For many a parent, the thought of talking sex, sexuality and gender with their little one sends a shiver down their spine.
These areas are complex and intricate topics with multiple factors going into how they are formed and developed. Between even close family friends, there may be vast differences in opinion when it comes to what should be taught and when.
It is helpful to acknowledge that no community is completely in unison on when and how the topics of sex should be taught to children.
From the scientific communities of GPs and psychologists to teachers, health officials, parents and social workers, there is no one mould fits all to the concerns surrounding what should be taught and how.
A helpful approach is to transparently understand the world that our children grow up in and build opinions that underpin equipping our children to be the healthiest and safest they can be.
Veronica Johnson and Guy Buckland are both associate professors from U.S. universities.
They have been involved in researching and studying intimate relationship education for years and they have discovered key elements that occur in the education process.
Whether we like it or not, as parents we hold considerable power when it comes to our children’s understanding of sex, sexuality and relationships.
Johnson and Buckland found that parents have considerable sway over how their children develop sexual understanding.
The way that a parent talks about genitalia, the language they use to explain sexuality, the way they express their own sexuality and the manner in which parents answer questions about sex and sexuality all go into developing a child’s sexual development.
Johnson and Buckland conducted a study that asked college students about their sexual education.
Those that had learnt about sex and sexuality through open conversation with their parents reported far higher positive learning experiences than their peers that learnt through other sources such as the media.
The World We Live In
Media activist and academic Jean Kilbourne is internationally recognised for her investigation on the image of women in advertising.
Kilbourne has examined countless advertising elements and their effects upon the brain.
Babies as young as 6 months old are able to recall business logos, what we as humans see, right from infancy, has a powerful effect on the mind.
She highlights that “nowhere is sex more trivialized than in pornography, media and advertising.”
Chillingly, Johnson and Buckland explain that a study from 2000, long before the advent of social media, teenagers were exposed to 143 incidents of sexual behaviour a week on primetime television.
Of the 143 very few were found to exhibit from safe, consensual or healthy relationships.
As more scientific studies and academics have been turning their focus to look at the media’s management of sexuality and expression, the potential for destructive learning has become more evident.
Academics from vastly different religious backgrounds, cultures and branches of science have increasingly found the media to glamorise, trivialise, degrade and exploit sexuality and intimate relationships.
Increasingly studies have found that children are discovering and using porn at younger and younger ages.
While many resistors of porn as an educational tool for sex education have come from faith based communities, scientific studies are now uncovering the deep psychological, emotional and sexual harm that a porn education of sex and sexuality can have on the brain, and on healthy and safe intimacy in relationships.
Johnson and Buckland have studied the media’s portrayal of gender and the grievous consequences it has had on society.
Much of mainstream media, particularly porn, have gone to great lengths to objectify woman and set rigid codes of beauty and value.
Deeply disturbing is their systemic uncovering of consistent normalisation of violent behaviour towards women within intimate relationships.
Both Johnson and Buckland have seen clear links between female objectification and violence and abuse.
Psychologists and academics have long encouraged parents to be powerfully present in speaking to their children about their value, their standards of treatment and equipping them to demand healthy behaviour from friends and eventually sexual partners.
Communication Is Key
Johnson and Buckland found that when it came to equipping children with the best tools to develop a healthy understanding of sex and their sexuality, parents being involved was key.
While it may have been an awkward or uncomfortable topic for parents, they found that the provision of dialogue between parent and child, where some accurate and reliable information regarding sex occurred, was able to reduce risky behaviour later in life for children.
They also found that parents who were involved in openly talking about sex and sexuality with their children were able to positively influence their children’s sexual development and behaviour.
Researching the role that parents have in navigating sex education with their children, Johnson and Buckland found that children give a lot of weight to what their parents say on the topic, regardless of how parents may feel the bungled the chats.
Most importantly they found that parents have the heart and protectiveness to instill a sense of value and worth in their children and to powerfully champion that they expect and only accept a healthy and respectful intimate relationship later in life.
Tips To Help
Johnson and Buckland suggest a few approaches for parents.
- Start with age appropriate books if you don’t know how to start. Some cover reproduction, which is usually one of the first wave of queries we can get from our toddlers! “It’s Not the Stork,” “How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex” and “Amazing You!: Getting Smart About Your Body Parts”.
- Watch TV with your kids and encourage them to ask questions about the characters, relationships and what they think is safe.
- Pursue an openness to talk about sex and sexuality. Encourage curiosity and a desire to seek answers in a transparent and honest way.
- Use anatomically correct names for genital parts and allow questions about sex and sexuality to arise naturally.
Both academics say that at the end of the day the goal is to assist children in developing healthy approaches to sex and sexuality, to be able to enter into healthy intimate sexual relationships.
They encourage parents to know they have the opportunity to advocate for a healthy journey of sex education with their children by talking about it openly, early and consistently.