Talking to Kids about Sex
Amy noticed that even she was having trouble talking to her own child about sex, and she imagined it would be even more difficult for people without her work background. She discusses the difficulty of discerning the right amount of information to share with kids, especially with the poor cultural examples in the US but reiterates that it’s crucial for parents to push through their discomfort.
Amy advises us to look at our own lives, our own sexual decisions and early relationships, and our current relationships to get a good idea of what can happen without quality education about sexuality and relationships. She emphasizes that sex and relationships constitute a lifelong social-psychological health issue and that parents can’t rely on schools to teach these things to their kids.
Sexual Health Requires Healthy Relationships
A lot of sexual health is about relationships, Amy asserts. She explains that many things can go wrong in relationships that will negatively affect the lives and health of people if they don’t know enough about what healthy relationships look like and what isn’t okay. Amy suggests that parents should want their children to grow up with a lot of information so that they can feel good about their decision-making skills and so that they can build safe, healthy relationships and quickly, correctly notice when relationships become unhealthy.
What Kids are Learning Now
Amy points out that most people are only getting educated about sex in the 5th and 9th grades, and neither of those sessions is comprehensive in any way. She explains that most young people learn the most about sex through pornography, sexualized entertainment media, and their friends. She points out that this gives kids a lot of very adult information about sexuality without providing them any context for that information.
Amy advises that parents contextualize pornography for children. She believes it’s important for kids to know that the models are acting, and they aren’t having real, normal sex.
The Limits of Sex Ed in Schools
Ms. Lang supports kids getting sex ed, even abstinence-only sex ed because that gives parents an opening to discuss the fact that abstinence-only education doesn’t work. She adds that it even lets parents talk about waiting to have sex until they’re prepared and able to make a mature decision with their partner. But she explains that schools can’t provide a values-based sexual education that aligns with the values of all their students’ families, schools can’t provide enough details about sex, and schools really can’t talk about how sex is pleasurable and not just about making babies.
How to Answer Questions
Amy tells us that a lot of questions kids ask can be answered simply and directly, but sometimes they’ll ask questions that are more sensitive. In those cases, she suggests admitting to your child that you’re not sure how to answer, and you need time to think about what to say. She explains that hot topics and questions about your own history can be dicey; she advises parents not to air their traumas to their children because she believes it’s important to talk about sex in a way that encourages them to have consensual, safe sex in a safe place.
Talking About Rape
She says that it’s easier to answer questions about difficult issues like rape and abortion if you already have created an early, strong base with your child about the fact that sex is healthy and fun when it’s consensual. When you have that background and talk about rape with your child, you can emphasize that sex is usually a happy thing adults do, but that sometimes people are bad and force others to have sex. She demonstrates that you can reassure children by saying that even though it’s a sad and scary part of life, it’s something they need to know about, and you’re glad they asked you.
Age Appropriate Conversations
She says that sex talk starts from birth in the form of discussing anatomy and sex differences directly and with correct terminology. Amy believes children should know how babies are made, how consent works, how families are structured, and what safe touch is by kindergarten, because when they’re that small, they are very curious and absorb the information naturally, and they haven’t yet learned enough of the negative aspects of sex to darken or pervert the facts of life. She highlights that early education about sex does a lot to protect kids from sexual abuse, which should motivate most parents to discuss the topic with their kids.
She mentions using the opportunities available to talk about sex in everyday life, from family members becoming pregnant or being gay to people displaying the signs of puberty. Amy discusses that it’s important to address puberty before they’ve completed the process, with 8 and 9 being her specific age suggestion. Parents can look for breast buds in girls to spot puberty, and she says in boys, parents with notice them becoming stinky.
By middle school, she believes kids should know the basics of everything about sex, the good and the bad. She suggests teaching them about oral and anal sex, about birth control, STIs, slang, and all about consent and healthy relationships. At this age, she explains that you want your child to be the smartest kid on the school bus so that they don’t internalize false information from their peers.
How to Start Sex Talks
Amy advises parents to talk about sex on car rides, where the kids can’t run away, but she also says that telling your kids you need to talk with them about a sex thing, and asking them if they want to do it now or later is a good tactic to ensure you have the conversation. She says that it’s often easy to observe the mood of adolescents to see when they’re most receptive and chatty, and those times are good opportunities to talk about sex. As eye contact is concerned, she admits that kids often don’t like it (especially boys), and it’s usually better to discuss sex with kids when you’re side to side. She tells us talking about song lyrics or news items with your kids can create good segues into sex conversations. However you do it, she reinforces the idea that you want them to be well-educated before their peers start talking to them about sex, love, and relationships.
Gender and Sexual Orientation Talks
Being careful with the language you use about LGBTQ+ issues is important to make certain your child feels welcomed no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity turns out to be. She recalls that with her own child, she and her husband always said things like, “when you have a girlfriend or boyfriend…” until the boy revealed his orientation and settled the matter. It’s important not to transmit prejudice for gay or trans people to your child, because doing so will make them feel alienated, and can even cause suicide attempts if they are LGBTQ+.
Young Girls Coming Out
In her professional life, Amy encounters a lot of stories about middle school-aged girls coming out as asexual or bisexual, and many parents ask her what that means. Amy suggests that it may be a result of our culture being more open. Sexual experimentation can be a normal, healthy developmental stage in kids that age, she explains, and some children will feel that doing those things makes them gay or bisexual, while others may be experimenting and exploring their sexuality. She suggests just waiting, always demonstrate your acceptance of whatever they may wind up being, and making sure your kid feels safe being themselves around you.
How Can Parents Learn to Support Their Kids?
Amy refers to her first book, Birds and Bees and Your Kids was written to help parents figure out their values surrounding sex and gender identity and how they want to talk about the issues. She also has a Solution Center on her website that provides lots of resources. It’s important to think about and prepare your responses in advance, she suggests, to communicate your values more clearly and concisely. She also says that the more parents practice by talking about sex with their kids, the easier it will become.
Amy Lang, MA has been a sexual health educator for more than 20 years. With a master’s degree in Adult Education and years of experience as a sexual educator, Amy decided to combine those two fields to help herself and other parents have those conversations.
As the host of Just Say This Amy helps parents learn to talk to their children about sex and values. She also authored two books to help parents and their kids navigate romantic and sexual relationships titled Birds + Bees + YOUR Kids – A Guide to Sharing Your Beliefs About Sexuality, Love, Relationships and Dating Smarts: What Every Teen Needs to Date, Relate or Wait. Amy lives with her husband and teenage son in Seattle, WA, and can be found online at BirdsAndBeesAndKids.com
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