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How to talk with your kids about sex and sexual health

By Chris

Ontario is implementing a new Health and Physical Education curriculum this fall and the revisions to the sexual health education components have resulted in a public discussion about what is appropriate for our children to be learning.  

Sexual health education is challenging for many parents. We bring all of our learning and life experiences, positive and negative, to the topic. We bring our perceptions of our own bodies and we bring religious and cultural teachings. It is a lot to pack into one issue.

Kids don’t come with instruction manuals. There are, however, some things we can do to help our kids learn about their bodies and prepare them for the physical and emotional changes to come. We can help them to make informed choices and protect themselves and we can teach them our values.

Sexual health is a lifelong discussion. It is not a single ‘talk’. Sexual health is not the same as sex. Humans are sexual beings. We are designed to reproduce and our bodies are designed to experience sexual pleasure. Although not all people choose to reproduce, we all have the bits to make it happen. Taking care of our sexual and reproductive organs is part of being healthy.

As parents our job is to keep our kids safe. There are all kinds of conflicting messages about how to do that. How do we do it all?

How to talk with your kids about sex and sexual health

  • Check your feelings and values in advance. What is your perspective on sex? Are you satisfied with your level of knowledge? Where does sexuality fit within the context of your faith and culture? 
  • Respect your kids and where they are coming from. Answer their questions honestly. If you are a trusted source for accurate information, they will come to you for more instead of the internet or friends.
  • Clarify what they want to know. Ask what they know/understand first. Ask what they have heard and if the information you provide answers their questions.
  • Respond to your kids’ questions, don’t always push your values. They will learn your values from daily life and how you respond to issues and questions in life. It isn’t necessary to push values when they are seeking facts.
  • Acknowledge when you are uncomfortable with a topic or when you don’t know the answer.
  • Be realistic. Too much information all at once can be overwhelming. Pay attention to what your child is saying with their words and their body language.
  • Let them know that there is a range of normal feelings, changes, relationships, etc. 

Starting the conversation

  • Start the conversation when they are learning to talk. Teach them the correct vocabulary for all of their body parts - arms, legs, vulva, penis. Give them the language for the rest of the conversation.
  • Teach about consent in all areas, not just sex. Check in to see if they are ok with being tickled. Give them permission to refuse cheek pinches from older relatives. Don’t force them to give grandma a kiss good-bye.
  • Take advantage of teachable moments such as a pregnant adult in their life, media stories or tv shows about topics related to sexual health.
  • Answer questions as they come up. Answer the question they ask e.g. where do babies come from? They may not want a full discussion on reproduction. An answer such as “Mummy’s tummy” might be sufficient. Other questions like how do they get out or how do they get in there will come in time. 
  • Read a book with them - some great suggestions from Yummy Mummy Club

Resources

Ontario Health and Physical Education Curriculum 2015 - including parent guides

Ottawa Public Health 

Planned Parenthood Ottawa - community sexual health educators

Sexual Health and Rights Canada 

Chris is a Canadian father of three girls, and writes a great blog called Dad Goes Round. Connect with him on his Facebook page!