Has “The Talk” come up for you and your family yet? You know ... the birds and the bees, hanky-panky. Yep, I’m talking about sex. If you are anything like most people, the desire to talk to kids about sex is ranked as high as your desire for a root canal. It can feel overwhelming or downright uncomfortable.
I’m here to tell you that if you are worried about what to say, how to say it, and fear “getting it wrong” – you’re doing it right! This means you’re likely to tackle difficult issues rather than leaving it to your children to get the information from their classmates or – God forbid – Google.
Research supports the notion that when your child is talking to you about sex, they reduce the risk of engaging in risky, unhealthy sexual behavior. Sex is often perceived to be a taboo topic, which can increase feelings of shame and guilt over sexual thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
By being open to the discussion, you can help promote the idea that sexuality is normative and healthy, and you’re modeling open communication about the subject, so your kids feel comfortable coming to you in the future.
Whether you bring it up or your child does, here are some things to keep in mind, regardless of their age and development:
- Get a baseline for what they already know. When they ask you a question, ask “Can you tell me what you already know about that?” This gives you an opportunity to clarify any misinformation, assess their current understanding, and get a feel of how much to share with them in the moment.
- It’s important to consider that your child may not be aware of his or her sexual orientation. Keeping pronouns out of it will help them feel more comfortable talking about their sexual identity later. You might say, “When two people like each other they might have sexual feelings that make them feel strange” instead of using gender-specific pronouns.
- Don’t use euphemisms for genitalia. Anatomically correct terms (penis, vagina, vulva, anus) are preferred. Using alternative names sends an underlying message that we cannot talk about our bodies.
- Be honest without oversharing. Providing facts without personal feedback (e.g., your values, anecdotal stories) is a good practice and helps keep the groans and eye-rolls at bay. Pro tip: Avoid the phrase, “When I was your age ...”
As with any information- and emotion-heavy conversation, sharing the facts in smaller chunks will give your child time to process the material and retain more of it. Make sure your child knows they can come back and ask more questions. Keeping those lines of communication open will not only help children feel they can come to you in the future, but it will increase their use of assertive communication and empower them to go to appropriate places to get information about all sorts of topics.
Kat Tidd, MSW, LICSW, is an in-office therapist at The Village's Moorhead office. She earned a Bachelor’s degree in Social Work in 2010 from University of Texas at Arlington and a Master’s degree in Clinical Social Work from Michigan State University in 2014. She has experience working with people across the life span, from young children through the end of life. Special areas of interest include sexual behavior problems, pregnancy loss/infertility, and parenting skills. In addition to working with children and families, she enjoys running, spending time with her family, being outdoors, cooking, and home renovation projects.