While it might be something you don’t want to do, it is never too early to begin the process of sex education with your children.
From a very early age, children are curious about body parts, where they come from and why boys and girls are different. As they age, these curiosities become more detailed and you can teach sex education in stages according to their development, right up until their teen years.
Doing this will ensure your children gain a complete understanding of the subject, their place in the discussion and the correct behaviour.
What is Sex Education?
A common misconception is that sex education is solely about the act of intercourse. While a lot can be said to explain to children and teens about consensual physical intercourse, the topic is much broader. Of course, the subject includes intercourse, yet it also contains additional discussion. Such as the subjects of adolescent development, hygiene, consent, STI prevention, the foetal development cycle, menstruation, the different genitalia and more.
Consequently, the topic also covers sexuality. This doesn’t only apply to gender identity and attraction preference, but how your child feels about their own body and its developments. It isn’t uncommon for underage teens to engage in sexual intercourse. The US National Health Statistics survey 104 finds that over half of teens under 18 are sexually active. Early sexual engagement makes discussion of sexual hygiene all the more critical.
A symposium held in New York (The STD Prevention training Centers) concludes that half of the STDs occur in 15 to 24-year-olds, and the figures are rising. Chlamydia is chief among infections. But the sad fact is that many teens feel embarrassed, scared or don’t know they have an STI. However, instruments like a chlamydia test kit are readily available to purchase or from medical professionals.
What is the Right Age to Talk About Sex Education?
Traditionally, the subject of sex education is left to schools. However, you can start the process of educating your child about specific subsets of sexual health and education at an early age.
If you are a parent, then you will undoubtedly have been asked why the girls or boys look different down there. This usually happens at a very early age, and this is essentially where sex education has a chance to begin.
The Importance of Early Discussion
Many psychologists agree that it is never too early to begin sex education. Cleary, your toddler isn’t going to understand the reproductive system. But you can start with an explanation of where babies come from. A question that all toddlers will ask at some point. While it’s cute and fun to say that a stork brings them or that they grow in tummies, these statements could be confusing. Perhaps you could explain that there is a place in the tummy area called the uterus, and it is there where babies grow.
Find Out What They Already Know
It might be shocking to most parents, but your kids will typically already know some sexual information. They pick this up from external influences such as background TV, overhearing discussions and the school playground. However, a child’s perception of sex education is typically wildly inaccurate.
Ask what your child already knows, gauge the accuracy of the information and gently correct their perceptions. It is helpful to explain in a way they understand. For example, that ova are tiny eggs that mummy carries in her tummy. The trick is to be brief yet factual and let them ask more questions. Of course, older children and teens will benefit from a more technical explanation.
How Early Sex Education Will Help
Explaining sex, reproduction and body parts at an early age will help alleviate problems later in life. However, no longer is it adequate to leave such subjects until the teen years. The reasons for this vary, but some of the most influential relate to the concerning rate of sexual abuse, teen gossip and misinformation and easily accessible pornography over the internet. These are harmful and will influence how a child or teen perceives sexual conduct and convey negative messages about proper sexual behaviour.
Explaining to Preschoolers
At the very early stages, it is helpful to teach your children about body parts. Their names and what they do. For example, when getting dressed or taking a shower, you could start the process of teaching kids the correct words for anatomy, such as hands, feet, etc. A little later on, it is helpful to talk about the function of body parts. For example, you explain that the penis, vagina and bum are used for going to the bathroom. And you could explain the difference between boys and girls.
Feeding Toddler Curiosity
Children will begin to ask where babies come from at the toddler stage and possibly what sex is. This is a great time to explain the basics of the reproductive system. You don’t need to be too detailed, yet communicate in such a way that your child understands. Be brief yet factual, and use images to help with your explanation. This is also a good age to explain that someone isn’t allowed to touch their private areas and always tell mummy, daddy or a trusted adult if this happens. An important thing to note is that proper terminology is used to ensure that if the unthinkable were to happen, having silly names for their private parts, like Minnie or Teddy, means that someone might not realise what is happening to them.
Important Child Age Discussion
By the time your child reaches 6 to 8 years old, they are old enough to understand the more complicated aspect of sexual education. If you already explained from an early age, they will find this more accessible since you taught them in stages in a way they could understand. At this age, children typically ask how babies are made rather than where they come from.
It is helpful to explain the process of intercourse, e.g., when two people care for each other, and they both want to, they have sex. Sex can be when a man puts his penis in a woman’s vagina to make a baby. This is also a good time for further discussion of consent and birth options like IVF and adoption.
Setting Teens Straight
When your child is at teenage, they probably know all there is to know about sex and what it involves. However, their knowledge might be a little misguided, such as coming from the schoolyard, the internet and friends. It is also possible that they have only ever seen sex in adult videos and think that is how it is supposed to be. Most pornographic material is male-dominance with subservient women.
Clearly, this is not how it is meant to be, and films like 50 Shades of Grey have done sex education a great disservice. Now is also a great time to teach your teens about sexual hygiene, safe sex and sexually transmitted diseases.
Sex education should not be left solely to schools, and while it might feel a little awkward, talking to your children is so important and can ensure that they have healthy relationships with both their bodies and other people as they get older.