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Sex is a tough topic, but one that must be discussed with kids. Before you wonder what a “parenting article” is doing on a health site, let's be very clear that discussing the topics of sex, puberty and reproduction with your children isn't merely about parenting — it is about emotional and physical health.
Are You Ready For “The Talk”?
There are many very compelling arguments in favor of discussing bodies, sex, puberty, and reproduction with your kids. Even if you feel terribly uncomfortable. Your kids will either ask you, because reproduction and sex are universally fascinating to humans, or they will be terribly misguided because they fill in the blanks themselves, or get “educated” by peers at school.
All children should know all about puberty, the differences between men and women, reproduction and sex. Why? Take your pick from any of the following, not in any order of importance:
- They'll drive you crazy with questions when they are toddlers, so you'll need to answer to get them to stop.
- All young kids want to know where babies come from at some point, either because they are going to have a younger sibling or because they are curious about their own origins. Once they know about the sperm and the egg, they may ask more.
- Ignorance about human anatomy and sex places a child at a higher risk of sexual abuse. (Though your “sex talks” should always also be supplemented with “sexual abuse prevention talks” — at the most basic level, nobody should touch a child's private parts or ask the child to touch theirs.)
- Your child may believe that crazy playground talk if you haven't told her the real facts.
- A child who doesn't know all about puberty may be terrified by getting a first period, or seeing pubic hair.
- A teenager who isn't aware of all the facts surrounding sex may be at risk of getting pregnant, contracting sexually transmitted diseases, and being pressured into sex before they are ready (this especially applies to girls).
- All parents have their own opinions surrounding when it is right to have sex. Though “just don't do it” is never enough when it comes to sex ed, you will have the chance to talk about your own values at length if you are the first to teach your child about sex and reproduction. If you are not early enough, your child will hear about sex from others first.
When should parents start discussing these things with their kids? As early as possible, to prevent sex and bodies from entering the taboo sphere. Toddlerhood, during which kids start potty training, is a great time to begin discussing basic anatomy. Use the proper names for genitals (vulva, vagina, penis, scrotum and anus) instead of cutesy nicknames. This will help your child accept their genitals as normal. We don't use weird nicknames for elbows or knees, do we?
After toddlerhood, you can wait for your child to ask questions herself, usually about where babies come from, or why men and women have different bodies. These questions will usually appear. If not, you can bring it up yourself. We'll give you some tips in the next section.
The average ages for puberty to start are 10 and 11 for girls, and 11 and 12 for boys. It is, however, good to keep in mind that some kids start showing signs of puberty at as early as eight years of age. Some girls will get their first periods before they turn 10. It is, in other words, important to discuss puberty at length starting when your kids are about six. This ensures they will be prepared, rather than freaked out.