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For Parents

For Parents

When and where you should talk about Sexuality to your Child

Parent-child sexual communication impacts young people’s sexuality and is thus crucial to acknowledge its importance and to know how to do it in the best possible way. Many parents believe that this communication is important, but resist talking to their children about sex because they do not know what to say, do not think their child wants to hear from them, or are unsure at what age to discuss certain topics. They are also full of doubts: what is the right age to do that? How often should I talk about it? How should I even start this conversation? 

There is little in the way of specific and evidence-based recommendations for exactly when and how often to cover sexuality topics. But in the end, what do young adults say they prefer or would have preferred? Here are the answers to some of the questions:

  1. At what age?

The majority of participants felt that 12–13 was the best age to talk about most sexual topics. For some, this may feel too early to talk about abuse or sexually transmitted diseases, or again, birth control. Talking about sex well before sexual activity begins is the best time to do so. By the time adolescents enter 9th grade (late middle school), about a third of them are sexually active. Thus, having discussions about safer sex and other serious topics is indeed beneficial if it occurs before children start high school. 

2. What should I talk about?

Parents will ultimately determine for themselves the specific messages they want to convey to their children, and this also largely depends on their beliefs and background. But young people desire more than just technical information about sex from conversations with their parents. They want to discuss dating, relationship and almost 40% of participants said that parents should discuss sexual orientation at age 11 or younger. For many LGB youth, coming to terms with their sexuality can often take place before they engage in same-sex sex acts; this is why parents could decide to discuss it at an earlier age. The only topic that young people perceived to be more delicate was pleasure, recommending 16-17 as the best age to do so. There has been a shift in time though: a few years ago the topic of pleasure was perceived as taboo. This shift might reflect the changes that society is doing in accepting and not shaming sexuality. The concept of pleasure is also rarely covered in school-based sex education, so hearing from parents that sex could or should be pleasurable may have a positive impact on young people’s sexual development.

3. How do I approach the topics?

Talking about dating and relationships is perceived as somewhat easier, and this is because parents feel they have more expertise on this based on their experience.  Resources about how to discuss the more difficult topics that may require extra knowledge and communication skills, such as birth control and sexual assault, should be made readily available to parents. Schools usually are the place where more scientific topics are discussed. Many school-based sexuality programs mandate teaching that children should talk to their parents about sex, and many young people start asking their parents about sex when they start sex education at school; this is why parents should be prepared anyway. Most young people report that parents want to have “the talk”, charging the topic with too many expectations and weight. The conversation should instead be a more frequent and normal part of an open dialogue.

Emerging adults value frequent and early sexual communication with parents, and they want their parents to be honest and open. Parents on the other side must be empowered and reassured of their ability to do so. This might result in improved safety and the sexual well-being of the next generation.

REFERENCES

Pariera, K. L., & Brody, E. (2018). “Talk more about it”: Emerging adults’ attitudes about how and when parents should talk about sex. Sexuality Research and Social Policy15(2), 219-229.

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