“Where do babies come from?” asks your 5 year old.
How would you respond to this naturally curious question?
If it goes anything like most of our own childhoods, we will weave elaborate tales of storks, deliveries by the postman or worse muster an embarrassed smile and mutter something about them being too young and come back for the answer when they are older.
Did your parents shuffle awkwardly into your bedroom once you reached your teenage years, perch on the end of your bed before clearing their throat and letting you know the time had come to discuss the birds and the bees? Both of you reddening from embarrassment.
Perhaps you remember your own sex education involving the slightly gregarious and underqualified home ed. teacher. Being guided through a few awkwardly produced VHS shows of a man and woman opening their dressing gowns as they nonchalantly take you through the official names for their genitalia.
Do you remember cringing with your friends as you were shown how to fit a condom onto a banana?
As a girl, you were probably sent on your way with an obligatory free sanitary pack and if you were a boy, they popped a few condoms into your bag while telling you to use them wisely and thus you were deemed sexually educated.
Our current generation of parents were not given an understanding of the importance of consent and its place in the world, nor were we afforded an honest conversation about our own bodies and sexuality. This has done a disservice to a generation of children who have now grown up in the #metoo movement.
Our children deserve so much better than this.
Melissa Pintor-Carnagey, LBSW, the founder of Sex Positive Families a service that provides resources to parents to help families get more comfortable navigating the topic of sex, believes that we are doing a huge disservice to our children in thinking discussing sexuality is only linked to discussing sex and therefore waiting till their teen years. Melissa advocates that the age your child is at now is the right age to start having conversations around sexuality and consent.
So how and when do we start these conversations?
As we gradually start flipping the lid of this old narrative parents today are becoming more aware of the importance of starting sexual education early. Like Melissa, Amy Lang, MA, a sexual health educator, suggests if we keep our information age-appropriate there is no reason this education shouldn’t start the moment our children are born.
Amy herself admits to freezing when it came time to talk to her child about sex and the body. After that moment she delved into educating her son in an age-appropriate way about his body and sex and has since devoted her working life to helping other parents do the same.
“It is not our kids’ job to ask questions. It is our job to provide information”
Amy Lang MA
Amy recommends discussing bodies and sexuality with our children from around 5 years old, but with younger children, she advocates for using the correct terminology for our body parts and beginning to respect their own body boundaries. By starting these conversations early our children tend to be open and curious, the conversations are not emotionally or sexually charged, and they, therefore, become a natural part of our family’s discussions.
“To a five-year-old, learning how babies are made is on the same level as learning how butter is made.”
Amy Lang, MA
What should we be discussing?
More than you may think…certainly more than I thought and at a younger age than you may expect.
Talking about topics related to sex can feel very triggering for us as adults, it can bring up the discomfort we felt when having these conversations with our parents…as their discomfort was so obvious. Or it may be triggering because nobody had these conversations with us and we were left feeling confused and possibly shamed as we navigated the world of sexuality alone.
The incredible thing about being a parent is that we get to begin again. We get to break cycles and give our children a better experience; one in which sex and sexuality is an exciting, natural and normal part of life.
As nervous as I was to talk with my son about sex, once we started having the conversations it shocked me how easy it is with kids. We don’t want to give them more information than is age-appropriate but we also don’t want to run from their questions. Kids are very matter-of-fact and they don’t come with the baggage we may with this topic. Trust me, it’s easier than you think it will be!
Amy Lang shares a few guidelines for parents when it comes to discussing sex and bodies below. These are just a few examples – for a more in depth discussion on each age and stage tune into the Raised Good Online Summit (starting Sept 22nd) to listen to Tracy and Amy discussing this topic:
From birth onward
- Use the proper terms for body parts. No slang words. Why? Because it’s a protective measure. If a child uses slang words, it tells predators that adults are not talking to their kids about sex and consent.
- Teach your kids that they have a right to say no to any kind of touch.
- Teach your kids the usual way babies are made. Let them know that the process feels good to grown-up bodies, that it’s something both parties want to do, and that the sex act doesn’t always result in a baby. If, in your family, the sperm and egg came together in a different way, talk about that too.
- Discuss gender, LGBTQ, and different family profiles
- Kids need to know that their bodies are going to change.
- Have a book about puberty that explains what’s going on in both the growing male and female bodies.
- Kids need to know about sexual consent.
- Healthy relationships should be part of all these conversations – crushes, dating.
- Kids should know the basics of everything – why people have sex, that they don’t have to do it, and that sex is a normal, healthy part of life. These conversations should be about what sex is, not how to do it.
- Alongside the need for appropriate information around sex and bodies there too lies the need to advocate for and teach our children consent and body boundaries.
When should we start talking about consent?
While there is a strong need to ensure we include consent in discussions with our tweens and teens as intrinsic to sexual autonomy, Melissa makes the point that it is important not to believe that this is all consent is about.
At its heart consent is simply about checking in with ourselves and others. It is a lifelong skill and requires practice and it is never too early to help our children navigate their own body boundaries and consent.
“Consent is something that should exist for all of us”
Why consent needs to start at home
As parents, we need to learn to respect and listen to our children from their very first no, for if they can’t have their no respected at home then how can we expect them to say no to others?
When our children are very young, we as their caregivers must be the gatekeeper of consent. This could look like: telling Grandparents and family members that your child does not want to be hugged or kissed or providing our small children with options to allow them control and choice over their own bodies.
In her work Melissa discusses common consent violations parents can often make with their young children:
- tickling without or past the point of consent
- being forced to eat past the point of satiation
- being forced to give or share affection
- anytime your no is not respected
When we begin to listen to our children in moments like these and respect our child’s boundaries, we set them up with a strong foundation from which to navigate the world autonomously.
Why we need to become our children’s go-to for all questions sex-related
With an understanding of their changing body, a grounded education in sex, and a strong knowledge of where their own boundaries lie, our children will be able to enter the world as young adults with a stronger sense of what they want and what they don’t want.
It is this education and leadership from parents that will help our children approach sex and sexuality with confidence. In having open and honest conversations from an early age we will help create a generation of children who are knowledgeable, empowered, and aware in a way many of us weren’t.
By having these conversations, we position ourselves as a reliable source of information. A place our children know they can turn to for honest advice and answers. They know that nothing is too much to ask. In a world that is bombarding them with sexualised media daily, it has never been more important for us to change the way we approach sex education and discussions of consent with our children.
It is our duty as parents to give our children the right information before their first foray into sexual education is online or through friends. We need to tell our kids that sex is a normal and natural part of human existence and we need to let them know that they are the ones who decide what happens to their bodies and that they are in control.
For when our children know better, they do better.
How to start talking about sex and consent with your kids
I hope this post has already give your some helpful tips to get started.
The hear more about how you can start honest conversations with your children around sex, bodies and consent join Tracy as she chats with Amy Lang, MA and Melissa Pintor-Carnagey as part of the Raised Good Online Summit starting September 22 – click here to grab your FREE tickets now.
During both of these conversations Amy and Melissa give some brilliant recommendations for books to help you in having these conversations with your kids – I have found books to be incredibly helpful (and made me feel less nervous and triggered as a parent)! Books are also fantastic for kids and can lead to such wonderful questions and conversations.