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Be your child’s trusted source for information about their body, sex, and anything else you don’t want them to learn from someone or somewhere else.

Many parents feel discomfort with the idea of talking to their kids about anything related to sex. We may even distance ourselves from the idea by referring to this as “the talk.” It’s understandable; this may be unfamiliar territory because many adults never even had “the talk” with their own parents when they were young. It’s difficult to know what to say, what not to say, or even how to begin talking about topics like sex, developing bodies, or masturbation if you’ve never had those conversations with anyone.

At Saprea, we encourage you to be the one to educate your kids about sex and anything related to it. Helping your child know the names of body parts that are off-limits to others, what healthy relationships look like (or don’t look like) and telling them all the things you wish you had known about sex may help your child to raise red flags if they are ever in a situation where they are at risk of being abused. Plus, if your child has questions and knows you’ll provide open and honest answers (and they won’t get in trouble for asking), you’ll be able to have more influence over the accuracy of the information they’re getting.

Curiosity about bodies, relationships, intimacy, and sex is a natural part of growing up. As you establish yourself as the expert who will provide the information your child needs, they’ll be more likely to see you as the source of information about sex (and anything related to it).

Parents can Educate kids by following these recommendations:

When To talk about Sex
Have a series of conversations about bodies, sex, relationships, etc. that build upon one another; begin these conversations early and have them often.
Teaching Anatomical Names
Teach anatomical names for body parts to prevent the idea that genitals are shameful, naughty, or unmentionable.
Depictions in Pornography
Talk to your child about pornographic content, explaining that these explicit materials are often violent, reinforce harmful stereotypes, and don’t depict reality.
Teaching about Consent
Help your child understand dynamics of healthy versus unhealthy relationships, and how consent can be an indicator of relationship health.

When Should I Talk to My Kids About Sex?

Kids are great at providing cues for when it’s a good time to talk about sex. In fact, they’ll give you many, many indications—often through expressions of curiosity—that they are ready to learn. These opportunities can help you to build trust, normalize their experiences, and steer them toward the best choices for them.

In A series of Conversations
We recommend talking about sex as a series of conversations, as your child will likely have different levels of understanding and questions as they mature. They may ask, “Where do babies come from?” at a noticeably young age if they know someone who is getting ready to welcome a new baby into their home; or, they may ask later after they hear kids at school giggling and talking about “it” in hushed tones.
Answer all the questions
As a matter of principle, it may be best to answer your child’s questions until they have no more questions to ask. Some kids will be more inquisitive than others, and it will be up to you to determine how their current understanding of their bodies, others’ bodies, and intimacy will be helped (or hindered) by providing more details or information.
Have Day-to-day Interactions
In addition to the questions your kids bring directly to you, day-to-day interactions and events can be great opportunities to teach your kids about sex, their bodies, or relationships (or to correct misinformation that they have encountered). For example, movies and media provide endless scenarios to prompt a discussion about how sex and relationships are portrayed. Listening to the music your child likes can be a great conversation starter for talking about intimacy and sex.
Participate in Honest, Two-way Conversations
One caution to consider is that building trust with your child will require that you answer their questions with honesty and that conversations are two-way. It is important that you teach your children according to your family’s morals but avoid using those morals to guilt or shame them. If listening to their music turns into what they perceive as a condescending lecture, these opportunities to teach and establish trust may disappear and, instead, guilt or shame may begin to creep in. These examples can be valuable teaching opportunities where back-and-forth discussion can be enlightening about what you each value and aspire toward.

Connect to Prevent

Parents are often interested in the specifics of what to say when a child asks about sex. Because circumstances and values are different from one family to the next, it’s difficult to answer that question with a one-size-fits-all script, nor would that feel like a very natural parent-child interaction. However, having a model that provides something to follow is one way to identify how you might approach this. If you’re interested in reviewing some suggestions for age-appropriate content you can teach your kids about sex (and all things related to the topic), visit Saprea’s Connect to Prevent resource.
Connect to Prevent Resource

Should I Teach My Kids Anatomical Names for Private Parts?

When it comes to genitalia, nicknames abound. It may seem more comfortable for parents to use unofficial names to describe “unmentionable” parts of the body, in part because they are concerned that the child may choose an embarrassing moment to declare aloud that they have a penis or vagina.

