Create an environment where there is open communication about sex and sexuality.
I was listening to the radio on my way to work today and they had a segment called “Group Therapy”. During this segment, a caller can talk about a personal problem or dilemma on the radio and then ask for feedback. The caller would then receive insight, personal opinions, and advice from the listeners as well as the radio host(s). This morning, a mother called in because she had learned that her 16-year-old daughter was having sex and she didn’t know how to approach the conversation for fear of an argument or the daughter pulling away from her.
Over the next twenty minutes, I heard some rather insightful comments. Listeners talked about having trust, creating a safe environment for open communication, and making sure there is an honest dialogue instead of the mother talking at the daughter. This is all great advice. As a parents or guardians, many of us strive for this type of environment. We all want our children to be able to talk to us about anything—no matter what. I would add that it is rather difficult—and in some cases, too late—to start creating an open environment to talk about sex and sexuality when the child is 16-years-old. The conversation needs to start much earlier.
There isn’t a magic age when all youth start going through puberty, figuring out their sexual identity, thinking about sex, or even experimenting with a partner. This is why caring adults need to address age-appropriate teachable moments when the opportunity arises. It starts with using the correct terms for body parts. It continues with conversations about respecting each other’s body and asking permission for a hug. This message continues with creating an environment where it is okay to vocalize not wanting a hug and everyone (including adults) will respect those wishes. And when that age old question arises “Where do babies come from?” being ready to have that honest conversation—over and over.
Creating this environment early on opens the door for later conversations about sex, intimacy, and love. If we don’t, children’s education will come from their peers and media, and it’s likely that it won’t be accurate or respectful. We cannot afford to have children learn about sex, intimacy, and love from reality shows or music videos. We can demand the change and create an environment where kids are receiving accurate information about sex and sexuality. We can prevent sexual violence by countering the sexually harmful and exploitive messages in our culture.
In January, ground-breaking National Sexuality Education Standards were released. These standards provide clear, consistent, and straightforward guidance on the minimum, core content for sexuality education that is developmentally- and age-appropriate for children. Together, we can create an environment where youth define sex and relationships based on love, intimacy, and mutual respect. Together, we can prevent sexual violence.