What do you do when your six to ten year old looks you in the eye and starts asking all manner of questions about how mum and dad made them? Do you tackle the question head on, or wish you could slide under a rock? In the second part of our “How to talk to your children about sex” series (here’s part one), we’ve teamed up once again with Erika Lust, founder of The Porn Conversation, to help you go forth and conquer these tricky parental waters.
Why talk about it?
During this time children might start to become more actively interested in gender differences, sex and pregnancy. Whilst you may not feel the need to bring up conversations about sex with your 6 to 10 year old, I’ve found that the best response to any question they might have is to always be open and responsive.
Its important to remember that it is impossible to shelter your children from information about sex. Whether they pick it up in the playground or stumble across sexual content online (research suggests that children as young as 9 are accidentally coming across sexually explicit material), they will find out the answers to their questions somehow.
Ignoring or shaming these kinds of questions just adds an unnecessary burden, and if your child feels like they cannot talk to you about sex they are more likely to resort to inaccurate and sometimes harmful sources to find out. If you talk to your children about sex, especially at a young age,it allows you to establish a healthy discourse before other sources have the opportunity to influence your child’s view on the subject.
What to talk about and how to talk about it?
What is vital at this age is that you listen to the questions your child is asking and respond as honestly and openly as possible. Children always feel like their parents know everything but, as you will know, this often isn’t the case. Don’t feel guilty or act evasive if your child asks you a question you don’t know the answer to – we are not all knowing oracles and that is OK.
Your friend google
I have found that in these situations offering to look up the information for your child and then providing them with an answer is a good strategy, as it lets your child know that you are listening to and respect their questions. If your child feels like you are keen to answer any questions they have, and will actively try to find answers for them, then this will validate their inquisitiveness. Let them know that you want to help them figure out the world.
Of course there is no exact science behind the kinds of questions a child of this age might ask. Although if you feel that your child is using language that is inappropriate, or has more knowledge on the specifics of sex than you would expect a child of that age to have then that might be a cause for concern.
The NSPCC have excellent resources available to help you identify and deal with any suspected problems. Questions that I, and I’m sure many other parents, will be familiar with are ones such as ́Where do babies come from?, ́How are babies made?´and ´Why do people have sex?. I have always tried to answer my daughters ́ questions frankly and without euphemism (that means using anatomically correct language to describe reproductive organs and their functions!).
Next stop pleasure
I also made the decision to ensure that my daughters knew that sex was not only for reproduction but also for pleasure. In my opinion sex education is geared so much towards the reproductive function of sex that it does not accurately reflect reality. Of course reproduction is one of the functions of sex, but most sexual interactions do not result in a pregnancy and are not intended to, they are done for pleasure and to achieve intimacy.
I felt that telling my daughters anything other than this would be dishonest. In fact there are many many reasons why people have sex. Although some of these reasons are way too complex for many adults to understand, let alone young children, the fact that there are so many theories about what motivates us sexually has highlighted to me the importance of establishing what my own views of sex and sexuality are before talking to my children.
Ask yourself what motivates you? What is important for you when it comes to sex and relationships? Sex is confusing enough as it is, so make sure you have a fairly good notion of your views on the subject so that you can make it as easy as possible for your child to understand.
Let’s talk puberty
As it is perfectly normal for a child to start experiencing the signs of puberty at 8 or 9, it is important that your child is equipped with some knowledge on the topic early so that they are not alarmed when they start to experience changes in their body.
Early signs of puberty in both boys and girls includes the growth of public hair so this might be something that you wish to address during this time. However if you know that you, your partner or members of your family started their periods at 10 or 11, then you might feel the need to explain this change to your child earlier.
At this age discussions of puberty are largely about ensuring that your child is not shocked or surprised when they start to experience changes in their bodies. As such, a certain amount of parental discretion can be applied when talking to your children about puberty at this age. However it is important that your child knows that their body will start to change and that these changes relate to reproduction, furthermore since the average age that children experience puberty is 11 or 12. It’s important to have a comprehensive discussion before your child reaches this age.
All things equal
Something I noticed and was quite alarmed by when I started researching puberty in preparation for talking to my daughters was that so much of the advice given seemed to be separated by gender.
As a mother of daughters I will not have the experience of talking to boys about puberty, however I have ensured that my daughters know, not only about the changes that girls go through, but also the changes that boys experience. I don’t see any need for gender differentiated guides concerning puberty. Even if your child currently has little interaction with children of the opposite sex, they are not going to live in a single sex world forever.
It’s imperative that parents of boys and girls educate their children on the changes experienced by both sexes. Puberty is a source of shame and embarrassment for so many teenagers, but this doesn’t have to be the case. We need to destigmatise these totally normal bodily functions, and teaching everyone about these changes without shame or secrecy is the perfect place to start.
Do you have a a 6- 10 year old child? What are your thoughts on the above? Do share in a comment below. And stay tuned for the next part in our talk “How to talk to your children about sex” series – next up 11-14 year olds!
ABOUT ERIKA LUST
Erika Lust (erikalust.com) is an award-winning indie adult filmmaker, mother of two daughters and founder of the non profit The Porn Conversation, a project she set up with her husband to help parents broach the topic of pornography with their children.
Picture credit: People photo created by katemangostar – www.freepik.com