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Here’s how to talk to your kids about sex without shame

Kid

Parent

Teen

Relationships

January 2, 2024

The thought of sitting your child down to have “the talk” can be quite intimidating. You may remember your parents trying to squirm their way through it, or maybe you were left to find out everything from your (probably misinformed) friends at school. Or maybe your parents simply credited the stork for delivering babies…. Yikes!

That’s why we’re here to help you have conversations with your kiddos early and often, without the shame. Let’s bust one myth quickly — talking about sex will not make your child more promiscuous. In fact, research tells us that kids and teens who have regular conversations with their parents and caregivers about sex and relationships are less likely to take risks with their sexual health and more likely to be healthy and safe.

That being said, there’s no denying that this topic can get pretty uncomfortable. That’s why the experts at Bend are here to empower you with the knowledge, tools, and talking points needed to create a meaningful, trusting relationship with your child. By taking the time to turn “the talk” into an ongoing dialogue, your child will know that  they can come to you for accurate information as they grow up and face new challenges along the way.

Start the convo early, but know that it’s never too late

At Bend, we’re all about open communication. Having frequent open conversations early on with kids and teens is vital to creating a trusting environment where they feel comfortable asking questions about anything, including sex. A healthy environment of trust and understanding fosters healthy development.

Having one big, serious conversation surrounding sex can be awkward for everyone involved. That’s why we recommend talking early and often, but not all at once. And for those of you with older kiddos, know that it’s never too late to introduce the topic.

You can kick off the conversation with children as young as two or three surrounding anatomy, consent, and gender. Opening up the dialogue from an early age will help to establish you, the caregiver, as the ultimate safe, go-to person on all things sex education. Plus, destigmatizing these topics will help  eliminate any shame, ensuring that your child will feel more comfortable turning to you in the future when they have questions about sex.

Talking to younger kids

Name different parts of the body. A great place to start is by teaching your child the names of the parts of their body. You can use opportunities like bathing and potty training. Try to eliminate shame surrounding curiosities that they may have about different parts of their bodies.

Discuss the concept of consent. You can open up the conversation surrounding boundaries and consent as well, letting them know that they are in charge of their bodies and no one should ever touch them without consent or violate their boundaries. You can teach them to respect other people and their feelings, laying the groundwork for future healthy relationships. You can say things like, “Did you know that your body belongs to you? And because it belongs to you, you get to say what happens to and with your body. Those body rules are called your body boundaries.”

Talking to kids around ages 5 to 12

Teach them about healthy relationships. Talk to your child about all of the things that make up a healthy relationship — like trust, empathy, respect, and connection. Creating rewarding relationships isn’t about being perfect; it’s about practice, so let them know you’ll be there along the way.

Talk about puberty before it happens. Explaining the changes that all of our bodies go through as we grow up can help to normalize puberty for your child and give them the message that there is nothing to be ashamed of. Keep things matter-of-fact to show that there is no shame in this game, and check in to see if they have questions along the way.

Talking to teens

Just say something, even if it’s messy. So many of us don’t have a blueprint for how to talk to teens about sex and contraception because it wasn’t done for us, and that’s okay. Remember that it might be a little awkward at first, but try your best to be honest and direct. Just letting your teen know that you’re there to answer their questions without judgment is a huge first step. Reassure them that they can always come to you for advice, accurate information, or access to health care.

Try to remain open. We know this one is tough, but the less you react with judgment to your teen’s questions or experiences, the more likely they are to keep coming to you. And the more they learn about sex and contraception from a trusted source, the better-informed their choices will be when it comes to their bodies and relationships. Try to fill in the gaps of knowledge, correct any misinformation, and simply listen to what they’re going through. You can even say something like, “Nothing you will ever ask me will make me think less of you. I will not judge your questions.”

Ways to keep the dialogue open

Giving your child too much information all at once can be overwhelming. It’s best to open up the conversation and then look for more organic teaching opportunities in your day-to-day life.

Here are some learning opportunities to look for as your child grows:

- If you’re watching a TV show or movie together and topics surrounding relationships, puberty, or sex come up, take a moment to talk about it afterwards and ask open- ended questions, “Like what did you think of that scene where _____?” or “Did you understand what that character meant when they said, _____?”

- When a friend or family member announces that they are having a baby, take the time to share with your child how babies are created. You can keep it scientific by saying something like, “Some bodies have eggs inside of them, and some bodies have sperm inside of them. To make a baby, you need an egg, sperm, a uterus for the baby to grow in, and someone to take care of and love the baby after it's born.”

- If your child pulls a tampon out of the drawer and asks what it is, you can talk to them openly about what a period it is. You can say something like, “Each month, women bleed a little from their vagina, and it's called a period. It isn’t because they are hurt — it’s totally normal, and it’s how the body prepares to someday make a baby if the woman chooses to have one. A tampon is simply there to catch the blood so it doesn't get on clothing."

- If your child tells you that they have a crush on someone at school, you can take the opportunity to get curious about what things they like about that person and how it makes them feel. This is a great foundation for talking about what makes up healthy relationships.

Remember that puberty and sex are normal parts of life, and it’s best to be open and honest as a family, even if it makes you feel a little embarrassed sometimes. The more you practice asking and answering questions, the easier it will get for everyone. Bend is always here if you and your family need support or guidance when it comes to tricker conversations surrounding the birds, the bees, and everything in between.