Sex Ed (For Parents Who Don’t Wanna Talk About It)
This article was written by Dr. Meg Meeker who has become a voice for helping parents to be the best they can be.
I think the shuddering reaction most parents have when told that they must be their child’s primary source of sex education is a good thing. That uncomfortable sinking feeling tells us that we are modest people. And modesty is good. It exists because deep down we humans like our sexuality and want to protect it. Remember this as you teach your child about her sexuality.
Much about our daughters’ culture teaches her that modesty isn’t a good thing. But you know better. Modesty, especially for a young girl, is a powerful and protective instinct. So help her keep her sense of modesty strong.
Here are a few age appropriate guidelines that you can use help her shape a positive sense of self and a healthy sexuality.
Who should give “the Talks?” Some parents feel that both Mom and Dad should give talks. Others feel that Dad should talk to the boys and Mom should talk to the girls. I don’t think it matters. The most important thing is that whichever parent is more comfortable talking about sex to the kids should do it. Remember, in every couple, there is on parent who’s a chicken. Then, there’s one who’s a really big chicken. The “chicken” is the one who is tagged. (note: Talks is plural!!! This is not a one-time conversation with our children.)
Here are a few very important principles to follow:
- Appoint one parent to be the “go-to” parent for questions about sex. Establish early on that you are available anytime to talk.
- Help your kids set “body boundaries.” Teach them early on that their bodies are wonderful and that the reason they are to be covered and not touched is because they are lovely, not bad
- Ask questions through the years. When you ask, listen. If you hear something disturbing, don’t panic. Think about how you want to respond and set aside a time (other than the moment you hear the news) to talk about the problem. Be calm and positive.
- Teach your son/daughter that you are a team. You aren’t buddies; you are there to help him/her make good decisions in a climate that tells that they need to be sexy/sexually active to have any value.
- Be firm and bold in establishing clear dating rules when your child is a teen. Your daughter/son needs a curfew because this makes him feel loved. She needs to be told how not be sexually active. Don’t simply tell her not do it, tell her why and how. Tell her it’s tough but doable. If a boy wants to drive your daughter on a date, he needs to come in and meet you.
Tell your daughter that her body is very beautiful and special. When you change her diapers, keep her away from anyone’s view- particularly the public’s (if you are in public places.) Never act ashamed or embarrassed by her body and refrain from making comments about her being chubby or skinny.
When your daughter begins going to school, let her know that when she goes to the bathroom, she needs to close the door. If she needs help, then tell her to ask the teacher but never to ask friends for help. Remind her that only Mommy, Daddy or the doctor are to see her private areas (you can include her breasts if you like.) Tell her that the reason that she wears a bathing suit to the beach is because her private areas are so lovely, that not everyone is to see them. They are special. In these ways, you help her learn to establish “body boundaries.”
When early elementary grades begin, many kids become curious about body parts. They like to see and touch, not only their own, but other girls’ as well. This is perfectly normal. It doesn’t indicate whether a girl is homosexual or heterosexual; rather it shows that girls are beginning to understand that their sexuality is unique and that touch feels good.
In a matter-of-fact, very positive tone, tell your daughter that another girl or boy may ask to see beneath her underpants, or under her shirt. Tell her that it is very important that she tell the child that she won’t because those are her very private body parts. Don’t act angry or incite shame, just tell her that that’s what kids like to do sometimes. Also tell her that if anyone does ask to see her private areas, that she should tell you.
Around age 8 (second grade) most kids learn about sexual intercourse. Children with older siblings may learn sooner. So, get ready. Tell your daughter that she will hear things at school about kissing, touching and Moms and Dads that might make her feel embarrassed. Tell her that when she hears these things that it is very important that she come home and ask you about them because you know more than her friends. You are a grown-up and you know all about those things.
Then (and this is very important) take a big gulp and say, “As you get older, you will have a lot of questions about your body, kissing, etc., and I want you to know that I will always want to talk to you about these. You will hear things that aren’t true, but I know the answers and I want you to have the right answers.” In doing this, you establish yourself as the “go-to” person when it comes to questions she will have now and in the years to come about sex. It may feel uncomfortable, but do it anyway.
Puberty is around the corner and your daughter knows it. She may act premenstrual and exhibit PMS. This is normal. Before she starts her period, make sure to talk to her about menstruation and body changes. Be clear, matter-of-fact and try not to act embarrassed. She will be and she won’t want to talk about it, but press on. She needs to hear about puberty from you because she needs to know the facts and feel good about the changes. Don’t leave her education up to a teacher- this is your job. Be positive. Have her carry a zip lock baggie with a feminine pad and a pair of underwear. This will help her feel prepared and it will prevent her embarrassment of going to the school office for supplies if she starts her menses at school.
Listen intently to the conversations she has with friends. Don’t say anything, just listen. Be aware of what she’s texting on her phone and know who she’s talking to and when. This is tough, but you need to be on top of things because preteen girls don’t understand the serious consequences of being sexually flirtatious in person or on the internet.
When you are alone and both of you are relaxed, ask what’s happening at school with her friends. Is anyone sexually active? Are her friends dating? If they are dating, what are they doing on those dates? Don’t act as though you’re trying to “catch her” or that you are suspicious (don’t impune guilt) just ask.
Keep asking questions about sex in a nonchalant way. After you ask, listen to her answers. Many parents make the mistake of turning their daughters off by interrupting or acting as though they’re getting ready to have sex with 5 boys in three days. Don’t do this. Let her know that you are on her side.
Your daughter will get an earful about sex at school. Some things that she learns will be correct, others will be medically inaccurate. So do your homework and know what’s true. I wrote Your Kids At Risk to help parents know the score when it comes to sex, condoms, oral sex and the whole gamut. Check it out and arm yourself with facts.
The biggest deterrent to your daughter developing a healthy sense of her sexuality will be the messages that she receives from her immediate culture. She will learn that she needs to be “sexy” to get attention or to have value. Combat this, hard, during her teen years. Reinforce her intellectual, physical and mental capabilities and offer her affection. This will stand her very well.
When she begins dating, set very clear boundaries for her. She needs a curfew (this makes her feel loved) and you need to meet anyone who wants to take her out. Be awake when she comes home and give her a hug (this way you’ll know if there’s been any drinking.) Ask her about her feelings about her boyfriend, life and sex. Again, if you want to know if she’s sexually active, ask what her friends are doing. Chances are very good that if they are, so is she.
The most important message that you can give your daughter is that she is in charge of her decisions- not boyfriends. One study revealed that 40% of 14-18 y/o girls had sex, not because they wanted to, but because they were afraid of hurting their boyfriend’s feelings. A sexual encounter may not seem like a big deal to you, but to your daughter and her health, it’s a very big deal. We are living in the midst of a true epidemic of sexually transmitted infection (20 million Americans get a new infection every year and about half are in kids less than 20.) HPV is an enormous problem- even if she’s had Gardasil and we know that it causes cervical cancer. Girls in their teens have different cervical anatomy than women in their twenties. This difference makes them more vulnerable to cancerous changes if HPV comes in contact with it. I go into detail in this in my book.
On a final note, many parents tell me that their daughters don’t want to talk about sex. I have found the opposite to be true. Girls want to know all about sex because it’s all around them. They want clear answers, they want to know how it would affect them and they want to know what you think about them having sex. So try and talk about it respectfully and have fun. Don’t be intimidated. Chances are your daughter will feel more comfortable talking about it that you will.
Resources: Your Kids at Risk, Regnery Pub.