When should you first talk to your child about sex?


They’re not old enough to know their ABCs, yet children as young as five could soon be learning about masturbation at school. This is recommended in the draft of controversial new guidelines on sex education by the United Nations’ Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) circulated to governments and education bodies around the world.

The 100-page report, which suggests what teachers should include in sex education classes and when, has several conservative groups up in arms and internet-blogging parents logging complaints of disbelief.

The report says children aged five to eight years old should be taught “bodies can feel good when touched”, “rubbing one’s genitals is called masturbation” and “adults show love for other people in different ways, including through sex”. The report also recommends this age group be taught the basic processes of fertilisation, conception and delivery.

Children from nine to 12 should be taught about “the relationship between excitement and vaginal lubrication”, “both men and women can give and receive sexual pleasure” and about “access to safe abortion and use of emergency contraception”.

Unesco is taking a firm position on issuing the explicit guidelines, saying it can be life-threatening if children are ignorant of these issues. It says too few young people around the world are properly prepared for their sexual life, which makes them vulnerable to abuse, unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/Aids.

However, Johannesburg-based child psychologist Cristine Scolari recommends parents play it by ear. “Generally the best time to have the talk is when children ask a question about sex.” A three-year-old may ask where babies come from and from there you start the conversation in an age-appropriate manner.

“You don’t have to go into too much detail. So an answer may be something like, ‘A daddy plants a seed in the mommy’s tummy’. As they grow older, children want further details and will therefore ask more questions, something like, ‘How does Daddy put the seed there?’ Your answers would have to be more detailed as children grow older,” she adds.

According to the International Planned Parenthood Federation, 100 million new cases of curable sexually transmitted diseases occur annually in children from the age of 10 and five million girls from age 15 seek abortions each year. The report says research shows teaching children about their bodies and sexual matters long before they become sexually active will lower these statistics.

How to approach the topic:

  • Remain calm so the child doesn’t think they did or said something wrong.
  • It’s natural for parents to feel embarrassed about talking about sex but it’s vital you do. The more you talk to your child about sex the less likely your children will be prone to engage in problematic or inappropriate sexual behaviour when they’re older
  • Usually children will pick up a lot from school; listen to them when they’re talking. Be open to discussing the topic of sex and don’t give them the message sex is taboo.
  • Use cues from their environment. For example, if an older child hears about an item on the news such as sexual abuse it will be beneficial to talk about sex – what it is and what it isn’t.
  • It helps to have books about sexual education; there are some excellent ones which broach the subject appropriately.

-Koketso Mashika

Extra sources: un.org, dailymail.co.uk

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