When you look back on your childhood, can you remember when you first learned about sex?
Maybe you learned through school, or perhaps that more mature friend of yours broke the news on the playground. If you received a comprehensive sex education through both your parents and your school, consider yourself lucky. But did those conversations include topics such as sexuality and gender identity?
It’s important for parents of all genders and sexual orientations to bring forth conversations about sexuality and gender, but this topic can be tough to address throughout a child’s life. Linda Plenert, sexual and reproductive health facilitator from the Sexuality Education Resource Centre (SERC), shared some guidelines for parents in need.
“We are sexual beings from birth to death,” Plenert says. “Even young children have questions about sexuality.”
Though Plenert says the best sex education for children comes from a variety of sources, including parents and teachers, and many of these suggestions apply to both, the points below are SERC’s suggestions to assist parents.
Children begin learning from their parents when they are held, cuddled and breast/bottle fed.
It’s normal for young children to touch and explore their bodies.
Children begin learning gender roles from around ages three to seven.
If a child is old enough to ask a question about sex, they are old enough for parents to answer honestly.
Navigating the discovery of sexual orientation
Teens may become aware of their adult sexuality around ages 12 to 18.
Parents can asses their own knowledge and then find the information they need in order to discuss certain issues with their children.
Parents can model acceptance and diversity in the home (for example, sharing stories that involve individuals of varying orientations or reading books and watching movies with GLBT-inclusive themes and characters).
Teens may require multiple answers to their questions in order to maintain a sex-positive and inclusive dialogue. Safe sex between two women or two men looks different from safe sex between a man and a woman.
Parents should teach children about developmental changes as the children grow. This can help children discover their own sexuality.
Inclusive safe sex talk
Many parents will need to familiarize themselves with sexual activities common among youth today in order to understand all forms of sex.
Parents can educate themselves about safer sex and the issues that are involved (for example, how alcohol and drug use impacts decision making, power dynamics in relationships, and so on) and then discuss these with their children.
Parents sometimes deny their children’s sexual activity and/or the kinds of activities they may be engaging in. Breaking through this denial is key.
Parents can support the education system’s teaching of these topics. Teachers are sometimes afraid to be specific in the classroom because of fears that a student will go home and talk to their parents who may then be upset and contact the school.
While some parents may have difficulty initiating sex education with their children, it’s never too late to start. “With time, it may become easier for both youth and parents,” Plenert says.
For resources and programs on sexual and reproductive health, visit www.serc. mb.ca.
–Katy MacKinnon is the publisher behind the food blog My Dish is Bomb (mydishisbomb.com).