How important is it to talk to children about sex? When is the right time to do it and how?
People seem to think that talking to children about sex will ‘make things worse’, ‘put ideas in their heads’ and ‘corrupt their innocence’. The fact is, whether or not you choose to have an open conversation with your children, they are likely to come across the concept of sex anyway. Do you remember where this was for you? Was it your biology textbook? A movie? A 13-year-old peer? Accidentally discovering pornography? Research shows that educating young people and allowing them the space to make informed choices does not lead to the onset of sexual activity unlike what most people believe.
Some parents think they don’t need to have the talk because ‘teenagers these days know everything already — they can probably teach me a thing or two’. Well, the likelihood that other 13-year-olds, pornography and Google searches are better value-based, well-informed sex educators than a trusted adult in their lives, are slim.
Have age-appropriate conversations
You’re probably thinking – ‘Stop. There’s no way I’m going to tell a child what goes inside what, that is absurd.’ And you’re right! Describing how sex happens is not even necessary to equip children with an understanding of anatomy, gender, sexual orientation, pleasure and healthy relationships. The key is to have age-appropriate conversations. For example, a parent may choose to teach a five-year-old the importance of consent, boundaries or safe and unsafe touch, a 10-year-old about menstruation and healthy relationships and a 16-year-old about contraception and STIs.
The key is to have age-appropriate conversationsShutterstock
Not a one-time conversation, but an ongoing one
‘The talk’ is a grave misnomer — this should not be a one-time conversation but an ongoing one that is revisited whenever the young person is going through a new phase of their life. ‘The talk’ can feel big and scary if we think of it as one long and awkward conversation, but this could actually be broken up into many smaller casual conversations when natural opportunities to discuss topics like sex and sexuality present themselves. For example: Did the family TV show mention a relationship? Discuss the power dynamics. Did someone in your community get pregnant? Explain how a foetus grows. Was there something in the news about feminism? Talk about how a teen might be seeing inequality around them. You get the drift…
Finding the right resources
Most of us have grown up with little to no live examples of receiving good sex-ed ourselves. Lucky for you, you are not alone! As an Internet-savvy adult, you have a whole world of resources (and professionals) a click away. A few of my favourite channels to get you started: Planned Parenthood has topic-wise resources for parents, organised by age. Amaze.org has lovely kid-friendly animated videos that bring sex ed to life with humour and stories. Scarleteen.com has hundreds of articles written by and for teens (and adults!) who are figuring out sex and sexuality. And, of course, my Instagram page @talkyounevergot for anyone who is 16+ (including yourself!).
Karishma Swarup is a Kolkata-born and raised sexuality educator, Instagrammer (@talkyounevergot) and works at a global consulting firm. She busts myths about sex, pleasure, intimacy, orgasms, periods, and all things related to sexual health.