Talking to your child about sexuality


Sexuality is at the heart of the pre-teen years: because what it's all about is your child's transition from childhood to sexual maturity. And, for all sorts of reasons, that's often tricky for us - their parents - and it's certainly tricky for our children.

Sex education is covered at school but most Mumsnetters feel it's neither right nor appropriate to leave everything to teachers. In fact, some posters point out that, whether they're aware of it or not, parents are role-modelling an attitude to sexuality, just as they're role-modelling an attitude to everything else.

So while your child might learn in school about the biological facts around reproduction, the moral issues around sexuality are your territory. And what's also true is that children need to link the facts of reproduction to their own life and their own story, to make it fit in and to understand what its role will be: and you're a crucial part of how they'll manage to do that.

A problem for many of us is that we weren't given good advice and information about sexuality by our own parents, so in many ways, this is territory we're negotiating without experience of our own to either deviate from or copy.

Working out what matters

When you think about what messages you want to get across to your pre-teens about sexuality it's a good idea to keep in mind issues like:

  • What would you hope your child's first sexual experience will be like?
  • Will you want him or her to be in a monogamous relationship?
  • Older than a certain age?
  • With someone whom they respect, and who respects them?
  • Knowledgeable about contraceptive choices?

The answers to these questions will help you work out the information you want to get across to your child as they're growing up.

On the Pre-teens Talk board, many parents say they've taken a 'softly softly' approach to sexuality, answering questions when they crop up and finding opportunities to discuss sex when they arise, rather than ploughing all their efforts into one 'talk'. It's a good idea to look for 'teachable moments' when an issue comes up - for example, if your pre-teen is talking about someone 'fancying' someone else, ask what they mean by that and talk it through.

What's hardest is how you deal with the children (often boys) who never ask any questions at all, and never seem to be interested in finding out.

Mumsnetters' book recommendations

Let's Talk About Where Babies Come From by Robie H Harris. As well as the stuff you'd expect, it covers surrogacy, adoption, STIs, abortion and homosexuality. If my son comes up with a new subject, we just refer to the book together. Sleepingonthebus

Living With A Willy by Nick Fisher. Brilliant - highly recommend. Informative but not embarrassing. PinotScreechio

The Care and Keeping of You: the Body Book for Girls by Valerie Lee Schaefer. Perfect for younger girls - focuses on the changing body and taking care of it, without the 'distraction' of sex/relationships overshadowing it.  Mathanxiety

The big worry for posters is that their uninquisitive child will find out - and maybe be misinformed - in the school playground: for that reason, even if they haven't asked any questions, they need to know the facts as you want them put across by the age of 10 or 11.

Your pre-teen and body changes

Tweens are aware that their bodies are becoming sexual. They can see that hair is growing and that breasts are budding. Sometimes (excrutiatingly, for them) adults and older children mention it.

Psychologists argue that this is a crucial age for getting body image right: if you can instil a confident sense of body image at this stage, you're going a long way towards having a teenager with a healthy view of themselves.

If you worry - and many of us do - about the negative effects constant media images of thin, hair-free, spot-free, unreal-looking models are having on your child, don't just sit there - counteract them.

Talk to your child about how the advertising industry, for example, airbrushes photographs of models; make sure they understand that in the real world, people just don't look like that. Remind them that what's most important is who we are, not what we look like.

And reinforce these messages in your own behaviour: don't undermine them by fussing about whether you've put on an extra pound or two, or criticising your partner if they have. Healthy eating is great; obsessing over looking perfect isn't.

Mumsnetter wisdom on talking to your child about sexuality

  • Keep it casual, ask your child what s/he has been told in school, and clarify or explain anything they don't understand correctly and then answer any questions. Northumberlandlass


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