Why Do We Fear Talking With Our Kids About Sex? … And What You Can Do About It
By Caron C. Andrews
Teaching our children about the world they live in is often exhilarating and fun. When we see the light of comprehension in their eyes, we feel delighted, happy. Likewise, when we explain dangers and how to protect themselves, we feel like we’ve been a good parent. So then why do so many of us fear talking with our kids about sex, one of the most important and wide-ranging parts of life? Here are some of the fears and concerns that parents can have and the thoughts that might be going through their minds about each one.
Your own Issues About Sex
If you have unresolved issues about sex, the thought of talking with your kids about it can be scary, even terrifying. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse or mistreatment, you might have deep-rooted thoughts of sex being dirty, shameful, or degrading. You may wonder how you can give your kids the information they need in a positive and open way if you have hidden shame, guilt, or fear. Or perhaps when you were growing up, sex was a taboo subject that was never addressed, creating in you negative and secretive attitudes about it. You may even be involved in a negative sexual relationship now.
Fear of Destroying Their Innocence
It can feel like the end of an era when you first start talking to your kids about sex. You want them to be innocent and carefree for as long as possible, and it may seem that talking about something as grown-up as sex will contaminate their innocence. We think that they will never be able to see their bodies and others the same way again once they learn sexual facts. Maybe you think that kids already have to grow up so fast these days without adding another element to it.
Talking About it Will Encourage It
We can get caught up in believing that nothing sexual has ever crossed our kids’ minds, especially when they’re younger. Once you start talking with them about sex, you’re planting ideas that weren’t there before and inviting curiosity that can lead to experimentation. You’re trying to prevent early exposure, not encourage it!
It’s Awkward and Embarrassing
Many parents dread talking with their kids, no matter what their age, about sexual topics because it feels uncomfortable. You’re venturing into private territory and worry that it will feel unnatural and distressing, both to you and your kids, to share anything about it with them.
Fear of Alienating Your Kids
You wonder if your kids will think you’re gross or weird if you bring up sex with them. Maybe instead of opening up to you, they’ll actually turn away, too mortified to be able to have a real conversation with you.
Parents are the most important educators for their children about sex and sexuality (Palo Alto Medical Foundation), so we each need to be able to overcome our own fears about initiating discussions with our kids. Here are some ways you can.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
Heal and Empower Yourself
It’s important for your own healthy sexuality to overcome and heal from any issues you’ve had or are currently having about sex. A professional therapist can help guide you in freeing yourself from your past, empowering you with strength and positive attitudes. Becoming clear about your own values and expectations about sex, both for yourself and your kids, is crucial to positive and healthy communication with your children.
Start Talking About It Young
There are so many reasons why this is ideal. Teaching from very young ages about correct terms, bodily functions, privacy and respect, and where babies come from helps to reduce embarrassment and awkwardness and teaches your kids early that they can be open and honest with you. You want to be the person to first talk with your kids about it, not the other kids on the playground or hypersexualized messages from pop culture. The only way to do that is to start the conversation, the earlier the better, and to talk often!
A Little at a Time
Beginning the conversation early does not mean that you need to give all the information at once. Younger kids are typically more concerned with the physical aspects of sex and bodies. Gradually, as they get older, bring talk about feelings and relationships into the mix. Don’t overwhelm kids of any age by giving more information than they are looking for. If they ask a specific question, answer it and ask if there’s anything else they’d like to know.
Use Everyday Opportunities
There are opportunities all around us—T.V. shows, movies, your kids’ overheard conversations in the hallway at school—to open the door to a variety of discussions. Keep the conversation simple, keep it casual, use every opportunity to have a real dialogue with your children. When you make talking about sex a part of normal, everyday conversation, it won’t be surrounded by mystery and embarrassment and anxiety.
Ask Them Questions
Remember, it’s a dialogue, not a monologue. Ask your kids what they’re thinking and what they want to know. They need accurate and honest information. You need to understand their individual concerns and pressures so that you can best guide them and have meaningful discussions with them. If you are feeling squeamish, tell them so, and if you don’t know the answer to a question, find out together.
When we are able to overcome our own fears and have healthy, respectful, and positive dialogues with our kids, we are helping them to develop their own healthy sexuality. Arming them with knowledge, we are also empowering them to make good choices for themselves. You don’t have to be perfect at teaching and guiding your children, you just need to be consistent and open.
Check out our books 30 Days of Sex Talks for awesome conversation starters about this and other sometimes-difficult subjects!
Mayo Clinic, (2011, November). Sex education: Talking to your teen about sex. mayoclinic.org. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/sexual-health/in-depth/sex-education/art-20044034?pg=1
McGraw, P., Talking to Your Teen about Sex. drphil.com. Retrieved from http://www.drphil.com/articles/article/51
Steinberg, L. (2011, February). Psychologytoday.com. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/you-and-your-adolescent/201102/talking-your-teen-about-sex
Palo Alto Medical Foundation. Parents & Teachers: Tips & Advice for Talking to Teens About Sex. Pamf.org. Retrieved from http://www.pamf.org/parenting-teens/sexuality/talking-about-sex/sex-talk.html
Vernacchio, A. (2012, November). Having “The Talk” Without Fear. Psychologytoday.com. Retrieved from http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/goodness-sex/201211/having-the-talk-without-fear