Leandie Buys Realtionship Therapist & Clinical Sexologist

Why it’s absolutely essential that YOU have “The Talk” with your kids

Do you know how much your childhood experience of sex and sexuality can affect your adult relationships?

My clients are often very surprised to find that some of their biggest relationship ‘hang-ups’ are the result of inadequate education about sexuality when they were younger.

  • Some experience difficulty reaching orgasm because they were always taught that sex was ‘bad’ and ‘evil’ and ‘never-to-be-talked-about’
  • Some struggle to be intimate with their partners because they were raised with strict religious backgrounds, and can’t stop thinking about sex as a sin
  • Some heard horror stories from their friends, and were so traumatised by the thought of sex that when they eventually experienced it, they couldn’t enjoy it. Some even experience physical pain during intercourse because of this trauma
  • Some are unable to share their desires and needs with their partners because they were taught that one should never talk about sex
  • Some struggle to maintain a relationship that is not entirely based on sex because they were taught to use their bodies to get what they want in life

For all of these reasons and more, YOU should be your child’s primary educator about sex and relationships. And YOU need to take on this responsibility to ensure that they are able to have healthy, fulfilling and intimate relationships in the future.

I do understand that it’s difficult to talk about something so intimate with your child. Especially if they are young and they ask really awkward questions. But allowing them the freedom to ask YOU will prevent them from seeking answers from friends, the internet and older siblings where they may be given incorrect, and sometimes traumatising information.

You don’t know who your child sits next to at school. You don’t know if that child has been exposed to porn, or sexually assaulted. You don’t know what kind of information that child has been given regarding sex, and what kind of information they will pass on to your child when they inevitably become curious about sex.

At what age should you begin talking about sex to your child?

There is an inevitable stage where kids start becoming curious about their bodies, and how they differ from each other. They will begin to notice things like skin colour, hair colour, and ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ physical attributes. This could be when they’re around four years old, or starting to go to pre-school.

My clients often say that these questions freak them out… they become flustered and blurt out something random to their child just to make them be quiet. This is not the way to go about it.

If you don’t have a prepared answer available, then say to your child “thanks for asking, that is a very good question. Can you give me some time to think about it so that I can give you the best answer?” Kids are usually fine with this, and it means you have a chance to calm down, and put the question into context.

Take into account your child’s personality, age, and current knowledge and put together an answer that is age-appropriate for them.

You might want to investigate a bit further, and ask them why they are curious about “where babies come from” or “what is sex?” Find out if this has been a discussion at school, or something their friends brought up, or something that they thought about when they saw a pregnant lady at the shops.

When they’re eight, it’s already too late!

This is what I tell all of my clients. If you haven’t been laying down the fundamentals of sex and sexuality by the time your child is eight, they have already gotten all the information they need from elsewhere. You don’t know what info they’ve received, who it came from, and you haven’t been available to chat about their questions if they’ve been confused about what they’ve heard.

This is a very scary place to be, especially with the availability of the media, the internet and social media. So rather make sure that you are the first source of information, and are available for discussions if they ever have questions about sex.

This also increases the chances of your children being willing to tell you if anyone has inappropriately touched them. They are more aware of what is ‘okay’ and what is ‘not okay’ when it comes to sexual touch, and who is in control of their body.

Here is a natural progression of how children develop sexual awareness so you can be prepared for what sort of information to give them:

0-2 years:

New parents often freak out when they see their toddlers touching their sexual organs. However, this is completely natural, as the child is learning about their body, and pleasurable touch.

3-4 years:

This is the age where kids begin to realise that boys and girls are different, and that they have different body parts. They may start asking questions about their friends’ and parents’ bodies. Many parents have caught their toddlers stripping off their clothes so that they can get a closer look at their friend’s body. Don’t freak out and punish them for this as they will only develop a negative attitude to sexuality. Just explain to them about keeping private parts private, and the importance of being in control of their own bodies.

This is also a good time to teach them about good and bad touch. Who is allowed to touch them, and who isn’t. They should be made to feel comfortable with who they are, and empowered to tell you about any inappropriate activity that they experience.

Kids this age also tend to get curious about where babies come from. This could be due to the arrival of a new sibling, or general curiosity. You don’t need to go into graphic detail about intercourse to answer their questions, but make sure you don’t give them incorrect information just to shelter them – there is no such thing as a stork who brings babies!

5-6 years:

Kids at this age are very aware of how their bodies differ to each other. Different sizes, shapes, colours, and sexual organs. They should have a good idea of how babies are made, and that sex is only between two adults that love each other very much.

They might still be very trusting of strangers in their space, so make sure you emphasise the importance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ touch. Test them by asking, "what would you do if someone wanted to touch you there…" they should know the correct answer.

6-8 years:

The early school years are very important in a child’s development in terms of relationships. This is where they need to be able to understand the difference between good and bad relationships (Is Suzie being mean? If so, can your child tell Suzie how her actions are hurtful? If Suzie doesn’t change, is your child strong enough to end the friendship and walk away?)

Children need to feel empowered to walk away from bad situations that threaten their emotional and physical safety. They should not feel guilty for doing so. When your daughter is dating her first boyfriend, you want her to be able to walk away if he becomes physically or emotionally abusive.

The bottom line

As parents we need to be comfortable with our own sexuality, so that we can share openly and honestly with our children. We need to be able to pass on positive sexual health and relationship advice that will empower them in their future relationships.

So stop putting off the ‘birds and bees talk’ and make sure you empower your child today.