I will never forget this.
I was in my early teens and we were visiting my auntie. It was after lunch, when my auntie was talking with the other adults at the table about talking sex with children.
She recounted the story of when her son, my cousin, was about 6 or 7 years old and on coming home from school asked the famous question, “mum, where do babies come from?”
My aunt paused and asked herself, “Do I tell him the truth or make up a suitable answer?”
She decided for the truth.
As she finished answering, her son smirked at her and said, “ha ha, I already knew that, I just wanted to see if you would tell me the truth”.
At which point my aunt turns to everyone at the table and asks rhetorically, “Can you imagine if I gave him the made-up answer? I would have lost his trust forever!”
I have never forgotten that story and as a parent and sex-educator I recognise it is rich in powerful messages.
Children know more than we parents imagine.
The above story goes back 40+ years, well before the Internet days. Can you imagine what children know these days?
The fact that they don’t tell us does not mean they are oblivious.
As parents we’re always being tested.
Trust is build moment by moment, with your children, your partner, your colleagues or friends.
Do we want to risk loosing it or never gaining it because we play it safe?
Speaking about sex with our children is easier than we imagine.
Simple, accurate information that is aligned to the curiosity of the child is all that is needed.
Beyond the knowledge, what is actually stopping us is our mindset, the stigma and the fear that we hold about sex and sexuality. Once we decided that our role as parents includes that of sex-educators, the journey becomes simpler.
The Singapore Government promotes a sexual education framework that begins at home (see the Guiding Principles on this website). But how do you get started as a sex-educator, when you have received no education of your own?
Often parents suffer from an even more limited exposure to sexual education than their children. The Internet has today given access to a wealth of information that our parents could only dream of. And yet, there is a sense of shame to accesings it for education purposes.
Understandably parents may be afraid of bumping into pornographic material that is inappropriate for education purposes; they may be unsure as to what to look for; or they may believe it is outright inappropriate to research sex-related materials.
To avoid that both parents and children get exposed to inappropriate, negative, inaccurate information we need accessible, affordable and credible sex education material that is suitable to adults and children alike, whether at home or through formal institutions.
Unfortunately this is hard unless funding is made available to research and develop such resources.
I mentioned earlier that the sex-ed information must be age-appropriate and aligned to the child’s curiosity.
This means that as parents we must remain curious about and engaged with our children, have them drive the conversation and respond positively.
I want to share a few suggestions that you may find useful in starting your journey as a family sex-educator.
Realise that our children are sexual beings.
Since they were born our children have been curious about their bodies.
If you ever saw them touch their genitals – and chances are that you have – what was your reaction?
Did you slap their hand and reprimanded them for that act? Did you just observe in silence? Or did you actively reinforce the experience as natural?
Very often we parents feel ashamed of that act and respond negatively. Children, especially at a very early age have no conception of sexual behaviours. They touch their genitals because they are discovering their bodies and it feels good.
But we witness that act and immediately judge it as “dirty”, “inappropriate”, “unholy” and a whole other range of words that clearly illustrate how limited we parents are in our understanding of our own sexuality.
Children are human beings, like us. And like us they are sexual. This makes them beautiful creatures, not dirty animals whose behaviour must by made culturally, religiously or socially made acceptable.
A child who goes through childhood being regularly reprimanded for touching himself or herself for pleasure, is one who almost invariably will internalise some form of negative judgement towards sexuality, intimacy and relationships…with negative consequences.
Be involved in your child's sex education
The Singapore Government appropriately recognises parents as the first layer of sexual education (see the above reference). They have introduced a sexual education curriculum in schools, but are aware that it has limitations in reach and depth.
They call for all parents to play a central role in educating their children sexually. This is an amazing official stance from a prominent government like that of Singapore.
Please recognise that sexual education at home is not limited to formal, explicit conversations. Your children are constantly learning from you based on what you say, what you do (openly or otherwise), what you believe in, what you stand for and what you value.
Even by not uttering one word about sex and sexuality, you are educating your child on sex and sexuality. In fact what they are learning in this case, is that sex and sexuality are subjects never to be spoken about.
To avoid that our children pick up inaccurate and inappropriate information from misinformed peers or the Internet, let’s gear ourselves up with basic, positive and accurate information and let’s gently open the conversation, first with our spouses, then with our children.
Embrace healthy sexuality
As suggested in the few paragraphs above, sexuality is much more than sex.
Sexuality is about pleasure, fun, intimacy, emotions, identity, relationships, love and much, much more.
A healthy sexuality is a key component of our overall wellbeing. Yet, so many of us live in a constant state of fear, shame or guilt because of the lack of information and the misplaced expectations this drives.
I can understand that I am asking you to be an instructor on a subject that you may feel completely unprepared to instruct upon. I can imagine this would feel uncomfortable, difficult and perhaps crazy. However, I see the impact that a negative and shameful sense of sexuality has in later-life on our relationships and intimacy, and I would suggest there is no alternative but to embrace this role.
As a parent, and I imaging it may be similar for you, I want my child to grow strong, healthy and happy. As a child of an era that provided zero sexual education, and as a professional clinician in the field of human sexuality I know it would serve my daughter’s future very well if I provided her with the sufficient, age-appropriate and positive sexual education that she needs.
If you also want to learn more on how to positively and constructively speak to your children about sexuality, so they can grow free from the unnecessary burden of a shameful sexuality, contact me through the details below.
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