It’s time to retire the stork.
Many parents dread the day when their curious children start asking questions about sexuality and procreation. Instead of offering such ever-popular answers such as “The stork brought you!” or “Go ask your mother,” experts are recommending speaking honestly and being pro-active about sex education, no matter how young the child.
“The first step is the ‘body parts’ talk that happens in toddlerhood,” says Adele Ryan, a master of social work and mother of two. “Then you just take it from there. It’s a lifelong process, and I think that assigning an arbitrary age for ‘the talk’ like it’s a one-time brain dump is problematic.”
Sex is not something that kids should be learning about on the playground (misinformation abounds!), nor is it a good idea to wait for your child’s teacher to discuss sexuality with your child’s class. This aspect of your child’s education is primarily a parent or guardian’s job. And the way that the topic is handled (or ignored) can impact your child more than you might think.
Susie Bright is an internationally renowned author, lecturer and feminist sex writer. She was recently in Toronto where she hosted several workshops at Come As You Are and the University of Toronto, including one on sex-positive parenting.
Bright says there is no ideal age to start educating your child on sex and sexuality.
“(It is not always) a large-vocabulary discussion,” Bright says. “Any parent you talk to can remember times before their kid was very verbal, that they showed curiosity or concerns about their body. And how many of us can remember being shamed about nudity or body parts before we were even out of diapers?”
Normalizing the human body and its natural functions begins at birth. Sexuality is simply one aspect of this.
Giving your children the proper terminology for their genitalia from birth, answering their questions without judgment and fostering ongoing dialogue is paramount, she says.
“It’s about reassuring and getting kids comfortable with their own bodies, their physical boundaries, their ability to self-advocate and keep themselves safe,” says Ryan. “Children who are comfortable talking about their bodies are less likely to be victimized by sexual predators who target those they consider safe bets to keep their secret. These kids grow up to be adolescents who are able to make informed choices.”
But talking to your kids easily about sex is easier said than done.
Says Bright, “(If) our family of origin raised us to feel a great deal of ambivalence and shame about sex, it’s not easy to articulate and understand how those formative years affected us.”
Ryan agrees. “Many parents have difficulties in part because of their own upbringings. If sex was never discussed in their childhoods, if they grew up with shame around sexuality, this may cause hesitation and discomfort. Others may have religious or value-based reasons for their hesitation or refusal. Still others just aren’t sure when or where to start.”
A great step towards ensuring your own children have a positive start when it comes to sex education is reading books on the subject that you can enjoy as a family.
Bright recommends “A Kid’s First Book About Sex” by Joani Blank, which can be downloaded for free online (the author appreciates PayPal donations).
Ryan recommends Robie H. Harris’ books, including “It’s Not the Stork” (for 4-7-year-olds), “It’s So Amazing!” (ages 7-11), and “It’s Perfectly Normal” (for older kids).
“They’re illustrated comic book style, contain a variety of body types, and normalize a lot of different kinds of families and sexualities,” she says.
And what of those parents who believe that sexual education prompts kids to become sexually active at an earlier age?
Says Ryan, “By and large, it’s been my experience that those who have sex and make unsafer choices in sex at earlier ages are those who don’t have accurate information about the benefits and consequences of these choices.”
Sexy Typewriter blogs about her dating failures – online and otherwise- at Sexytypewriter.com.