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Raising Sexually Healthy Children

Raising sexually healthy children is not about giving a single Big Talk when they become teenagers. Your job as a sexual educator actually begins when your children are very young. How you touch your babies, how you play with them, how you talk to them – even the clothes you pick out for them – teach them a little bit about what you expect of them as boys or as girls.

By the time they're two years old, you can teach your children the correct names of the parts of their body. By three or four, many children exhibit interest in sexuality: They touch their genitals, they play doctor with neighbourhood children, and they ask their parents where babies come from.
By the age of eight or so, you can start preparing your children for the changes that lie ahead during puberty, and be sure that they understand the basic facts about sex and reproduction. You'll also need to help them make sense of the many messages about sexuality they're receiving from the media: movies, books, TV, music and advertisements.
By late primary to early secondary school, preteens need help dealing with peer pressure, body image, and sexual feelings. During the teen years, your children need your guidance on making good decisions about relationships, communicating sexual limits, and protecting themselves from unsafe situations.
Family values and teachable moments
All along the way, the most important thing you can do is to share your particular family values with your children. They'll learn many of the facts they need in health or biology classes in school or in books. But only you can convey your family's values about a wide range of sexuality issues – gender roles, sexual orientation, abstinence, family roles, body image and friendships, to name just a few.
As you seek to impart these core values, the key is to look for teaching opportunities – those everyday times when you easily bring up important issues with your child and share your thoughts. For example, as you're giving your preschooler a bath or changing your toddler's nappy, you might name the parts of the body and talk about how wonderful the body is. Or perhaps you're watching television with your primary school child and a couple on the show moves into the bedroom – you can talk about your values about intimacy and relationships.
Or maybe you're in the car with your 11-year-old and there is a news story on abortion – a perfect time to share your beliefs about unwanted pregnancies. By taking advantage of teaching opportunities, you give your children little, easily digestible bits of information and let them know that you are a family that talks about sexuality.
How to talk the talk
It's not always easy for parents to talk with their children about sexuality, but there's a three-part process that often makes everyone feel more comfortable and works for all ages:
  • First, find out what your child already knows; for example, ‘Where do you think babies come from?’
  • Second, correct any misinformation and give the true facts; for example, ‘No, babies don't grow in their mummies' tummies. They grow in a special place inside their mummies called a uterus’.
  • Third, use the conversation as an opportunity to convey your values; for example, ‘It's wonderful to be pregnant when you are ready to take care of a baby’.

This three-part process even works with teenagers. For example, you and your teen are driving in the car and you hear a sly comment about masturbation on a radio talk show. You could say, ‘Tell me what you have heard about masturbation’ or ‘Do they talk about masturbation in health classes at school? What do they say?’ Listen calmly, and correct any misinformation: ‘Some people masturbate, and some don't’, (this is important because teens often wonder if their habits are ‘different’ or ‘normal’).
Then matter-of-factly state your views, maybe something along the lines of: ‘People often masturbate for sexual pleasure. In fact, I think it's a smart way for teenagers to handle their sexual feelings’.
Once you get used to using this three-part approach to educating your children about important topics such as sexuality, you're sure to find many teachable moments to talk to them in a natural and comfortable manner.

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