Monday Aug 1, 2016
I teach a master’s level class on sexuality for marriage and family therapists in training; and one of the questions I always ask students is, “how did you learn about sex?”
The response is always predictable. Most report that sexuality was not something that was discussed at home. And, not surprisingly, everything they learned came from friends, television, and now, of course, social media and the Internet.
Research suggests that millions of parents struggle with discussing puberty and the challenges of growing and developing sexually with their children.
In our highly charged society where children are exposed to sexual language, images, pornography and more … not having “the talk” can lead to self-exploration, which given the nature of the Internet, curiosity left unsupervised can result in an unhealthy relationship to one’s sexuality.
It’s been found that parents are the best sexuality educators their children can have and that children want to be educated about sex by their parents or guardians, not their friends or the Net. As a matter of fact, studies have found that teens whose parents talk to them about sexuality, values, and beliefs are more likely to delay sex and to use condoms and birth control.
When is the right age to talk about sex with children? The short answer is when they begin to ask. That may occur at 5 or 15. Children between the ages of 3 and 5 begin to notice differences in male and female anatomy. They are also curious about where babies come from.
Children as young as 10 years old are beginning to experience changes in their bodies, as well as what they are feeling. Puberty can be very awkward. And once puberty is evident, it’s really important to to validate and normalize what your adolescent is experiencing. This is definitely the time to begin to talk to your child about values, beliefs and safety. Most importantly, let them know that everything they’re experiencing or wondering is perfectly normal!
No matter what age, respond to their curiosity in a way that encourages them to feel safe and comfortable and reassure them that you are the “go to” parent on matters of sex. Be curious. Don’t talk down to them and don’t be afraid to ask them questions. You can start small and then if your responses don’t seem to be satisfying their curiosity, you can build on them.
Another way to encourage healthy sexuality is to model it. Children who see their parents demonstrate affection for each other, through hugging, kindness, responsiveness are already teaching their children what true intimacy is — how to be kind to one another and how to enjoy each other.
For more information on parents as sex educators, the following links are provided for you.
Dr. Laura Richter is a licensed Marriage and Family therapist who works with individuals, couples, and families. Her specialties include: surviving infidelity, improving communication, beginning again after divorce and effective co-parenting after divorce. She is also a trained mediator, qualified parenting coordinator and collaborative law mental health professional. For more information, please call or text us today at 561-715-6404 to schedule a consultation to see how we can help.