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More on talking to your kids about sex

November 17th, 2005

Dr Petra

In the past couple of weeks there’s been a lot of discussion in the UK media about the skills and abilities of parents to deliver sex advice to their children. Sadly a lot of the coverage has focused more on the ‘can they/can’t they give sex advice’ debate, rather than offering real advice to parents about how they can deliver sex information with confidence.

To help with this I’d been searching about for some useful resources to provide parents with. And sometimes you find really useful stuff in really odd places.

For example you wouldn’t expect to find a cracking account of sex positive advice in the fashion and style section of a newspaper, yet that’s exactly what Jodi Kantor produced for the New York Times with her piece ‘sex ed for the stroller set’.

In the feature Kantor outlines how frequently we use baby talk when discussing sex issues, which experience suggests is more about the embarrassment of the parent than the limitations of the child’s cognitive abilities. Kantor outlines the importance of beginning sex education early, and also the vital need to explain sex without myth or mystery.

Often parents confuse discussing sex in an educational manner with exposing children to sexual ideas. However in our ever-sexualised society it’s necessary to give children sex advice so they can interpret the sex messages they’re exposed to and help prevent unplanned pregnancies or sexually transmitted infections. There’s evidence that the more information young people have about sex the less likely they are to have sex early and the more likely they are to enjoy sex safely when they choose to begin a relationship.

The feature even indicates some religious groups are supportive of sex education. Most importantly setting up a dialogue about sex encourages trust between children and parents, but also can be empowering – particularly for girls whose genitals or sexual expression is often limited given girls aren’t given an adequate language for sex (hardly surprising why when they grow up little girls turn into grown women who neither know nor can say what they desire).

I particularly like the inclusion of a Planned Parenthood representative in the feature who explained we don’t describe children’s noses or eyes as ‘blink blink’ or ‘blow blow’, yet we happily use euphemisms for genitals that can reinforce the idea from an early age that these body parts are shameful, bad, naughty or dirty.

The feature is full of useful quotes and recommendations of useful books or organisations. My only regret is that it didn’t go far enough as to explain how often girls are taught about their genitals in terms of something missing. They’re told ‘boys have a penis, you don’t have one’. Either that or they’re told they have a ‘vagina’ but nobody ever mentions ‘clitoris’.

Hopefully features like Kantor’s one will empower parents and help children. And I’m going to start reading the style pages a whole lot more carefully.

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