Talking to kids about sex and relationshipsBy Alice Duddy
Manolee Yadave is a psychosexual therapist who specialises in sexual health and relationship therapy. She joined us to answer questions from the Frolo Community about supporting children’s sex and relationships eduction at home.
What’s the right age to start talking to children about sex?
This is a tricky one to answer because it’s so individual! As a parent you can set the parameters here. You don’t have to tell them explicit details in these early conversations. As soon as they’re at an age where they understand what sharing is, what’s mine, what’s yours, then you can start to encourage discussions about boundaries and relationships. You can encourage them to think about what feels ok with them and vocalise if something doesn’t feel ok.
Going through puberty at an earlier age that their peers can be a very isolating experience for children, but explaining body parts and how they change, the fact that some people have heterosexual and some people have homosexual relationships, and letting them know that it’s OK to be who they are, is very empowering and can lead to some great conversations. So, I think the earlier the better.
What language should I use to talk about sex with my children?
It’s really important that you make sure you’re using the correct terminology when having these conversations with your children. It’s important that they have the right language to discuss genitals, for example. There’s often a concern among parents that, if they don’t use euphemistic language, then their child will repeat what they’ve learned at school or with friends – but this is actually why it’s so important for parents to normalise the language and just lay down some ground rules about where you have these conversations.
What can I do to ensure that channels of communication remain open with my child as we hit the teenage years?
Firstly, it’s easier to have these conversations which make you feel a little bit awkward if you feel confident about the subject matter. Do some reading, get on the internet, and make sure you’re fully clued up about sexual health before you broach the subject. It also depends on the dynamic you have with your child and their personality – some children are unfazed by a direct approach where’s others will prefer building up to the conversation more gradually. What’s really important is having relevant conversations about sex and relationships little and often so that when you get to that point, and you’re thinking they might want to have sex, it doesn’t feel so scary to raise it.
My 16yo has asked if her boyfriend can stay over. I’ve met him and he is nice but I’m not sure I’m comfortable with it. Having said that, if they’re going to have sex I’d rather it was somewhere safe. Can you give any advice? I have told her I’ll think about it.
In this situation, there’s value in honouring the fact that your daughter has come to you and been honest about what she would like to do. It’s also important to explain the reasons why if you decide to say “no.” Having an open conversation together would be really beneficial here so that you can understand the nature of their relationship – don’t assume that this is entirely about having sex – and so that your daughter understands how you reached your decision. Overall, I think it’s a sign of great trust in you from your daughter.
My son is asking questions about where babies come from. What kind of level of knowledge is appropriate for him?
Again, this is as much about what you’re comfortable with as it is what he is ready for. You don’t necessarily have to say “babies come from penetrative sex,” but you can choose your words carefully, tell him that women grow babies and give a more scientific explanation of the process. Then, when he’s a bit older, you can introduce conversations about other reasons why people might have sex.
I have read that kids whose parents are separated or divorced have an increased chance of going through the same thing. Is there a link between having divorced parents and difficulty forming lasting relationships as an adult? Is there any way to reduce the chances of my child going through this?
This is a common anxiety for single parents. While some studies do suggest there is a link between having divorced parents and going though divorce yourself, it’s absolutely not guaranteed that that is what will happen in your family. Children can have the most beautiful relationship with a single parent and draw really strong foundations from that relationship. They can also make attachments with other people as they grow through life – with grandparents, siblings, and other family members – that will help them understand what a good relationship looks like. If those relationships teach you about sharing and respect then it doesn’t matter that it’s not a parental relationship.
It’s also worth mentioning that I’ve met divorced parents who have brilliant relationships on the basis of co-parenting. They’re not lovers any more but they’re both committed to doing what is best for their child, which is really beneficial for the child to see.
Will my child be missing out on seeing a healthy relationship model if he doesn’t see one at home? His dad has never met him or been involved as a parent and if I don’t meet anyone else – which is the last thing on my mind at the moment! – I am worried it might negatively impact him.
Although I don’t know the individual situation, this child might have the most awesome relationship with his mum and have other important people in his life who will show him what it means to treat people respectfully. Not having that particular male role model in his life isn’t necessarily going to change his outlook on life. He might be curious about his dad and you might want to decide at what point you tackle that, but it’s important to create that space for alternative family set-ups. I’m not saying it’s easy, but you don’t need to create those imagined barriers to your child’s wellbeing and can instead focus on what makes your child happy.
Are there any books you recommend?
Again, I’d encourage you to introduce books at an early age, rather than waiting until they’re near puberty and then presenting a book that feels loaded with significance. There are lots of questions that arise with younger children: is kissing the same as sex? Am I going to marry Mummy or Daddy? And it’s great to have a book that you can look through together. I’d really recommend Talking To Your Kids About Sex by Lauri Berkenkamp and Steven C. Atkins. I’d also recommend you read it on your own first so you’re comfortable with everything and feel that it’s appropriate for your child.
How can I supplement what my child learns at school? I am not sure the national curriculum will give her the full picture – especially when it comes to LGBT+ relationships.
This is such an important conversation to have with kids and, as parents, when we’re confident about a subject we’ll be able to translate that really well. When in comes to LGBTQI+ relationships, it’s all about teaching kids that we don’t live in a binary world and that it is completely OK to be who you are. Read books to your kids where people have two dads, or one mum, and all sorts of other family set-ups, so that understanding is with them from a young age.
Clients regularly tell me that they knew they who they were attracted to from a really young age but they might have absorbed the idea from society that one kind of love is “the norm” and that can be very confusing. If you feel that the education they’re getting at school is only covering heterosexual relationships, then that’s a great place to start that conversation, discuss other kids of relationships, and let your child know that they can love who they want to love.
Brook is a really great charity which supports all young people to lead happy and healthy lives by providing clinical services, sex and relationships education, and professional training. Brook can provide you with all sorts of helpful information when tackling the subject of sex with your teen. It’s also a great resource that you can point your child towards if they feel a little shy to discuss things in detail with you.
Thanks for answering our questions Manolee!
You can follow Manolee on Instagram: @the_sex_talking_mama
You can read more Frolo Q+As here
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