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How to talk to kids about: Sex

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Makchic’s recent edition of #MamaSecrets on sexual harassment was heartbreaking. Many shared horrifying stories of being sexually harassed at such a young age. Some did not even realise that what happened to them constitutes sexual harassment until they read about the experiences of others.

As difficult and daunting as it may be, it is imperative to start educating your children on sex, safe touch and body boundaries as early as possible. This may just save them from being a victim of sexual harassment.

Here are tips on how to handle the topic:

Encourage conversation and create an open environment

It can be tough, in the Asian society that many of us were raised in, to shake the (erroneous) notion that sex is something taboo. How you approach your conversations with your kids about their bodies will be instrumental in shaping their early belief system.

It’s understandable that you might feel awkward at first, talking to them about sexuality. Still, try to manage your reactions and use this as a chance to challenge your prejudices.

Be careful not to transfer any feelings of shame or guilt about sex onto your kids. Doing this simply sets the tone for your children to view sex in the same negative way. Try, as far as possible, to speak about sex in a positive (or at least, neutral) manner, and think about the messages and values that you wish to pass on.

How do I start?

Exercise early sexual education.  Begin by teaching your children the proper names for their private parts. Using a pet name may give the impression that there is something wrong about the words ‘penis’ or ‘vagina.’ This could potentially hamper your child’s ease in using the correct terms in the future.

Look for teachable moments. You also don’t always have to wait for questions to be asked. Realise that everyday events can often provide great opportunities to engage your child in conversation. Bathtime often leads to questions about their body parts. A pregnancy in the family can be a good way of explaining the process of conception and birth. Look out for moments like these, and be prepared.

Know how and what to say

If your child has questions about sex, don’t giggle or get embarrassed. Instead, approach their innocent questions calmly and reassuringly.  It helps to first clarify exactly what they’re asking. Don’t jump to unnecessary conclusions, or overwhelm them with unasked-for details.

Here are some examples of possible questions to expect and what to say in these instances:

How are babies made? You might begin by saying that, “Mummies and daddies make babies by holding each other in a special way.” If pressed further, you could elaborate by explaining that this special way is called “sex” or “making love” and that it’s only for adults.

Say that, “Mummies have tiny eggs called ovum inside of them and daddies have sperm, that are like little seeds. When the sperm meets the egg, this can make a baby grow.”

This answer often proves enough. However, if your child enquires further, you could then explain that a daddy’s sperm is released when the penis goes inside a mummy’s vagina.

How are babies born? You might say, “When a mummy pushes a baby out from her tummy (or uterus, if they know the word) and through her vagina.”

Why don’t girls have a penis/ boys have a vagina? Simply explain that, “Boys’ and girls’ bodies are made differently and look differently too.”

As your child matures, you can provide more comprehensive responses. For now, just keep your responses simple and direct. Make sure however, to maintain open channels of communication. Be ready to answer any follow-up questions with clarity and honesty.

Stress the importance of privacy and safe touch

Help your children understand which types of touching are acceptable, and which are not. If they know the difference, they will be more inclined to tell you if any sexual abuse occurs.

Talk to your kids about which parts of their body are private. Explain that their genitals should not be touched by any person without their permission, including relatives and close friends. Do clarify however, that healthcare providers or you and your partner as their parents, might be exceptions to this in certain situations.

Teach your kids about body boundaries too (e.g. how to respect a person’s personal space) and the importance of seeking permission before touching someone closely (e.g. when hugging or tickling a friend).

Address sexual curiosity sensitively

Photo credit: Freepik

Understand that early exploration is a normal part of growing up and discovering your body. Pre-schoolers often engage in self-stimulation or play ‘doctor’ by examining the body parts of other kids.

Should either of these situations occur, your approach is crucial. Firstly, use distraction as a tool to disengage your child from the act. Don’t react by shouting in anger or alarm, or by calling what they’re doing “dirty.” This will only cause your child to feel ashamed and believe that their bodies are bad.

Explain later that it is natural to be curious, but also reinforce the importance of privacy and respecting other people’s bodies. If your child is still curious about the differences between boys’ and girls’ bodies, help them to understand by using age-appropriate material, such as children’s picture books.

As a litigation lawyer turned full-time mum, Kimberly Lee finds that arguing court cases never seemed quite as difficult as arguing with an obstinate toddler over carrots. She writes about life, loss, love and everything in between as she explores her greatest adventure yet- motherhood.

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