First, let me say, that it pains me to even be writing an article on this subject while my daughters are still so young. What subject might that be? Yep. You guessed it. The big one. The one moms and dads traditionally dread: talking to your kids about sex. "Sex." The word just seems to sweep the innocence right out of the room the moment it lands in the air. And innocence is certainly something I’m trying to protect and maintain in my sweet girls as long as I possibly can. Even though I am not ready for sex to be out there in looming in front of my kids, I’m afraid that in the world we live in, it is already out there. So I’m not sure I have a choice about waiting much longer to have “the talk.”
See, here’s the thing: just because I am not ready to discuss it and they may not be ready to understand it, doesn’t mean they’re not going to hear about it. Hence, the major parental dilemma. If you wait too long to have the dreaded discussion then they might get the information from another source – a source over which you will have no control. So, despite my hesitancy and fears, I do believe it’s better to preempt a child being privy to misleading or confusing information by controlling the dialogue yourself. Having the conversation earlier than you’d intended to is in your child’s best interest because it alleviates them getting the wrong impression or idea. And, of course, we all know there are there some awfully bad and untrue messages in the media about sex.
Most experts agree that by age 7 or 8, parents should be explaining how the whole thing works. Yes, I said 7 or 8. I know, I never said this would be easy. By this age, it means you should go beyond the simplistic discussion, often accompanied by books or pictures, about how a baby comes out of mommy’s vagina from an egg and sperm connecting. Having “the talk” means actually conveying to your child the way in which a man and woman’s body come together in a natural, loving way to create a baby. It’s essential to explain the relationship aspect of sex, not just the physical act. Our children should clearly understand that sex should be between two consenting adults, making completely sure they comprehend precisely what “consenting” means. Make sure they understand the value of sex and the beauty of the intimacy involved in it.
Waiting for your kids to ask the questions might not be the best course of action, as oftentimes, they will be embarrassed or confused. One of the most important points to reiterate when having the “talk” is to make sure your children feel completely comfortable. This is essential. Reassure your son or daughter that questions and curiosity are not only quite normal, but should be encouraged. And emphasize that they should listen to your explanation of things first and foremost over second-hand, external sources such as bits and pieces they may pick up from television or a friend’s older sibling. Sex is far too important of a topic for your children to only perceive fragmented or inaccurate parts.
As much as I’m dreading this discussion with my own daughters in the near future, I know that hearing about it directly from me and their father is far better than having information come from anyone else. We are the most trusted influences in their lives and it’s our responsibility to equip them at the appropriate age with the knowledge they need to develop and grow healthily. All too often, parents leave this discussion up to educators at school or rely on books or assume that their kids found out from friends or some other source besides them. This is irresponsible parenting and oftentimes leads to children having misconceptions about sex, which inevitably leads to other problems down the line. Postponing or avoiding an honest discussion about it sends a message to your children that sex is not something to be talked about and this is simply not healthy or true. It is our most crucial duty as parents to guide our children when they need us, and speaking directly and comfortably to them about sex will help them make smart decisions in the future.
We are our kids' fiercest protectors and allies in this very complicated, inundating world, and as such, we also need to be their primary source of vital information, even if we feel saddened, frightened or discomforted by having to share it at such young ages.
For more information on what ages and stages to discuss the topic of sex, visit the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry here.