Amy Cody is the Parent Education Manager at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, which offers Let’s Be Honest workshops to help prepare parents to talk about sex with their kids.
Planned Parenthood and Family Circle magazine recently conducted a survey to see how parents and teens are doing when it comes to talking about sex. As it turns out, parents are a lot more comfortable having these conversations than their teens. However, parents aren’t always tackling the tougher topics. I get it, some questions about sex may seem harder to tackle than others. Kids are notorious for asking questions that make parents squirm.
As a parent educator for Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts and a parent myself, I’ve heard just about every question you could think of. And in every Let’s Be Honest parent education workshop I host, after beginning to share possible answers and strategies, shoulders relax and parents feel more empowered to give it a try.
I want to share five questions that parents from my workshops have asked again and again, and tips for how you can address them with your own kids. You may not be able to anticipate every question your child will have, but there are four themes you can keep in mind during these ongoing conversations:
- Fulfill your right and responsibility as a parent to be your child’s primary sexuality educator.
- Share your attitudes, beliefs, and values around sex and sexuality.
- Respect your child’s feelings and promote positive self-esteem in your child.
- Provide accurate facts and knowledge.
Check out this website for more information about the four themes and try to keep them in mind as you answer questions that come up with your child.
Viewing questions about sex and sexuality as a natural and normal situation can help us keep our sense of perspective. Answering questions matter-of-factly, calmly, and honestly is the best policy.
Try some of these answers on for size and see if they make sense for you and your family.
My four-year-old is asking “Where do babies come from?” What should I do?
A question like this calls for active listening and asking gentle questions to find out why your child is curious about the topic and what she or he really wants to know. Answering "babies come from their moms" might be all they need to know. Let your child's questions be your guide.
Try this: "That's a great question! A tiny seed from a man called a sperm and a tiny egg from a woman join together inside the uterus, a special place inside the woman. When the baby is ready to be born, it comes out through the opening between the woman's legs called the vagina."
What should I do if my child goes to school and shares information from our family discussions about sexuality with other kids who have not yet had this conversation?
Kids frequently compare information with each other about sex, whether parents want them to or not. When you start having these discussions with your child, tell her/him that you are sharing this information because this is something that families talk about with each other. Remind your child that friends will talk about it with their own families.
Try this: "I think it's great that you are interested in learning more about bodies and how they work. You can always ask me any questions. And, each family has their own idea of when to talk about these things, so let your friends talk to their parents."
What do I say if my middle school child asks me, “Why do people enjoy sex?”
Kids of all ages are curious about the world around them, their bodies and how they work, and how they relate to others. This is a great opportunity to talk with them about relationships and healthy decision-making.
Try this: “Just like there are many different ways to define sex, there are many different reasons why people enjoy sex. People usually enjoy sex when both people have agreed to it, and when both people are emotionally and physically ready to be intimate (close and loving) with one another. It's not like on TV. In real life, the emotional part is just as, if not more, important than the physical part. And, just like with other mammals, the human body is designed to enjoy sexual behaviors.”
How do I handle personal questions such as, “Mom, when did you start having sex?”
Our kids are often interested in this information to serve as a barometer of their own readiness. However, everyone has to make their own decision about when the time is right. Rather than concentrating on any specific timeline in conversations, instead discuss the importance of emotional, physical, and spiritual readiness, including respect, comfort, vulnerability, intimacy, and trust.
Try this: “I understand that you're curious about my life experience. The age of when I had sex for the first time isn’t as important as what I was feeling or thinking about it. Although you will decide for you when the best time is, I want you to know that I hope you wait until you are older and in a mature, responsible relationship. When do you think someone knows if they are ready to have sex?”
My child is very shy when sex comes up. How should I approach this or initiate a conversation?
Many kids are shy or embarrassed about this topic and many parents are as well! I recommend that parents be proactive. Don’t wait for questions that may not come up. Parents can use television shows, music lyrics, movies, news stories, or magazine ads as ways of opening the door to ongoing conversations. Sometimes texting, e-mailing, or writing a note might be the best way to start.
Try this: “I know it’s hard to talk about this, but I love you and feel that it’s important that we can have these conversations. I am always here for you if you want to talk.”
As parents, we want to help our kids navigate the mixed messages and contradictions they encounter in our sex-saturated culture. Recent studies show that young people who have frequent and open conversations with their parents about sex and sexuality are more likely to make healthier, safer, and better-informed decisions related to sex.
It’s time to start talking! Let’s make sure that when kids have questions, they can turn to us for our values and age-appropriate, honest, and factual information.
Read more about having the sex talk with your teen here.
Amy Cody is the Parent Education Manager at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, which offers Let’s Be Honest and Seamos Honestos workshops in the community to help prepare parents and other trusted caregivers create an environment of trust and comfort in talking with their children about sex and sexuality. Learn more about Let’s Be Honest: Communication in families that keeps kids healthy.