You are your child’s most important sex educator, even if you say nothing at all. Here is some information and things to think about if you want to prepare your child for healthy sexual development.
Preparing in advance
If the topic of sexuality has not come up yet, take the time to get yourself ready.
Determine your own values and what kind of information you are comfortable talking about. Our section on Healthy Sexual Development can help you think about your values.
Take inventory of your knowledge. What and how did you first learn about sexuality and sexual health when you were young? What worked for you? What did not? While your child’s experience will be their own, it can be helpful to reflect on your own learning. If there are topics you feel you don’t know enough about, explore the resources and links on this page; you will find evidence-informed, non-judgmental facts about likely any question you have.
Do not assume that because your child(ren) has not approached you with questions about sexuality does not mean that they are not interested or are sexually inactive. You are your child’s most important sex educator, even if you say nothing at all. If you feel awkward bringing the subject up (very understandable), go to our section on Healthy Sexual Development for conversation starters.
Encourage your child(ren)s self-confidence and decision-making skills. Give youth the chance to make decisions for themselves in all areas of their lives so that they have the experience on when they make decisions surrounding sexual readiness. Competency and self-awareness are important in all areas of life, and are extremely important here.
Foster positive feelings about sexuality. Do not use scare tactics; rather give them the true facts. Encourage young people to be comfortable with their own sexuality: we are sexual beings from the day we are born.
Encourage questions. Use encouraging remarks such as: “This is a great question, thank you for asking me.” “How are you feeling about this right now?” “What do you think of…?” I’m truly happy that you’ve asked me this question.”
Be open to learning from your kids. They may know more about a particular topic than you do, and their information may be evidence-based, fair, and non-judgmental. Ask them where they got their information and see what you gaps you can fill in your own knowledge. If it turns out their information is incomplete, inaccurate or outright false, follow the links provided below to get the right answers.
When your child asks a question that you weren’t ready for.
Don’t panic! If your child has sprung a question or concern on you when you were ill-prepared and you feel you handled it badly, go to your child and apologize for your reaction, assure than that you are there for them, and how about now/tonight/tomorrow to talk about it. Make time for them; do not rush them or yourself when it comes to sexual empowerment and health. Then, when the timing is better, use these helpful hints to guide your conversation:
Be patient. Sexuality is a difficult subject for anyone to talk about and it might take someone a very long time to say what he or she needs to say. Awkward as it may feel, don’t jump in and finish sentences or speed them up. Don’t be afraid to acknowledge when you are embarrassed or uncomfortable with the topic. Learn together.
Listen, and ask them what they want to know. It may seem obvious, but really listen to what they say or ask. It may be something much deeper than what it appears to be or it may be something very innocent, needing a short yes/no answer.
There is no such thing as normal and abnormal, only common and uncommon. Assure them that they are normal. Children, youth and even adults are often terrified that they are the only ones who feel/act/experience awkwardness and difficulties. Reassure them that they are not alone. Point out that the range of ‘normal’ is vast, and while they may be experiencing or thinking of something that is less common, it is still normal.
Never assume that you know how your child is feeling. We often tend to assume that we know how others feel, but this will often lead to miscommunication. Your child’s feelings are their own and they are valid, even when they differ from yours, so treat their emotions with respect.
Don’t be afraid to set limits. When setting limits, they need to be reasonable for the child’s age. Help them understand what appropriate and inappropriate behaviours are. Children and youth get conflicting and confusing messages about sexuality and health from all around them. They may turn to you for clarification and honesty about issues and answers to questions they have. If your child asks a question that you do not know the answer to, say so, and then take the opportunity to find out the answer together. Check out the books and websites in the resources and links section below and learn together.
Talking to kids about sex will make them want to have sex sooner. MYTH!
Thankfully, studies have shown that when parents talk with their children about sexuality – providing accurate information and sharing their values -their children are more likely to delay sexual activity and use protection when they do have sex. Our conversations with our children about sexuality should go beyond how to take care of one’s body, how to abstain from sex, and how to use protection. They should also include:
- The importance of feeling good about oneself.
- How to have healthy, respectful relationships.
- Clear messages from you about your values and expectations about sexual decisions.
With this information, our children are better prepared to resist peer and media pressure and to make healthy decisions.
Children do not want to talk to their parents about sexuality. MYTH!
Young people do want to talk to their parents about sexuality; many just fear their parents’ reaction. (Remember back to when you were in their shoes.) As a parent, you can help your children to feel comfortable talking to you about sexuality by answering their questions openly and honestly. Use a calm and encouraging tone of voice, be patient, and be willing to listen, even if you are shocked by what they say.
Teens who ask their parents questions about sex are probably sexually active. MYTH!
Young people ask questions about sex for many reasons. One of those reasons could be because the situation has happened to them, but other reasons include: curiosity, wanting to know your views and values, because they heard something at school or in the media. So, when your child asks you a question about sex, remember to stay calm and resist making assumptions or jumping to conclusions. Many youth say that the biggest barrier to talking to their parents about sex is that they think their parents will assume that they are sexually active and freak out. Don’t make that mistake.
Be informed, not afraid. If you hear about something terrifying to you, learn more about it. Get information that has reliable data to back it up. Sometimes the reliable data is still being worked on – good science takes time – and then it’s best to use your judgment and talk to your child about the issue. Conversations about sensationalized topics can be a great way to open dialogue, and maybe have a good rant or laugh. Look to the online resources offered on this page as places to go to get truthful, non-inflammatory information about youth sexuality.
Books for Parents
Cory Silverberg. (2012). What Makes a Baby: A book for every kind for every kind of FAMILY and every kind of KID.
Cory Silverberg. (2015). Sex is a Funny Word: A book about bodies, feelings, and you.
Haffner, Debra W. From Diapers to Dating: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children. Newmarket Press, 2000.
Meg Hickling. (2005). The New Speaking of Sex: What Your Children Need to Know and When They Need to Know It.