You have already started teaching your small children about human sexuality whether you realise it or not. The way you speak to them, touch them, nurture them. As well as their early experiences of intimacy, pleasure, respect, consent (all non-sexual of course), are all giving them a foundation of what to expect for intimate relationships later on in life. They are absorbing everything you say and do about sex, gender, reproduction and growing up. They are watching and learning your actions and behaviour in relation to expressions of love and intimacy with your partner etc.
Do you give a positive response when faced with questions or situations about sex and sexuality? Are you an askable parent? Importantly, we need to remember that sex is not for kids but human sexuality is. Sexuality education has hardly anything to do with sex. Your role is to provide positive information about human sexuality that focuses on joy and responsibility, health and wellbeing.
The measure of how much information to give is based on this simple rule: “Who do you want to be the person that tells your child about each topic of human sexuality?”
If you want it to be you, you need to get in first before older siblings, cousins, neighbours, school friends, media or society does. You should aim to give messages that compliment what they learn at school about growing up, respectful relationships and reproduction. Parents need to be brave because if kids aren’t getting the simple facts they need from us, then they’ll get their sexuality education from the hyper-sexualised world we live in. Many people worry that teaching kids about sexuality too early will destroy their innocence. This is one of the most problematic myths. The idea that sexuality education will cause kids to lose their innocence, implies information about sexuality is dirty or wrong and that is not the case.
Having comprehensive and adequate sexuality education from a young age, actually empowers them throughout their life – they do not lose their innocence. Children will lose their innocence if something happens to them that they didn’t want to happen, or that they didn’t expect, or that they don’t have information about, such as sexual abuse.
Another example of empowerment is puberty; the maturation of sexual reproductive organs. That is their lived experience. They need information about it before it happens. They’re not losing their innocence for understanding what is happening to their bodies, and if it’s put in a positive light they celebrate those changes.
Human Sexuality for children relates to:
- Naming body parts and understanding how the human species reproduces (don’t forget the importance of language such as: “…when she is ready, the woman accepts the penis into the vagina…” rather then what we have always heard in the past – “The man inserts/places/puts the penis into the vagina…”)
- Experiencing feelings of touch, connectedness and intimacy (but not in a sexual way), experiencing expressions of love and pleasure (but not in a sexual way) i.e. how parents speak to and nurture them
- Understanding and practising consent – which starts when they share toys in the playground and when negotiating a mutually enjoyable game to play. These skills will carry on to consensual experiences in intimate situations where they have learned to express, negotiate and explore their wants without feeling they need to appease or ‘give into’ the other person’s wants in place of their own
- Explaining and exploring gender roles and societal norms and knowing the differences between gender and biological sex, knowing that human sexuality is as unique as your fingerprint – there is no ‘normal’
- Knowing essential body safety
- Learning respectful relationships and accepting every human’s unique version of sexuality
- Remember it’s mostly not about sex. You’re teaching your children about human sexuality
- Be brave and just start. It’s never too early or too late to start.
- Strip back your own personal layers in your mind about your own past sexual journey and thoughts, especially if you have a negative attitude towards sex.
- Be an askable parent.
- Be sexuality positive. Sexual health and wellbeing is one of your key responsibilities as a parent.
- Keep it simple but accurate.
- Use teachable moments: “The pregnant woman crossing the road; ‘Oh, that reminds me. I haven’t told you about how babies are made…”
- Buy yourself some time and valuable insight by asking kids what they already know. “That’s a great question, I’m so glad you asked. What do you know about that?”
- Prepare yourself, buy books, practice, say the words out loud.