Teaching your child about sexuality

Part of being a parent is teaching your children about sex and sexuality. You can help your children feel good about themselves and teach them how to relate to others. Many parents feel uneasy talking about sexuality with their child. They wonder what information is right for the child's age. They may wonder how to bring up the subject or answer all the child's questions. Talking about sex for the first time is tough. You're likely to find the next time easier.

How Children Learn
Learning about sex is a lifelong process that begins at birth. Family members, friends, the media, schools and church all play a role.

Early in life, children start forming their ideas about sex by watching their parents.

There are no strict rules for teaching your child about sexuality. Each family and each child are different. It's a good idea to give children information about 2 years before you think they will need it.

Your child also learns about sex from TV, music, books and magazines. Many teenagers watch about 24 hours of TV a week. On TV, a lot of the sex is casual. Parent should point out to their children that sex is not as simple as it is portrayed.

Many parents fear that talking about sex will increase sexual activity in their children. It doesn't. Not knowing about sex creates problems.

Talking About Sex
YTalking about sex should start early in your child's life. Teach your preschool child the proper names for body parts and explain where babies come from in simple terms.

If you begin when your child is young, it will be easier to talk about sex when he or she is a teenager.

Teaching your child about sex should not be just an adult talking while the child listens. Key questions may not get asked or answered.

Always try to be honest.

Young Children
It's at the toddler stage that children first notice that the bodies of boys and girls and adults and children differ.

Your child may play with his or her own genitals and may express interest in the genitals of other children. This is normal. Do not respond with anger or scolding.

Primary School Years
During the primary school years, a child's interest in sex often is less obvious.

This is also the age when children tend to pick up sexual slang that offends the parents. Parents give mixed messages if they scold children for using such language, but then use it themselves.

Up to around age 9, children often want brief and direct answers to their questions.

By about age 10, children should know about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), especially AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

Early Adolescence
Most children start puberty between ages 11 and 13. Their interest in their sexuality often increases a great deal. Their sexual organs mature, their sex glands start to produce hormones at an adult level, and they have spurts in height and weight.

Young people at this stage often compare themselves with their friends. Because bodies do not mature at the same rate, children often wonder if they are normal. Girls mature about two years ahead of boys — a fact that often disturbs both sexes.

Girls should be told of menstruation. Boys should be told about erections and "wet dreams." They should be explained to them before they occur.

Children also should be taught the benefits of not having sex. In surveys, many adolescents say they wish they'd waited until they were older to start having sex. Some children do start having sex in their early teens. You should make sure they have information about STDs, birth control and "safer" sex.

Teenage Years
Young people reach their full physical growth during their teenage years. They become sexually mature and may have strong sexual urges. Many teenagers have their first sexual experience at younger ages than their parents did.

Teenagers should be given a chance to talk openly about the risk of getting STDs, including HIV (human immunodeficiency virus).

If your child dates someone older than they are, it is likely they will face more pressure to have sex. Stress that sex should be a loving act and that it is wrong to force sex.

Teenagers also should know about other forms of sexual behavior. They should know the meaning of terms such as heterosexual, homosexual, gay, lesbian, bisexual and abstinence. Your children should be taught to respect a broad range of sexual expression.

Finally . . .
When teaching your children about sexuality, do the best you can. Try to help them become responsible, well-informed adults. Make an effort to listen, answer questions, and show love and respect for your child.

This excerpt from ACOG's Patient Education Pamphlet is provided for your information. It is not medical advice and should not be relied upon as a substitute for visiting your doctor. If you need medical care, have any questions, or wish to receive the full text of this Patient Education Pamphlet, please contact your obstetrician-gynecologist.

Source: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists