When I was a teenager I thought I knew everything about everything, as most teens do. I was so confident in my knowledge and flirtation skills that everyone thought I was having sex WAY before I really was. I remember being 16 and saying that I didn’t swallow without having a clue what that meant. I wish I had known more about sex and relationships before I started engaging in either, because I imagine my experiences would be totally different if I had been aware that female masturbation was natural and okay, that there is no shame in safe exploration and experimentation, and that what happens in the movies is pretty damn inaccurate. As a twenty something who didn’t really get to chat with her parents about sex often and who works with teens a lot, I have learned a few things that could help when it comes to talking to kids about sex and sexuality.
1. Start early. Make topics surrounding sex and sexuality regular conversation. Talk about your bodies. Talk about sex. Talk about when you were young, and the things that were going on at the time. Leave literature around so your kids can check it out and come to you about what they read.
2. One concern parents have is when an older child asks a question that may not be appropriate for a younger child. The best response is to answer all questions immediately, though choose how much detail to share.
3. Answer questions honestly. Younger children will listen to the conversations you have with your older children.
4. Admit that you don’t have all the answers. Research and learn with your kids.
5. Don’t freak out immediately. Ask something like “where did you hear about this?” or “what made you think of this?” to show that you are interested and that you care.
6. Ensure a support network for your child that includes family, teachers, your peers, etc. Kids need 5 adults they can trust. Better that you know which adults your kid is talking to and about what than not.
7. Set boundaries with the support network you help create to avoid miscommunication. My editor likened potential issues to “… a scene in Enough Said. The protagonist tells her daughter’s seventeen year old friend that losing her virginity isn’t that big of a deal, and when she does have sex, the friend’s mother is furious that [the protagonist] ‘parented’ her daughter, and affected her with [the protagonist’s] own bias. Maybe it means clarifying where knowledge ends and opinion begins.’
8. If your child is not comfortable coming to you about certain things, direct them to literature and other adults that you trust.
9. If your kids’ friends come to with you questions, concerns, whatever – answer them. Feel honoured that you were approached, because it means they trust you.
10. Shame doesn’t get you anywhere. For example, boys tend to start masturbating before girls. Let them know your rules: where the special towels and lotion are, masturbation happens in your bedroom with the door closed, etc. If they know that it is natural and okay, they are more likely to have a good relationship with their bodies and their sexuality, leading to a better relationship with others’ bodies and sexualities.
11. Trust your kids. If you create open, honest lines of communication, you are likely to get that in return.
12. Use media to begin conversations: my dad watched Sex & the City with me a couple of times to talk about sex. It was awkward as hell, but way better than a conversation out of the blue and I remember it.
Have other suggestions? Resources you love? Leave them in the comments!