When I was teaching high school, we would cover human reproduction for about 2 weeks in the spring semester of Biology. Sometimes the students would get an additional unit in Health class, but that was it, unless they elected to take Anatomy/ Physiology. The students always had tons of questions. Questions like, “Is it true that you cannot get pregnant by putting Coke (Coca-Cola) in your [vagina]?” or “Can you get pregnant by going down on a guy?” Despite having the access to contraception via a medically staffed satellite health clinic on campus, and getting some education in school, kids were sexually active and girls were still getting pregnant.
The students really had no one else who knew about sex and sexuality, except their friends or teachers. At home, they were being taught flat out that sex is dirty and you shouldn’t talk about it. Or their parents did not know what to talk about. No matter where you stand in the sex ed in schools debate, understand this: Your kids’ teachers are not members of your family. They do not know what values and morals your family holds dear. A teacher can teach the how about sex, but not the WHY.
Some points to consider when educating your children:
Establish/ Maintain rapport with your kids. Your kids are not going to trust your words or your teachings if they do not trust you. This does not mean that you need to be best friends with your child but being an unemotional automaton is not going to help either. If you need to build rapport with your kids, start by showing and telling your kids you love them (unconditionally). Keep promises made to your kids and share chores together. Be a welcoming parent; respect your kids’ space and meet together as a family regularly to talk things over. If rapport is lacking in your family, work on strengthening that bond before getting into sexuality.
Learn about the process of reproduction and sexual infections and use anatomical terms from day one. Your kids will have a hard time taking you seriously if you are referring to body parts as hoo-hahs and weenies. Learn facts versus fiction. One great site is Scarleteen. It is written in a matter of fact, easy to search format.
Begin the conversation early and keep talking. We started educating our girls about sex when they learned to talk. During the toddler and preschool ages, we are focusing on correct terminology and who is allowed to touch what and where. As they get older, the conversation will change with the age of the child. In our house, there will not be the grand one-time “Talk” but it’s an ongoing conversation. Look for teaching moments in your child’s life to talk about sexuality. While it may be tempting, avoid taking the easy road and just pointing your child to the Internet when they have questions. Treat them as the adults that you want them to become.
Decide (with your parenting partner, if applicable) what values and morals are the norm for your family. What we hold valuable in our family will not be the same things that you hold valuable in your family. Decide where your family stands on all topics regarding sexuality: pregnancy, STIs, masturbation, abortion, pre-martial sex, contraception, homosexuality, date rape, sexting, etc. and refer to those values and standards when having your discussions. At the same time, do not disregard topics you don’t believe in or that you don’t think your child should be hearing about, because they are hearing about it.
When talking to your child about the values established, be sure to explain WHY. Just saying “Don’t Do It” doesn’t work because there is no reason. Explain to your kids why you don’t want them to have sex before marriage (or before they are out of high school). Explain to your child the expectations that can come out of a sexual relationship. Tell them the dangers of sexting and predators on the internet. Talk to your kids about the emotions surrounding a sexual relationship. Use concrete reasoning, do not just say “We don’t do that in our family,” or give the impression that sex is bad or disgusting. If you feel that sex is dirty or something better not talked about, your kids are counting on you to get over your squeamishness. Practice having your conversation in a mirror or with your parenting partner. Talk with a trusted friend. If you truly feel a mental barrier to talking about sexuality with your children, consider talking to a professional to see about getting through your discomfort.
Enlist the help of a trusted second or third party. Some kids are not always going to come to their parents with the “tough stuff.” Ideally, this is where the trusted second or third party comes into play. It could be your child’s favorite aunt or uncle, a best friend’s parent, or mentor. This person should know what values your family is instilling and should not be your secret spy. Your child should be able to confide in the third party without fear that they are going to run to you and spill the beans (that’s why the third party should be aware of your family’s values, so they can act as your proxy.)
Like it or not, unless your child chooses a life of celibacy, they are going to engage in sex at some point or another. Your job as a parent is to make sure they have the knowledge to make the right decision at the right time.