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However, broaching the topic of sex can be daunting for both parents and kids alike.
We asked Allison Bates, a registered clinical counsellor and the owner of West Coast Counselling Services with locations in Burnaby and Coquitlam, B.C., for some tips on how to discuss the birds and the bees with your kids.
1. Be open and communicate with your kids
Keep the conversation open and matter of fact when talking to your children about sexuality, says Bates.
"It's important to not react to their questions about sex, but rather to be informative and nonjudgmental," she advises. This may be difficult for some parents initially, but it will help strengthen the relationship you have with your children.
2. Start early and make sure they are informed
You don't have to wait until your kids are in their early teens before beginning to have discussions about sexuality. "Talking about body parts from early childhood helps children understand their bodies and not be shameful about them," says Bates.
"By around Grade 5 or 6 you can start talking about puberty and the changes that happen to their bodies, to normalize the changes, and again to avoid shame," she says. "Around Grade 7 to 9 you can start instilling strong self-esteem in your child and talking about the importance of waiting to have sex with someone who respects and cares for you."
Bates also points out that it's possible to talk about sex openly with your children without giving them permission to do it. This provides an opportunity for parents to pass on their own values about sexuality, such as waiting until marriage or until you're in love before engaging in sex. "Informed children have the ammunition to face the confusing messages about sexuality in the media, at school and with uninformed friends," she says. "All of these can be dangerous as they can lead to unplanned pregnancy, STDs and hurt feelings and self-esteem."
3. Talk about sex when the opportunity presents itself
If you can have a conversation that is spontaneous, your children will be more at ease and less likely to feel like they are being lectured about sex. For example, if your kids are curious about something a classmate said about sex, use that as an opportunity for discussion, advises Bates.
"If something happens with a friend or on TV or in the news, ask your children questions about their feelings around the issue. Use it as a teachable moment where you can ask about their thoughts and feelings around something they saw or heard," she says.
If the situation doesn't present itself, Bates suggests casually asking your children if they have any questions about sex and letting them know that you are open to hearing them.
4. Have an open-door policy
Make sure your children know the door is open when it comes to talking about sex. "If they feel like they can speak to you about sex or birth control they will, but if they don't feel comfortable they will hide it from you," says Bates. "Talk about the basics around anatomy, the risks of sex and the pleasures.
Normalizing sex and their bodies, and teaching them to respect themselves to have a healthy sex life, is ideal and makes them less of a target for negative sexual experiences," she explains.
5. Keep in mind that sex is a normal part of life
Bates reminds parents that sex is a normal part of development and should be treated as such. "If we react negatively to questions around sex from our children, it will cause them to be embarrassed and not ask again," she explains. "The way you handle the first time your child asks you about sex is very important because it could be the last. Keep the conversation informative and matter of fact from an early age and this will help keep the door open for them to ask questions as they get older."
While you might feel uncomfortable about broaching the subject of sex or answering any questions your kids might have, doing so is important. By being honest, open and age-appropriate with your advice and facts, you can help ensure that your children are informed and comfortable about sexuality.