Sex education – tips for parents

Many parents find it difficult to talk to their children about sexual matters. Simple tips and a range of practical suggestions are available that may help to open the lines of communication.

How parents communicate

Research suggests that parents generally aren’t very confident about discussing sexual issues with their children. Common findings from the research include:

•Fathers tend to avoid taking part in sex education discussions.

•When fathers do talk to their children about sex, they limit the conversation to less intimate issues.

•Mothers are more likely to talk about intimate, emotional and psychological aspects of sex than fathers.

•Mothers talk more about sex to their daughters than their sons.

•Parents tend to leave boys in the dark about female sexual issues such as menstruation.

•Parents may assume the school system will take care of their child’s sex education, and so choose to say nothing.

•Parents may postpone talks about sex until they see evidence of the child having a relationship; for example, if their child starts dating or comes home with a love bite on their neck.

•Parents tend to show embarrassed or awkward body language when talking to their child about sex: for example, avoiding eye contact.

How children react

Younger children may be curious and interested when parents talk about sexual issues. Older children, particularly teenagers, tend to be a less willing audience. Research findings include:

•An older child may feel like they know it all and that their parents couldn’t possibly teach them anything.

•An older child can be dismissive when their parents discuss sex with them, which shakes parental confidence.

•The child can feel as embarrassed and awkward as their parents, and may prefer not to talk about sex with them at all.

•If parents don’t ever broach the subject of sex, the child tends to assume the parents don’t want to talk about it – so the child never bothers to ask.

Successful communication

Families that talk openly about sexual issues share certain traits, which include:

•The parents are good listeners.
•The parents provide truthful answers to the child’s questions.
•The child is allowed to have opinions about sexual issues and voice them without fear of getting yelled at or punished.
•The parents don’t insist that the child stick to strict and inflexible standards of behaviour.
•The child feels listened to, understood and supported by the parents.

Preparing yourself

•Learn as much as you can – issues your older child or teenager is keen to hear you talk about include puberty, menstruation, reproduction, sexually transmitted diseases, contraception, unplanned pregnancy, abortion, homosexuality and premarital sex. The more you know, the less you’ll stumble.

•Have back-up information – get age-appropriate books, articles and videos to help you.
•Make it a regular topic – think of sex education as an ongoing process. Smaller, frequent conversations are better than a big, one-off talk.

•Plan ahead – don’t wait for your child to bring the subject up; they may figure you’re unapproachable and not ask you. Plan to start the conversations about sex yourself.

•Aim for a friendly chat – try to see the talks as two-way discussions, not lectures. Plan to ask what your child thinks and feels. Aim to get a lively discussion going.

If you feel shy or embarrassed, say so and laugh about it. Perhaps you could have a chat about why sexual issues are so difficult to discuss. This can help ease the tension.

If you can’t bring yourself to talk about something, tell your child that you’ll find other ways to get the information to them. For example, you could get books, articles or videos on the subject.

If you don’t know the answer to something, say so. Ideally, you and your child could research the answer together.

Agencies

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