How to talk to your kids about sex and sexuality

I get asked this often. Why? Most of my clients’ children haven’t moved out. Granted, some of their children are in their thirties and it’s a safe bet they aren’t looking for sex advice from their parents, but you get the picture. Parents want to know how to avoid passing their own hang-ups or inhibitions (we’ve all got them!) onto their kids.

You can feel like you’ve run slam bang into a brick wall when your six year old asks about where babies really come from. How do you respond to your two year old frantically rubbing herself while in the bathtub urging you to try it because it feels so good? And the always tricky “What’s a blowjob?” that pops serenely from your angelic child’s mouth over Sunday dinner with your in-laws. I’m sure you have a few treasures just like these!

If sexuality was not talked about while you were growing up, you may find this a difficult subject to discuss. I commend you for reading this and having the curiosity to know how you can help your child develop a healthy, responsible attitude about something as fundamental as their sexuality.

Studies show that in families where talk about sex and sexuality is open, children tend to delay their experimentation. Some people feel it’s not a subject to teach children or is best left to schools, or worse, have the attitude if sex isn’t talked about, then kids won’t ever do it. I have some news for you. You’ve been giving them sex education their whole lives! The major way we learn is by modeling. Your child has learned a lot about sex from watching how you hug and kiss your partner each morning (or not), how aunt Jane is allowed to pinch your cheek or pat your bum when she comes over even if you don’t like it, how you hide or don’t hide your body when you come out of the shower, if the bathroom door is always open for Mom and not for Dad, if you refer to your genitals as private parts, woohoo and winky, vagina and penis, or they just aren’t mentioned. Do you see how a message can be given without a word passing your lips?

So how do I discuss sex with kids? My answer is threefold. The first thing you want to ensure is your bottom lip doesn’t drop to the floor as the colour drains from your face. Even if your child has the attention span of a gnat, they’re bound to pick up on that one. Try to keep calm and realize their intention is probably not to see who can freak you out the most (even if their friends are waiting around the corner giggling). If you want them to develop a healthy appreciation for their sexuality and not feel it’s a taboo subject, hear them out. Maybe try a light and casual “What do you mean exactly?” to find out a little more about what specifically they’re seeking. Find out if it’s a definition for a science quiz before you go on and on about your first oral sex experience! Then affirm it with “What a great question.”

Second, don’t lie. If you don’t know the answer (example – what does cunnilingus mean?), let them know you’ll find it and get back to them – and then do that! Alternatively, seek out the information together. Be cautious of doing a Google search online with your child present, as you even you may be shocked at the results that come back. There’s a fabulous service available free from the public library where you can ask a librarian any question and they will find the answer for you. How cool is that?

Finally, answer them in language that makes sense to them. There’s no reason to start sounding like a professor just because the topic is sex.

We’ve come a long way from “Don’t touch yourself – you’ll go to hell”, “You’ll grow hair on your palms” or my favourite “you’ll go blind”. Let’s leave the “Do NOT touch” sign in the china shop where it belongs.

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Kim Switnicki, ACC
Sex Educator & Intimacy Coach

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