Many parents balk at the idea of discussing sexual issues with their children, yet most of us are well aware that sex education is key when it comes to protecting our kids. Nor should the talk be a one-time thing. Sex education should be an ongoing conversation that we have with our children throughout the years, as each time the child will understand a bit more and have more questions.
Of course, it is important to keep the information age-appropriate. Young children should be informed of their correct name for their genitals, as well as the important fact that this area is private and never to be touched by anyone. As they get older, they might have more questions, such as where babies come form, and you should answer these questions simply and honesty. Don’t lie or shame them for asking these natural questions, but don’t overload them with information either. Their questions will guide you.
Over the years, you will also have to tackle topics like STDs, pregnancy, contraception and the like. Don’t make the mistake of waiting until your child is already dating or well into her teens. Kids are often much more aware of these things than adults realize, and they are likely getting plenty of misinformation from their friends and peers.
Along with the logistics of sex and protection, it is also important to talk to your children about how their first time should be special and about how no one should ever pressure into having sex before they are ready. And, while it is impossible to control who your child has feelings for, the truth is that some partners can be quite dangerous for your child indeed, such as if she dates someone older than herself. The teenage years are a time of intense physical, emotional, and sexual development, and even a difference of a few years can lead to undue sexual pressure and serious complications.
For example, a recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that teen girls with older male partners are more likely to be sexually active, less likely to use contraceptives, and more likely to face an unintended pregnancy. Similarly, the younger a girl is when she has sex for the first time, the greater the average age difference is likely to be between her and her partner. So maybe age is just a number — but it is a number in a very dangerous equation that could lead to scary and life-altering consequences.
The same is true for young boys. In today’s society, people often applaud an adolescent boy’s initiation into sexuality, even if (or especially if) it involves an older woman. A teen boy is likely to hear “Way to go, man!” or “Lucky you,” whereas a teen girl in the same situation would likely receive concern and intervention. Yet a teenage boy’s body deserves the same protection and his sexuality deserves the same respect, and until we stop differentiating between the value of male and female sexuality, teens everywhere will be at greater risk of unwanted sexual advances and peer pressure.
All children need to be instilled with the knowledge that their bodies are their own and that their sexuality is theirs alone to celebrate and protect. Parental involvement and communication is crucial. We need to talk to all of our children (boys and girls alike) about the realities of sex and about the importance of waiting until one is physically and emotionally ready. And, then, most importantly of all, we need to listen.