How to Educate Kids About Sex & Relationships

Today I'm presenting the second in a series of posts, following reader queries about educating kids about sex. As I mentioned in the first post on how to talk to kids about pornography, I'm thrilled that former regular contributor Amy Cody (Parent Education Manager at Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts) is generously returning to answer these important questions. Today she shares 10 great tips, as well as specific resources for boys.

The original question I received asked specifically about educating boys, and Amy provides specific resources for boys below. However, the general responses are applicable to both boys and girls. 

QUESTION: How do I thoroughly educate my son about sex, sexuality, consent, sexual health, reproduction, and relationships?

ANSWER: When it comes to educating our kids about the complexities and depths of comprehensive sexuality education, it’s good to think of the process as an ongoing conversation, rather than the single “Big Talk.” Starting early and talking often is great, however, remember, it is never too late to begin the dialog!

1. Keep in mind that sexuality is not just about sex. While sexuality is about gender, reproduction, and sexual activity, it includes so much more. Sexuality is also about feelings, attitudes, values, intimacy, caring, sexual orientation, messages about being male and female, body image, trust, communication, self-esteem, and respect for others. In other words, sexuality is what it means to be human.

2. Embrace your role as the primary educator. As parents, it is our right and responsibility to be the primary sexuality educators of our sons and our daughters. Respect your kids' right to have accurate and honest information about sexuality. Providing them with factual information, as well as sharing your values, will enable them to make healthier, safer, and better-informed decisions related to sexuality.

3. Know that kids want to hear from their parents. Research supports it! How to talk to them depends on your family and your personalities. There is no “one” way to do it. Both parents can get involved. Be patient and realize that even if your son or daughter doesn’t want to talk, they are listening.

4. Be connected with their world. Be curious about their interests (music, TV, sports, etc.) and know their friends. Ask them where they are learning about things and how it makes them feel. Stay on top of the media; use external topics for conversation. Most adolescents say they are compelled into thinking about relationships, sex, and pregnancy when they are portrayed on in the media by some celebrity.

5. Affirm them. Complimenting and affirming kids helps foster positive self-esteem and will help them to open up to you. Kids who feel good about themselves engage in less risky behavior.

6. Talk less, listen more. Ask questions that open the door for discussion (e.g., When do you think a person is ready to be a parent?). Validate their questions and really listen without judging when they answer. Be an “askable” parent.

7. Choose the right times. Use teachable moments. Talk to your kids while you are both in the car, cleaning the kitchen, folding laundry, watching TV together, etc., not when they are on the run or engaged in an activity like homework. Often times, it's easier for kids to open up to you while you're doing something together in parallel, vs. face to face in a "serious talk" situation.

8. Be prepared. Learn about the sexuality education being taught in your school system and faith communities. Identify and share resources such as websites, books, and professionals. Confirm accurate information. Correct inaccuracies. Most teens say they know all about protection and not getting pregnant, yet they don’t. Many believe misinformation such as that two condoms are better than one, or that someone can’t get pregnant during menstruation.

9. Be honest. Communicate your feelings and values honestly. If you feel your child should wait to become sexually active, tell him/her in a positive, compassionate way. Don’t expect to have all the answers. Admit when you don’t know and be willing to seek answers together.  It is OK to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable. Choose what to say about your own past but it’s better not to lie.

10. Take advantage of existing resources. In my post on how to talk to kids about pornography, I shared these excellent general resources: The Joy of SexOur Bodies OurselvesIt's Perfectly Normal. And here are some wonderful books for parents of boys related to different facets of sexuality: Guyland: The Perilous World Where Boys Become Men, It’s All for the Kids: Gender, Families, and Youth SportsMen to Boys: The Make of Modern ImmaturityRaising Cain, Protecting the Emotional Life of BoysThe What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Boys: A Growing Up Guide for Parents and Sons.

Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom and expertise, Amy! If you want further quick and easy ideas for talking with your child about sexuality topics, sign up for The Parent Buzz, an e-newsletter that features current, age-appropriate, helpful strategies and resources for talking with kids about sex and sexuality topics.