How and when to discuss sex with children
We’ve seen it many times on TV and in films—nervous parents gathering their children together, palms sweating, hearts racing, as they stumble over their words to give them the sex talk about where babies come from. The whole time the parents are thinking, “What if we tell them too much? Will this destroy their innocence? What if they ask about what we do?” Of course, the humor always arises from the discovery that the kids already know everything their parents are about to tell them and are completely blasé about it.
What’s not funny is that children today are apt to learn about sex at much younger ages than their parents did, and from sources that are largely out of their parents’ control, and that don’t put sex in the proper context. From cable TV and films to the internet and more mature kids at school, children are regularly exposed to sex in a way that presents it as a freak show rather than a beautiful and sacred act of bonding.
Public schools try to correct some of this misinformation through health class and sex education, however, the best place for children to learn about sex is at home, from their parents, who understand their sensitivities and needs. Even so, most parents think their children don’t want to hear from them about sex, but the opposite is true. The 2016 Parent Power Survey conducted by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that 52% of children between 12 and 15 said their parents had the most influence on them when it came to sex. In contrast, when parents were asked, 60% thought their children’s friends held more influence in sexual matters than they did. In reality, only 17% of children said they valued their friends’ opinions about sex above their parents’. While 28% of teens between 16 and 19 said they valued their friends’ ideas on sex more, a slight majority of 32% said their parents had a bigger influence on them.
Anyone can teach the biological facts of reproduction, but only parents are in a position to put this information in a context that best suits their family’s spiritual principles. Although there is no standardized approach as to how and when to share information about sex with children, it helps to keep a few things in mind.
- Talking to children about sex does not harm their innocence. Innocence is a function of attitude, not information. Children who understand that the purpose of sex is to express love and create life maintain a healthy view of sex and thus, retain their innocence. Without this understanding, children may be exposed to sex in a way that’s abusive or degrading, negatively impacting their view of sex and themselves.
- If you feel overly nervous or inhibited when talking to your child about sex, you might want to review your attitudes about sex. Perhaps past experiences have caused you to feel that sex is bad, dirty or shameful. It’s very important to become conscious of these feelings before they’re unconsciously passed on to your children. Recognize that this is an issue for you that may require work with a therapist to begin your healing process.
- Don’t wait to share everything you know about sex with your child in a single talk. Doing so risks waiting until your child has already been influenced by others or overwhelming them with too much information. Facts about sex should be shared gradually with increasing detail over several years, according to what information is age-appropriate. This approach works when sharing any information with your child as he or she grows, whether it be about handling money, relationships, spiritual values, or anything else. “The talk” is really a series of talks that should begin at a fairly young age.
Dr. Habib Sadeghi is the co-founder of Be Hive of Healing, an integrative health center based in Los Angeles. He provides revolutionary healing protocols in integrative, osteopathic, anthroposophical, environmental, and family medicine, as well as clinical pharmacology. He served as an attending Physician and Clinical Facilitator at UCLA-SM Medical Center and is currently a Clinical Instructor of Family Medicine at Western University of Health Sciences. Dr. Sadeghi is a regular contributor to Goop, CNN, BBC News and TEDx. He is the author of Within: A Spiritual Awakening to Love & Weight Loss, as well as the foreword to Gwyneth Paltrow’s It’s All Good, and is the publisher of the health and well-being journal, MegaZEN.