by Melanie Davis, EdD, CSE
While perusing parenting sites recently, I found a blog post called “Let’s (Not) Talk about Sex,” and to my surprise, it made some good points.
The author said that her 9-year-old son would break down in tears when the subject of sex came up. After he heard the word condom on TV and asked what it meant, the answer nearly put him over the edge. His parents were at their wits’ ends trying to figure out why the boy was so terrified of sex, given that to their knowledge, he had never seen, heard or otherwise been exposed to anything inappropriate.
Their solution was to give their son a book, invite him read it in private, and offer to answer any questions he had. The blogger said that after reading the book, her son was much calmer and was even able to answer his little brother’s sex-related question.
I admire these parents for finding a solution that worked for their son. Not every child wants to talk about sex, and the best solution is to find out how to communicate important information in a way that suits the child. My oldest daughter asked questions from age 3 on, and she got so comfortable discussing sexual health topics that at age 23, she now teaches a junior high sex ed class in church with her father, me, and two other adults.
On the other end of the spectrum, her younger twin sisters were consistently embarrassed and uncomfortable in their early childhood and adolescence when anything related to sexuality came up in conversation. We didn’t push it except to cover the essentials in brief increments, and even then, we acknowledged their feelings, i.e., “Girls, we know you don’t like to talk about stuff like this, but…” We also put age-appropriate sex ed books on accessible book shelves. In time, they were able to talk more comfortably about sexuality; in fact, they recently taught lessons on sexual health for their high school peer leadership class.
By taking our children’s differing readiness and communication styles into account, we were able to raise three confident young women who have the information they need to form opinions and make decisions that will protect and enhance their emotional and physical health.
Resources for Parents
No book that can replace a parent when it when it comes to discussing sexual values or modeling healthy relationships. And no book can replace well-timed comments and questions when a child is watching TV or flipping through a consumer magazine. However, well-written and illustrated books can give great basic information about body parts, puberty, reproduction, hygiene, and, in some cases, relationship skills. You can find my lists of recommended books at my web site, Honest Exchange.com. Also on the site, you can access short videos of me discussing parent-child communication topics.
On my Resources page, you’ll find links to websites chock-full of information on everything from fatherhood to sexual healthcare to support groups for diverse adolescent and teen populations.
If you listen carefully, you’ll be able to discern the most effective way to communicate with your child about sexuality-related topics. You may make some false starts, and it may take a combination of talking, reading, and taking deep breaths before diving into a sensitive topic. Be patient with yourself and with your child. Together, you’ve got some wonderfully rewarding conversations ahead of you.
Melanie J. Davis, EdD, CSE is the founder of Honest Exchange LLC, a sexuality education consulting firm in Somerville, NJ. She offers private consultations in person and by phone and is a popular speaker for college and medical school students. Visit HonestExchange.com for free resources, book recommendations, and information about Dr. Davis’ services.