|“Where do babies come from mum?” It’s that age-old question that many parents dread and which usually results in some waffled reply that they hope won’t lead to further probing questions. Some parents fear that by discussing sex with their children, they are condoning it. However, research shows that the children of parents who talk openly about sex are not only more comfortable talking about it themselves, but are likely to delay their first sexual experiences and to take adequate precautions when they do eventually have sex.
Some parents believe that the sex education that their children receive in school is adequate and somehow relieves them of the responsibility, but open and honest communication between parent and child will eventually eliminate any embarrassment and will encourage a healthy and positive attitude towards sex. Studies also suggests that teens who felt closely connected to their families were less likely to have sex at an early age, or to engage in high-risk practices than were those who felt more emotionally isolated from their families.
Adolescents may struggle with their sexual identity and suffer confusion over what is regarded as ‘normal’ behaviour. While most children are heterosexual, some may fleetingly experience sexual feelings towards the same sex, even if they are not actually homosexual. However, those who are gay may feel isolated and depressed. Reassure your child that your love transcends sexual orientation. An open mind could literally save his or her life: a recent study of thousands of high school students found that suicide attempts were much more frequent among children who were gay, lesbian, bisexual, or not sure.
Whilst children need to understand the biological facts of sex, it is equally important for them to understand the emotional aspects of relationships. Some young people equate sex with love, but they need to have an appreciation of the importance of affection, care, responsibility and respect and the possible consequences of sexual activity.
· Start as early as possible, rather than avoiding the topic of sex until your child reaches an age where it becomes embarrassing to discuss
· Initiate conversations rather than waiting for your child to ask questions
· Be receptive to your children’s questions, so that they feel comfortable coming to you when they are seeking advice on a difficult issue
· Offer guidance by conveying your own values, but not prejudices
· Give accurate and appropriate information for child’s age and level of understanding
· Be honest. If you feel embarrassed talking to an older child about sex, tell them that you feel uncomfortable and why. The more you talk, the less embarrassing it will become
· Use humour. Turning a serious topic into a light-hearted conversation not only removes some of the awkwardness, but can make your child more inclined to listen and absorb the information