Build a Foundation

There are a few reasons that child development experts encourage the use of accurate terminology. First, using nicknames can imply that there’s something shameful or naughty about the body, so much so that the “real” names for parts can’t even be uttered. The unintended consequence can be that a child feels like any discussion about private parts is off-limits, and the child may conclude that asking a parent about sex, discussing changes in the body as it matures, or reporting when something has happened that has made them uncomfortable, is something that will get them in trouble. If the parent isn’t the trusted source for information that the child needs or wants, they may end up turning to other, less trustworthy sources to get it.

It’s also common for children who associate the body with shame to struggle when they are grown, knowing little about their own bodies and what sex and intimacy entail. It can be difficult, unsettling even, to go from “sex-is-bad-and-we-don’t-talk-about-anything-related-to-it” to an abrupt shift that involves a sexual relationship. Nearly all parents want their children to grow to live fulfilling lives, and for many that includes companionship and family. Thinking about the end goal can be helpful in making decisions about how to navigate these topics when children are young. Certainly, that doesn’t mean oversharing or providing children with sex education that is beyond their developmental stage. Instead, it’s about providing a foundation of information that they can build upon as they get older. And if you know that eventually they’ll need to see a doctor to discuss vaginal health, it seems reasonable that the child would know where and what her vagina is.

Understanding the importance

Second, using specific terminology to be able to describe areas of the body that are off-limits to others can help a child understand that there’s cause for concern should someone else touch one of those areas. It’s common for parents to use the swimsuit rule: no one should touch you anywhere your swimsuit covers. While that’s a great tool, consider how much clearer it is for your child to know that they have a penis, a vagina, nipples, etc., and that these are specific areas that no one has a right to touch, take pictures of, and that these are areas of the body others shouldn’t be showing to the child.

Armed with this information, a child will be more likely to understand if something they’ve experienced is something they should report to a trusted adult. (It may make sense to tell children that sometimes, under specific circumstances, a doctor may need to check these areas; you can provide reassurance about that experience.) As they mature and have a better understanding of the functions of these areas of the body, those conversations may change from “no-touch areas” to “areas that may be touched when consent is involved,” but it should be clear to older children and teens that submitting to pressure isn’t consent, and even when dates are involved they don’t have the right to expect access to anyone else’s body.

Should I Talk to My Child About Pornographic Content?

In a world where technology is widely available and the internet has revolutionized access to and distribution of information and content, it’s no longer really a question of if your child will encounter pornography; instead, it’s a question of when and what kind.

Whether you are adamantly against your child or teen viewing pornography, or accept it as a manifestation of curiosity, it’s important to highlight that the days of porn simply being pictures of naked people in magazines are long gone. Sexually explicit materials used to be something you had to seek out—videos to rent from the back room of the video store. Now, there are dedicated websites with vast collections of pornography that can be viewed at the click of a button, featuring all kinds of sexual fetishes and behaviors.

Most striking is the volume of sexually explicit content that is violent. In a 2010 study of 304 randomly selected scenes of pornographic video content, 90% contained “sexually violent or dehumanizing/degrading themes.”1 If the internet is teaching a child about sex, the child may glean that sex is often violent, consent is optional, and intimacy is irrelevant. These perceptions can detrimentally impact the child’s underlying attitudes toward future partners and expectations for what will (or won’t) happen during future sexual encounters.

Consider what we already know about how technology has influenced the production and distribution of sexually explicit materials. In addition to creating a lucrative market for making and selling child sexual abuse materials (aka, “child porn”), the internet has started to introduce open AI programs that allow machines to develop content. With that new technology, there’s an accompanying rise in the production of machine-generated child sexual abuse materials, which presents its own set of very complex challenges. Saprea unequivocally denounces child sexual abuse in any form, including recordings or media where acts of sexual abuse are shared, distributed, and add a cumulative effect to the trauma already experienced by the child. It will require a comprehensive set of interventions to eradicate child sexual abuse materials. At Saprea we are fighting for the day where there is no market, nor demand, for child sexual abuse materials of any kind.

How Do I Talk to My Child About Pornographic Content?

