Parenting: Talking about Sex Education

Parenting: Talking about Sex Education
Talking about sex education

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If there’s on subject most parents shy away from it’s talking about sex. It’s natural to feel uncomfortable about approaching this weighty subject, but it’s not enough to leave it to your child’s school to give them sex education – children need to be able to discuss sex openly with their parents if they are to develop a healthy attitude to sex, their body and relationships as they grow up.

If you have a primary school aged child and you feel ready to take the plunge, here are some tips to help you help you get started.

Why it’s important to talk about sex

We all want our children to feel confident about sex and comfortable in their own bodies. But children pick up so many myths and tall tales from the playground – even during the early years at primary – that they end up confused and scared about sex, particularly if they haven’t had an open discussion on the subject with their parents. So it’s really important to broach the subject early on.

Experts agree that talking naturally and confidentally about sex is the best way to ensure kids have a healthy attitude to sex, and go on to develop happy and respectful relationships in later life. Your child will receive some sex education at school, of course, but this may focus mainly on the biological side of sex, so it’s important you balance this out by discussing the more complex, emotional side of sex, too.

Many parents worry that by talking about sex they will encourage their child to have sex early on. But research indicates that  teenagers from families where parents talk about sex openly wait until they’re older before they start having sex. Furthermore, if your child feels they can discuss sex and relationships with you they are much more likely to come to you if something upsets or worries them.

When? How?

There are no hard and fast rules on when to start talking about sex, but if you want discussion to come as naturally as possible, take your lead from your child. Perhaps they’ve already expressed some curiosity about sex and bodies – asking where babies come from, or pointing out the difference between boys’ and girls’ genitals, for example. You could use these opportunities as a springboard for discussion. Or you could take something they’ve seen on TV or in a book or magazine to start a conversation. Using everyday situations makes your child feel that sex is a normal part of family life and not a scary or taboo subject. There’s no need to sit down and have “the talk”, in a formal manner – this will just make you and your child feel wholly uncomfortable, plus you could overload them with too much info, too soon which may just lead to confusion.

It’s really important to prepare your child for puberty. With more children starting puberty earlier – as early as eight years old in some cases – they really do need to know about body changes that will occur at this time. If not, these changes will make your child feel confused and alarmed when they do happen. Discussions about puberty tend to focus on periods, which is, obviously, a key consideration for girls. But don’t forget the boys, too – they also need to know about why periods happen, as well as learning about the physical and emotional changes that will take place in their own bodies, too.

If there’s one key rule of thumb when it comes to talking about sex, which the experts all agree on, it is to ensure your explanations are as honest and straightforward as possible.

 Top Tips

  • Help your child feel comfortable about their body. Explain what their sexual organs are for but tailor your language according to your child’s age. Now your child is at school, it’s a good idea to tell them the proper name for things (eg. vagina, penis, etc.) They may still want to use pet names in everyday speak, but it’s still a good idea for them to know the proper terminlology.
  • If your child asks a question, never brush it off. Try to hide any embarrassment you might feel and answer their questions as directly as possible. Don’t make them feel they’ve brought up something ‘naughty’ or ‘dirty’. The same goes for curiosity about their bodies – masturbation and exploring their bodies is a natural part of development, and children need to know that they should not be ashamed of having certain feelings and natural physical responses.
  • If you’re having trouble explaining things clearly, pick up a book from the library which you can look at togehter, which takes the pressure off you a little.
  • Don’t give your child a one-off talk – build on discussions about sex gradually.
  • Be sure to talk not just about the physical side of sex, but about love, too. You may feel they are ready to learn about same sex relationships, for example, or you may just want to explain how wonderful a loving, respectful relationship between two people is, emphasising the importance of respect for the other sex.

Sex education at school

Sex and Relationship Education (or SRE) is taught in all primary schools as part of the National Curriculum. At Key Stage 1 (ages five to seven) your child will learn that humans reproduce, plus they will be taught about the main external parts of the body. During Key Stage 2 (ages seven to 11) children learn a little more about reproductive processes. In addition, some faith schools may talk in more depth about the relationship aspect of sex, in conjunction with the National Curriculum requirements. Your school might also touch on what is known as Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) which covers topics such as different typs of relationships and feelings during puberty.

If you’d like to know more or you’re unsure about how sex education is taught at your child’s school, ask to see its policy.


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