Children learn about sex from a very young age, even if we don’t talk with them about it. There are many mixed messages in the media about sex and sexuality which can lead to confusion and extra complications – children don’t know what is real, and where to get support. Children need time and space to develop their own understanding, but instead, they are presented with images and ideas that they may not be emotionally able to deal with.
In a world where sex sells everything from cars to ice cream, and celebrities’ private lives become everybody’s business, we cannot afford not to talk to our children about sex and relationships, if we are going to help them make sense of it all.
Within WISER we aim to create an atmosphere of openness, honesty and respect, so children develop the confidence and competency to enter into the realm of sexual relationships (when they are ready and old enough to become involved within loving relationships) without fear, shame or too much apprehension.
The information that we deliver in WISER allows young people to work out both the risks and pleasures of sex, before arriving at an informed choice about their own sexual activity. This helps them balance the risks, enjoy their sexuality and develop their sense of responsibility towards each other as well as themselves – without feeling exploited or exploiting others.
Children are interested in their own bodies, and need to understand that whether their bodies mature early or later, it is perfectly normal.
Children and young people don’t just want the biological facts – they want to talk about feelings and relationships, and they want us to answer their questions.
Of course this isn’t always easy – many of us feel embarrassed and worry that we don’t know enough – as few of us had good sex education ourselves. Teenagers really don’t like being lectured – so they may disconnect if you, as the parent/adult, dominate conversations, as they then feel overpowered. If this kind of disconnection happens in an early conversation they may withdraw from further conversations with you about sex. This has the potential to drastically reduce the number of conversations you are likely to have about sex, which could have a knock-on effect on your child’s knowledge about healthy emotional relationships or crucial sexual health issues.
Here are some examples of questions you might be asked, and some age appropriate answers…
As early as possible – be truthful and brief – if they want more info they will ask another question. Even very young children can grasp the basics of how babies are made, how important love, affection and respect are between people. Young people say that many parents and teachers are not very good at talking about sexuality and relationships – leave it too late and often don’t talk about it until children have reached puberty or young people have started having sexual feelings – or sometimes they may already be having penetrative sex. Each family, whatever type it is, will be the major influence on a child’s values. Our children may not always adopt our values but they need to be aware of what we think as they struggle to figure it all out for themselves; how they feel and want to behave.
It can be really difficult to start a conversation about sex with your child – but a little preparation can help, as can using everyday events as a starting point (like a friend who is pregnant, or someone in a TV programme getting divorced, or starting a relationship, or being very mean to a friend).
Try out what you are hoping to say with a partner or a friend. Talking about sex and relationships with another adult can also help you to clarify the kind of values and messages that you want your child to hear. Reading books or looking at websites like WISER can give you information and some of the language to use, and so increase your confidence. If your child asks a question that you can’t answer, there is no problem in telling them that, and then getting back to them later when you have worked out how to fill that gap in their knowledge.
This should be at a level that is age-appropriate, so that it causes no real discomfort – although it may cause some embarrassment as children become teenagers!
The issue is, that in a society where sex is everywhere in our public spaces, and all over the internet, we need to be talking to our children about what is real, beautiful, respectful and appropriate sexual activity.
In a hyper-sexualised society, education can provide a crucial alternative to the confusing messages about sex that young people are bombarded with – from the way women and men are portrayed in advertising, music and fiction, to slut and victim-shaming. The power of the media to influence the attitudes and behaviours of young people cannot be underestimated. Children and adolescents need to be able to think critically about what they see in the media, so that they do not simply absorb damaging stereotypes and inaccurate information. Good sex education has been proven to be the best way to encourage responsible, respectful, loving sexual behaviour.