While understanding the reasons is important, how you talk to your child about pornography is most important. In some cultures, the consumption of pornographic materials is shameful. When shame is a motivator parents use to change behaviors in a child, there may be lifelong impacts that are difficult for a child to cope with and thought patterns that are challenging to overcome. Our recommendation is that parents explain the why’s behind the rules in place, and to emphasize how sexually explicit materials can create negative and false ideas of sex and intimacy. Instead of focusing the conversation on the child or assigning a value judgement to the behavior, focus on the content and the confusion or harm it can cause.

What a conversation about pornography could sound like:

“I wanted to chat with you about something that I saw in the history of our internet browser. I noticed that there are some links to sexually explicit videos, and I wondered if you had any questions for me.”
(Embarrassed) “No.”
“I understand if you are curious about what other people’s bodies look like, or if you wonder about sex. I think that’s a normal thing for kids to experience. I’m not upset that you are curious.”
“I do want to talk to you about some of what you saw. Most of the time, pornography is unrealistic. Not only do most people not have perfect, muscular bodies or big breasts, but porn also often makes sex seem violent, and sometimes one person seems to be hurting the other person or making them do something that it seems like they don’t really like. Did you see anything like that?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“I just want you to know that sex isn’t always like that. If it were, lots of people wouldn’t want to have sex because it would hurt them, they would be hurting someone else, or they would feel like they weren’t very important to their partner. Sex can be a wonderful thing where partners help each other feel good and a way for them to connect to one another. Pornography usually doesn’t make sex seem like that. I want you to have real information about sex, which is why we have the family rule about not viewing pornography. My hope is for you to grow up and have healthy, good relationships with others (if that’s what you want), and I’m afraid that pornography could affect how you think you are supposed to treat someone else, or how they should treat you. You’re several years away from having serious relationships with anyone yet, and we can keep learning about how we want to be treated and how we’ll treat others in close relationships like that. But, right now, I want to make sure you have a chance to ask me any questions that you have.”
“Ask about what?”
“Anything. Do you have questions about sex? Or do you want to talk about anything that you saw?”
“Mmmmm, there was one thing I saw that made me feel kind of weird.”
“Okay, let’s talk about that; I promise to answer your questions as best as I can. That way you’ll know that if you are curious or have questions in the future, you can ask me and I’ll talk to you about it, okay? So, what did you see that made you feel weird?”

It’s important to remember, too, that curiosity about bodies and sex is a normal, developmentally appropriate experience for a child. A child who has viewed pornography isn’t a sexual deviant or a budding sex addict. Many times, a good conversation with a loving parent can help to make the lure of pornography far less compelling.

However, you may want to seek the help of a mental health professional if you find that day-to-day routines are being disrupted by your child’s interest in pornography, or if they demonstrated any behaviors that would indicate they are mimicking what they’ve seen (or that they intend to). They’ll need the support of a mental health professional to work through those impulses.

Should I Talk to My Child About Masturbation?

If there was ever a conversation that felt awkward for a parent to have with a child, this is it. You may have strong feelings against (or in support of) masturbation, so you’ll need to decide how and what to communicate. The following information may be helpful as you determine how to approach this topic in a way that’s appropriate for your situation.

It’s Common for Children to Touch Their Genitals

Children, including babies, may touch their private parts during diaper changes, baths, or to adjust parts of the body.2 In the process, they may notice that there are areas that feel good, so they may be inclined to touch more often. For most kids, this isn’t a sexual thing at all; it would be akin to scratching an itch, or a way to self-soothe that just happens to include parts of the body that “as adults” we understand are sexual organs. Pediatricians often tell parents not to overreact or draw a lot of attention to the behavior. And, unless genital touching becomes disruptive in certain situations or interferes with day-to-day activities, it’s probably best to ignore it. There may be some value in encouraging the child to care for these areas of their bodies in private, reinforcing the idea of genitals being an area that is off-limits to others. The tone of such a conversation will ideally be free of shaming a child or giving them the impression that their body is dirty or gross.
As you consider when, what, and how to teach your child about sex, perhaps the adage “start with the end in mind” is a good way to maintain consistent, ongoing, open teaching. Most parents want their children to grow up to be healthy, happy adults who are in healthy, fulfilling relationships. It’s likely that someday your child will encounter a situation where sex, relationships, and intimacy are a part of their life. The principles you teach now can have a great impact on what they expect to experience as adults. And, in the present, you can teach your child to maintain healthy boundaries, normalize their curiosity, and provide information that will make it less likely that they’ll seek out other sources for information.

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