How to talk to children about sex

Talking to children about sex has multiple benefits [Photo: Getty]

Just reading the title of this article is likely to bring many parents out in an uncomfortable sweat.

Having the sex chat with your smalls is totally filed under the awkward convos parents dread, but being able to talk openly and honestly about the subject has multiple benefits.

Recent research has revealed that children who feel able to talk to their parents about sex are more likely to delay having sex until they are older, as well as making healthy and sensible choices like using contraception.

Couple that with the fact that many parents could well be underestimating the extent of children’s exposure to sex and porn online, with recent stats revealing children as young as seven are viewing porn online because of the lack of age checks, and it becomes clear that having the sex chat could be more important than ever.

Knowing you should tackle the subject is one thing, knowing how to do it is quite another.

One couple were so concerned about how to tackle the topic they delegated by advertising for an expert to do it for them.

But there are ways to open up the discussion with minimal blushes and embarrassment on behalf of all parties.

When should I talk to my children about sex?

While there is no correct age to talk to children about sex, according to the NHS, it’s never too early to start talking about it. “If your child is asking questions about sex, they’re ready for truthful answers,” the site explains.

The site goes on to explain that “talking to children about sex won’t make them go out and do it. Evidence shows that children whose parents talk about sex openly start having sex at a later stage and are more likely to use contraception.”

Which has to be a good thing.

Plus, the earlier you do it the less chance they will already have picked up, often incorrect, information from their playground pals, which could warp or distort their views on the subject in the future.

READ MORE: 7 sex hygiene habits you really shouldn't skip

How to talk to your children about sex

Check your reaction

Your reaction to children asking questions or being curious about sex or gender has a huge impact on the child and the messages they internalise about sex.

“Children pick up on verbal and non-verbal behaviour,” explains Sarah Calvert a Psychotherapist, Psychosexual and Relationship Therapist.

“If they feel a parent/carer is negative about sex, they can develop a negative attitude; conversely if the parent/carer is positive, they are more likely to develop a positive relationship to sex and their own sexuality.

“That's why it's so important for parents to think about where they are with this subject, and what they may be unconsciously communicating to their children.”

Try to be sex positive

Calvert says good sex education encourages positive attitudes towards sex and sexuality, enabling children to grow up to lead confident and happy sex lives.

“It's important to be positive about sex and speak about the pleasures that a healthy and happy sex life (with one's self or with another) brings,” she explains.

“We should feel confident to empower their sexual exploration and development rather than cloud it in a cloak of shame. It's also important to ensure our children have information that empowers them and enables them to keep them safe, teaching them about boundaries and consent.”

READ MORE: Women are using code names for periods and it is deepening the taboo

Do some prep

Give yourself time to think and explore your own attitudes and beliefs about this subject before speaking to children.

“Everyone has their own views on sex that have been formed to a large extent by messages they have received, many of these from childhood,” explains Calvert.

“It's crucial that parents are aware of their own filter, and question why it exists. For example, we've all received messages about gender and how girls or boys should behave. How have these messages impacted and informed who we have become?

“The same goes for sex and sexuality. We need to be aware of the lens that we view these subjects through before discussing them with children.”

READ MORE: How young is too young for sex education at school?

Try not to cringe

If sex comes up on television, children will be looking for their parents’ reaction, so it's important to give a measured response.

“If you change the channel, change the subject or make a joke every time that the subject of sex comes up, your children are more likely to believe that sex is secretive, dangerous, embarrassing or something to be ashamed or afraid of,” the charity Family Lives told BBC.

Instead use it as an opportunity to kick-start the discussion.

Mind your language

While it might be tempting to use kiddie-friendly terms while discussing the topic, when it comes referring to body parts, parents are advised to steer clear of euphemisms.

Earlier this year Eve Appeal, a UK-based gynaecological charity, said male and female body parts shouldn’t be shrouded in secrecy and urged mothers and fathers to have open conversations with their children about the subject.

And the same goes while discussing sex.

Follow your child’s lead

Giving children the opportunity to explain what they know about the subject already means parents won’t have to worry about sharing too much information before they are ready. 

Parenting expert Michele Borba, suggests parents ask their children what “their friends are saying” about sex-related topics when they come up. 

“Then you can say: ‘That isn’t quite right but I’m so glad we had this chance to talk about it,’” Dr Borba told Independent.

Parents often feel uncomfortable talking about sex to children [Photo: Getty]

Personalise the discussion

While having the ‘sex chat’ it is important to taylor the talk to your individual child bringing in interests, values and religion, as this could help your child to take in and understand more.

If children haven’t come to their parents, or parents aren’t sure how to broach the topic of sex, Dr Borba recommends bringing the topic up naturally, kickstarting the discussion by talking about a movie or a magazine article. 

Be inclusive

“Most discussions around sex talk about heterosexual relationships, but this can make some young people feel excluded and ignored. Try to be open – everybody needs to be heard and listened too,” advises ChannelMum.com Editor Cathy Ranson.

Be mindful of safety and consent

The NSPCC Pants Rule is a great place to start with small kids. It teaches children that their body belongs to them, they have the right to say no, and that they should tell an adult if they're upset or worried.

Seek further help 

Something you can't answer? As Ranson points out your job as a parent isn't to know all the answers – it's to be a supporter and help point them in the right direction.

The FPA has helpful information for parents who want to speak to their children about the subject. Its book ‘Speakeasy: talking with your children about growing up’ spells out how to sit down and talk to your children about puberty, sex and relationships in an age-appropriate way.