts. Kids start to sense their own sexuality as soon as they can sense the world around them at a very young age. As early as teaching them eyes, ears, nose, mouth in the bathtub, we need to be teaching breast, vagina, penis, vulva, anus. Parents seem to cringe when they hear those words, so they make up cute little names for them. Unfortunately, that can put them at risk of sexual abuse which is why it’s so important for parents to teach their children about what parts are private and what the proper names are for them.
Address affection and intimacy. Kids also start to realize affection and they start to see emotional and physical intimacy. All of these things are part of sexuality that need to come into play besides just the puberty and “the talk” conversation.
Discuss gender related topics. Gender identity, gender orientation, and gender expression can be difficult but those are conversation that parents need to have as well. Do kids identify themselves as boy girl or somewhere in between? Do they express it with pink, camouflage or androgynous clothing? Who are they romantically attracted to?
Have the hard conversations. We also have to talk about sexual harassment and sexual abuse. The earlier you have these conversations with kids, you’re able to prevent those two negative aspects of sexuality.
It’s just really, really important to have these conversations earlier so when it’s time to have the sex talk, it comes a little bit easier because they’re already aware of their body parts, what privacy means, and respect for body parts.
If you’ve done pretty well with all of this, we say you’ve got to have “the talk” with your kids around 8 or 9. Parents look at me like I’m crazy when I say that, but with the digital age and the way kids are talking, YOU want to be the one to tell them what sex is. That makes YOU the go-to person when questions come up, not their friends or the internet. The best part of this, is that you can then instill your family beliefs and values.
What are some things parents need to keep in mind when preparing to have this conversation?
You never know how your child is going to react to the conversation. Whatever personality you think your child has can completely change when you start talking about these topics. We’ve had kids vomit, pass out, and run out of the room. So you need to be prepared for a reaction and think about how to handle it.
Kids know more than you think they know. With the digital age these days, we get questions from fourth and fifth graders about porn and dildos and all kinds of stuff. They may have heard the words but not know exactly how it all works together. So parents may be shocked to hear about some of the things they’ve learned from the digital devices in their hands.
It’s okay to let them know that you feel awkward. You can start the conversation by saying, “It’s my job as a parent to have this conversation with you but I’m really feeling awkward.” Kids need to see that parents are vulnerable sometimes and I think that can create a really cool connection.
They need to know more than just the science of it. It’s easy to talk about the plumbing or the science but sometimes we forget to talk about healthy relationships, respect for one another, joys of sexuality, and consent. All of these things need to be added to the conversation.
What are the biggest differences in having the talk with boys vs. girls?
I don’t have a boy, so it’s hard for me as a parent, but as a physician and leader of our seminars with boys and girls, boys are much more fact-based. They really like crazy facts like how many farts you have in a year. They just like that funny stuff thrown into the conversation to make them feel more comfortable.
Girls are more emotional learners. They like to lean in and hug and be measured for bras. It’s just interesting to see the difference in our programs.
When they did studies on teenage brains when you’re talking about sex, teenage girls whole brain lights up in the scanner because when they think about sex they’re thinking about - what is our first date going to be, what am I going to wear, how’s he going to ask me how to marry him, what will my bridesmaids wear, how many kids will we have. In the male teenage brain, only one part lights up and it’s right next to the area to have a bowel movement. So sex is really an urge for teenage boys and for girls its more emotional. This helps us figure out how to talk to them so they can hear all facets of it.
In your experience, what is the best approach to take to get the conversation started?
- Use things in the media that can spark conversations. TV shows, social media, advertisements, and news feeds have lots of topics to cover. Celebrities are always airing their dirty laundry.
- Listen to a song and point out a line that your hearing. Half the time, we as parents have no idea what the lyrics are all about. Find a safe place to look it up together.
- Watch Animal Planet and you’ll see an example every 30 seconds of animals mating.
- Use things in your personal life like an aunt or friend that’s pregnant, siblings dealing
with relationship issues, or a time you struggled with your body changes in puberty.
- Play the “what if” game. What if you start your period at school? What if you get an
erection on the bus and your stop is next?
You can always find something every day that pertains to sex and sexuality to say “Hey, what do you think about that?” “Hey, what are they doing?”
What about the sex education programs in schools?
We can’t depend on our schools to do this because most schools are still going back to ‘ abstinence only’ education and not comprehensive sex education that focuses on abstinence. They are also doing it way late. Puberty is not even taught in school until 6th grade and research shows that some kids as early as 7 years old start puberty and they’re in the throes of it when they’re finally hearing about it.
Younger kids that come to our classes are so excited about puberty and the changes that are going to happen. If you wait just 6 months to a year too late and they’re in the middle of it, they’re eyes are down, they’re miserable, they feel really awkward. If you can normalize normal at an early age, it makes their process through puberty so much more accepting for them which is a huge self confidence booster down the road.
How can parents make sure they create a comfortable environment that promotes dialogue about the topic?
Kids are starving for conversations. Research shows that kids want more conversations about sex and relationships from their parents. It also shows that the parents that have had more of these conversations have helped delay their child’s sexual onset, pregnancy prevention, etc. So it’s really important that parents do provide this environment.
- Be available and askable. If a parent is stressed out, working 24/7, never puts their phone down, or is on the computer at night and the kid comes up and has a question, they have to find a way to be askable and available.
- Be an active listener. Ten minutes of active listening increases connectiveness. Take this time during a walk to the mailbox, a trip to the grocery store together, on the ride to school with nobody else is in the car, or just by putting your phone down. Parent -Child connectiveness is a super-protector.
- Normalize Normal. Make sure your kids understand that normal is in their cafeteria, math class, or after school program. Not what they see on social media, TV, or in advertisements..
- Don’t freak out. The number one reason kids stop going to their parents is because their parents freaked out when they asked them something about sex or bodies. When that happens, it immediately sets up a red flag for the kids. Parent’s just have to take a deep breath and try not to freak out when they get approached by this.
Girlology & Guyology have become incredible resources for parents looking for age-appropriate, medically accurate, engaging and cringe-free messages about growing up safe, healthy, and informed, especially when it comes to puberty and sexuality. Check out their website for additional resources on a wide range of topics.
Thanks to Dr. Hutchison for taking the time to educate us on how we can properly prepare our children.
Dr. Hutchison and Dr. Holmes are currently working on a non-profit to bring their amazing programs to underserved areas. We will keep you posted on when it is launched and how you can support their great efforts!