How to discuss sex with your child at every age.
Before I started writing this story, it hadn’t occurred to me to talk to my daughter about sex. I wasn’t exactly avoiding the topic, but she was only 6½ and it seemed way too early. Since there were no bare-bottomed kids playing doctor in her bedroom or questions about where babies come from, I figured the talk could wait awhile — until her high school graduation maybe. Then, one day, I found her flipping through a kids’ book about sex that I’d picked up for my research. “Oh, so that’s what they look like,” she said, staring intently at one of the pages. “That’s what what looks like?” I asked, peering over her shoulder at an illustration of the male reproductive system. “Squirms,” she giggled, as my jaw dropped. Turns out my daughter had been learning quite a bit about the facts of life — mispronunciations and all — from a seven-year-old chum with an older sibling.
“Many parents are rather shocked at how early I suggest they should start talking to their kids about sex,” says Meg Hickling, a sexual health educator in Vancouver and author of The New Speaking of Sex: What Your Children Need to Know and When They Need to Know It. “But what I also hear from parents is ‘I want to be first.’ If you want to be first, you have to make sure you’re first; otherwise kids will get their information and attitudes from other children and the media.”
That doesn’t mean marking a date on the calendar for one marathon birds and bees session. Teaching should be an ongoing process in which your child learns over time what she needs to know to develop a healthy attitude toward her body and sexuality, says Hickling. With that in mind, we’ve put together a parental primer (a cheat sheet really) to make talking the talk easier at every stage of your child’s development.
Coming up: Birth to 2