Sexual Health

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Talking To Your Child

What is it about the subject of sex that makes people feel a little clumsy? Parents say they want to talk to kids about sex and often ask how they can raise the issue. Even some health professionals find the subject hard to bring up.

Reasons might differ... most people were raised with little or no talk of sex in their families. We have few examples of easy chats about sex. In fact many of us got the message not to discuss such personal information.

Even in silence, we are sending sexuality messages. And many thoughts and feelings about our sexuality are related each time we speak. As we struggle with what to say or how much to say, we are stormed by media images of love and sex. They're not much like our real lives but if we aren't talking about these important issues there is a good chance that children will begin to accept these "Hollywood" visions as reality. Or worse, they will be confused about what they see.

When it comes to sex, parents worry about giving too much information or that their children will experiment after hearing the details. Sometimes parents are afraid that their children will ask them personal questions they won't want or know how to answer. Children worry that if they ask questions, others will think they are having sex. They worry about letting parents down if their decisions are different than what parents want them to be.

But without talk, silence becomes a good place for doubts to begin to grow. "Am I normal? Do other people think the way I do? I'd better not tell them everything I'm thinking or they will think I'm weird. I can't talk about that or they will know." Talking doesn't even happen between some couples who have lived together for years. Sexuality concerns are among the best kept secrets ever.

Taking the "clumsy" out of chat

We hear how important it is to talk about sex, that parents are the most fitting teachers, yet many kids say their parents don't talk about sex. And sometimes people just don't want to hear what each other has to say when the subject does come up.

A lot of findings support giving as much information as you are at ease with. Children (and adults) only remember information they can use. Young people with good information are more likely to make healthy decisions for themselves. And teens who have talked to their parents feel better about their own decisions and are more likely to follow through with healthier plans.

Parents also have a right to share their beliefs about teen sex. There is no question that not having sex is safest for young adults who want to avoid pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). You can urge your teens with comments such as "I hope that you will wait until you are ready for a long-term relationship." Or, "I hope you wait until you feel emotionally prepared to handle all the possible risks." Your children will respect honesty and efforts to discuss these important concerns, even if they think differently.

Some teens will decide to have sex and knowing this often challenges parents. This is a time when parents might grow from asking themselves questions like "What is the worst thing that can happen? How will I react if this happens? What will my response do to my relationship with my child?" and "Am I ready to have this happen?" The fact is that children may make decisions that are different than the ones we would make. How do we handle these differences?

Think about the past year's media stories. A group of students asking for condoms in schools and the comments about the sexuality curriculum, give us a sense of the sometimes clashing notions not only in our families but also in our communities. Some people search for what's right and what's wrong by exploring moral values and social responsibility. Some dig for iron-clad proof to support their views. Some stress that people of any age should be able to get the up-to-date information and services they want.

Answers - one size doesn't fit all

What makes a difference to our health? We might not find simple answers. One person's answers are not likely to be answers for everyone. All of us are challenged to understand the issues in order to make decisions and take action whether it is in our families or in our communities.

Right now families and communities are finding new chances to talk. Much is happening for the first time. And some anxiety is likely. This is normal. "Are my questions silly? Will we have the answers? Will they ask me some personal questions? What will I say? Will I be able to show how I feel without them judging me? How much do I say?" These questions are sure to be on the mind of each family member at the same time.

Talking with each other seems tough sometimes. But mixing talk with the subject of sex doesn't have to seem hopeless. Talking and opening up as families reminds us that we are all sexual beings. Having a world around us that inspires respect, care and love for ourselves and each other, brings us closer to health for everyone.

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Page Last Modified: Wednesday, 12 March 2014.