For as long as I can remember, talking about sex was simply not okay! As a nation, we tend to be a little more conservative with our conversations around anything that involves sex. There is also the belief that if you talk about sex with your children you will “plant a seed” or give them a “free pass” to start having sex. However, according to research, we have actually been depriving our children of information and a safe environment to be open about all that comes with sex…especially the ugly parts.
Intrigued by the statistics, I decided to ask a few of my colleagues (all Trinidadians) what their conversations were with their mothers when it came to learning about sex. Two thirds of my colleagues shared that their mothers did not have any conversation with them about sex and, surprisingly, they all wished that their moms were the first to teach them about it. The minority shared that their moms taught them about sex from a scientific perspective and it was totally awkward. This information then made me think, “Can we actually protect our children by being open about sex from an early age instead of waiting until the inevitable time that we sometimes wish would never come?” The answer is, absolutely!
Starting conversations about sex from a young age is the first step. According to Canadian Sex-Educator, Nadine Thornhill, “There is more risk with not telling them enough than telling them too much”. So how do we start this dreaded conversation? It has to be gradual and revisited often, getting more specific each time, since their level of understanding is always developing. From as young as two years old, it is important to start referring to genitals by their proper names and discussing the differences between a ‘safe touch’ and an ‘unsafe touch’. Emphasising that no one is supposed to touch their private parts without permission serves as an introduction to the idea of consent for the child.
When having these conversations, the key is to be gentle because it’s so easy for talking about sex to take on a negative connotation and to become something that is shameful. A parent’s approach on this topic is important because the goal is to create an environment in which the child will feel safe to discuss sex related issues, such as sexual abuse, and not hide out of embarrassment and guilt. We never want our children to feel like they are at fault if someone is abusing them, so addressing the topic in a way that creates trust is a great method to get those lines of communication open from a very early age.
Another one of my colleagues, a new mom, shared that she plans on having these conversations with her daughter from as early as possible. She added that she wants to ensure her daughter knows that no matter who the person is, or whatever confusion she may be feeling, she can always come to mom about sexual inappropriateness. For some moms it may be tough to be transparent with their children on this topic because of their own discomfort. It is completely fine to not have all of the answers and to share that with your child if you need time to figure out how you will explain some things. Talking about sex is more about building rapport on the topic and establishing that you are the point person for these discussions.
In a study done by Joyce McFadden for The Washington Post, the author wrote that some of the women she interviewed withheld their experiences of rape and childhood sexual abuse from their mothers. The reason being that their mothers “avoided even talking to them about normal sexual things so they probably wouldn’t be able to handle the magnitude of those conversations.”
By having open and honest dialect with children on this topic, parents reinforce that children are supported and cared for regardless of how difficult a situation might be. It also teaches children, to be guided by their intuition. Sex-Educator Cory Silverberg stated, “Helping kids understand that they have a gut, an inner voice that they can and should listen to is a big part of sex education.”
Overall, having the difficult discussions related to sex can be very instrumental in forming a bond between parent and child on a deeper level. In the age of social media, the Internet and a lot of misinformation, talking to your children about sex can help them more than it can hurt them.
Sherayne Welch is a therapist who holds a master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling. Her client demographic ranges from children to adults with any type of mental illness or Substance Use Disorder. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org