One of the largest parental stressors is knowing you'll eventually have “The Talk” with your kids.
Think back to your teen years. Chances are your parents were just as nervous giving “The Talk” as you were hearing it. And times haven't changed – it can still be an uncomfortable discussion.
But it doesn't have to be. And the truth is it shouldn't be just one conversation, it should take place over the years. It should start with toddlers and continue through the teenage years.
The content obviously changes, but by starting early you provide permission for your child to ask questions as the come up. It also helps reduce the confusion about their bodies.
As part of my sex therapy intake, I ask patient's about sexuality in their childhood, as this impacts our adult sexuality.
• Were your parents affectionate toward each other and you?
• Was sex talked about in your home?
• If so, was it positive, negative or neutral?
So where do you begin as parent? Here are a couple good starting points:
Birth to Grade School
Use the correct names for genitals – penis and vulva. Using nicknames for these body parts can send the message that they are something to be shameful of. Know that self-stimulation is normal and part of a young child's curiosity. Tell them this is something to do in private and not in line at the grocery store. Children don't know what masturbation is and the context around it. They touch themselves because it feels good, they don't understand it as sexual pleasure. Talk about “good touch” and “bad touch” – what kind of touch is OK and what is not.
2nd to 4th Grade
This is the age of the million questions. Where do babies come from? Billy was talking about erections, what is that? Will I get boobs like mommy? And so on. Be honest and accurate with your answers, but keep the language age appropriate. For example, when explaining where babies come from, say, “a special place in a women's uterus.” Talk about female anatomy in the correct way. If you're not sure how to answer, say, “That is a good question, why don't we look it up together?”
5th to 6th grade
At this age, “human development lessons” are taught at school – anatomy, menstruation, tampon/pad use and wet dreams (nocturnal emissions). This is a time when many parents give the first sex talk. Talk about puberty and body changes to expect – hair growth, voice changes, growth of sexual organs, etc. This occurs at different times for everyone, so reassure your child that he or she can come to you with questions. Sexual feelings and thoughts can also begin. Talk about the mechanics of sex and what sexual intercourse is. Describe what you want for them sexually and when you hope they choose to be sexually active. Maybe this is when they love someone, get married or reach a certain age. There should be no shame in whatever choice they make.
7th and 8th grade
Hormones start to take over. Boys and girls talk more and see each other in sexual ways. They notice all the changes and want to explore them. This is a good time to talk about birth control and condom use. Increase the conversations about healthy self-esteem, respecting your body and how that relates to sexuality. Reiterate that bodies are a gift and not to be used or abused by anyone. The media isn't going anywhere, so think of it as a tool, not an enemy. Talk about sex on TV (pregnancy, abortion, sex, relationships) and ask your child their thoughts on the content.
If you haven't started talking yet, now is the time. Talk about what their friends are doing and share your own values in a nonjudgmental way. Address sexting and other sexual behavior trends going on with teenagers. Remind them there are legal consequences for these actions. Talk about the age of consent and laws surrounding this in your state. Discuss healthy vs. unhealthy relationships.
So in a nut shell talk now, talk often and it's never too late to start. Remember the more comfortable you are, the more comfortable your child will feel getting accurate, healthy information from you.