Sex talk with kids: Why you need to start the chat early

Awkward perhaps, but starting conversations about sex with your kids early can make the process that much easier.

At what age should we sit our children down for that all-important sex talk?

If we think back to our childhoods where exposure to porn meant little more than stumbling across a well-thumbed magazine under a parent or older sibling’s mattress (shocking enough), you might think you have a little time up your sleeve.

Yet, according to a research paper by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS), nearly half of our kids aged nine to 16 are now experiencing regular exposure to sexual images.

Concerning enough, but studies also suggest that the kind of pornography found online often portrays sexually violent content and extreme forms of sexuality not often seen in the kind of traditional porn we ourselves might have been exposed to in our formative years.

Experts believe such illustrations of sex could potentially strengthen attitudes supportive of sexual violence against women.

Why parents need to take the lead on sex talk

If you’re holding out for your child’s school to step in with sex education classes – don’t, warns Associate Professor Alina Morawska from University of Queensland’s Parenting and Family Support Centre.

“Some schools provide sexual education but it tends to happen later in the piece, and it’s not led in a consistent fashion,” Assoc Prof Morawska explains.

“Children are curious by nature and if they feel that the family home is a ‘no go zone’ for sex talk, they will seek that information out elsewhere, whether it’s by going online or speaking to other children – not exactly what we could call reliable sources of information.”

Collett Smart, psychologist and author of They’ll be Okay, agrees parents must take the reins.

“Research tells us that children (even teens) actually want to hear about these topics from their parents,” Collett says.

“Children learn what is taboo, based on what we are silent on.”

Sex education needs to start young

Sexual education in the home should ideally begin before your child starts kindergarten, according to the experts.

Part of the rationale to starting earlier is not only is it easier to talk about it with younger kids, but by the time they’re older and asking more detailed questions, you’ll be more practiced and comfortable, says Assoc Prof Morawska.

“In the beginning you’re not talking about intercourse, but discussing body parts, giving the correct names to organs and answering things at their level.”

This isn’t about hammering out all key messages at once, adds Collett.

“These conversations can happen in little snippets while bathing or dressing your child, before a swimming lesson, after something they’ve seen in media or social media (for teens) or when your child asks a question about your body or others,” she says.

“There are many opportunities that will present themselves.

“The trick is for parents to recognise these opportunities and use them as teachable moments.”

How to have “The Sex Talk”

There is an idea that parents must sit their children down for that one talk.

But sex education should be a rolling dialogue over the years, a series of endless sex talks drumming home the message that you are always willing and able to arm them with the information they need, says Assoc Prof Morawska.

“Use developmentally appropriate language and take care to use the correct terminology for organs so children understand the concept that they’re just another body part,” she says.

“If you’re unsure of how to get started, consult resource material on sites such as Raising Children and True Relationships.”

Of course, every child is different, so when talking with your child, Collett says it’s important to consider factors including their age, temperament and stage of development, and how adequately they can discuss their feelings and emotions.

“At every stage, breathe and be ready,” she says.

“Ask plenty of questions to get an understanding of what your child already knows, be kind – don’t make your child feel dirty or ashamed if they use terminology that they may have heard elsewhere, and above all, laugh a little.

“This will help break the ice and bring a bit of humour and realness to the situation.”

Written by Dilvin Yasa.