Teaching Your Kids about Sex Won't Harm Them

Teaching Your Kids about Sex Won't Harm Them

Parents have to educate their kids about sexuality or they're leaving it up to porn, is this nurse's strong message for parents.

Of all the things most likely to cause a parent to take a sharp intake of breath and scramble for an appropriate answer that will cause the least embarrassment to all parties involved, it's the question: "Where do babies come from?"

But Vanessa Hamilton, a sexuality nurse educator with over 23 years of experience, says parents have to be brave because if kids aren't getting the simple facts they need from us, then they'll get their sexuality education from the hyper-sexualised world we live in.

So, we're pulling on our big girl (or big boy) pants and getting right into it.
It's human sexuality education.

It's the first thing Vanessa, who runs sexuality education seminars for students, parents, teachers and health professionals, tells Kidspot; It's not sex ed we should be focussed on, but rather we should be teaching kids about human sexuality.

"The point of sex ed is to empower children with information about human sexuality that focuses on joy and responsibility, and that encompasses so many things.

"When we think of sex we think of penis vagina heterosexual sex and that has just got barely anything to do with human sexuality."

Vanessa shares a quick guide on what we actually need to be teaching our kids and it includes everything from correctly naming body parts, to human reproduction, to consent and respectful relationships, to gender and identity, to creating a positive attitude towards fulfilling intimate partnerships as adults.

Importantly, she emphasises again and again that while sex is not for kids, human sexuality is.

And, the point of it all is to acknowledge "that humans are sexual beings from birth to death".
You wouldn't call a penis a scrotum, would you?

Hands up everyone who is determined to use the correct anatomical language with their kids. Hands up everyone who is using the word 'vagina' when they really mean 'vulva'. It's okay. You're not alone.

"The names of body parts of females have been incorrect in medical text books even up to 2010," Vanessa reassures. But, "We wouldn't call a penis a scrotum, would we," she pointedly asks.

"The vagina is an internal organ. We don't see vaginas. Vaginas are on the inside. So when people say, 'oh well, you know, everybody's seen it in the bathroom, in shared bathroom family experiences' well they haven't seen a vagina. They've seen a vulva.

"From a sexual health expert perspective and all other experts of education agree with this 100 per cent, it is so important to have the correct names of body parts."

Vanessa explains that, in relation to health or potential sexual abuse, using the right language means children and adults can more accurately explain what might be happening.

Telling your GP you have a sore vagina means something very different from telling your GP you have a sore vulva, for instance. Indeed, though inappropriate touching of a child's vulva or vagina in relation to sexual abuse are both terrible, they are very different things.
A note on kids and innocence.

Many people worry that teaching kids about sexuality too early will destroy their innocence.

Vanessa raises innocence in all of her parent sessions because it's one of the biggest myths out there. The idea that sexuality education will cause kids to lose their innocence "implies information about sexuality is dirty or wrong and that is not the case".

"Being empowered with comprehensive, adequate sexuality [education] from a young age throughout their life actually empowers them. They do not lose their innocence.

"For example, puberty is the maturation of sexual reproductive organs. That is their lived experience. They need information about that. They're not losing their innocence for understanding what is happening to their bodies, and if it's put in a positive light they celebrate those changes.

"Children will lose their innocence when something happens to them that they didn't want to happen or that they didn't expect or that they don't have information about. That could be early childhood sexual abuse or that could be unwanted sex as a 15-year-old. That's losing their innocence."

As for when we share the facts about how babies are made? Vanessa says that kids should have that information before puberty starts, around eight-years-old.
It's not if. It's when.

One of the most important reasons kids need to get their sexuality education from parents and from schools is because of the alternative.

Yes, we're talking about pornography. And here's a fact; on average, most kids will see porn by age 11. "It's not if, it's when," Vanessa emphasises.

So how do we guide kids through that landscape? Vanessa tells parents they need to protect and prepare.

Use blocks, firewalls and supervised use of devices to protect kids as best you can. But you must start preparing kids in an age-appropriate way as soon as they have access to the Internet.

"Of course, you don't tell a three-year-old about pornography. But you do tell a three-year-old 'the iPad's fantastic, and it's really good, it's got great games. But I need to let you know that sometimes on the iPad some scary pictures come up. It can be scary because it's being nasty to animals or scary because it's about war or scary because it's car crashes or blood. But another scary thing is sometimes there are fake images of people with no clothes on. If that happens, quickly turn it off, turn the iPad over, shut the laptop, come and get me. You will never get in trouble. If a picture comes on the Internet that makes you feel funny and you think you shouldn't be seeing that you come and tell, Mummy, because it does exist there and it's harmful for children'."

As kids get older, Vanessa advises call porn "fake sex".

"Because real, awesome, intimate partnerships: you wouldn't put it on the Internet."

For teens, Vanessa emphasises that the brain and the skin are the most important sexual organs of the human body.

"If your brain gets visuals of these sorts of messages it impacts your ability to have intimate partnerships later on in life. Because your most important sexual organ, your brain, is filled with this inaccurate information about what sex."

And what are the main messages kids, and adults too, are getting from porn? Vanessa says that porn tells kids (and adults) that what they're seeing is real and that speaking up about it makes you a prude.

She says there is an overall message that males have entitlement over female bodies and that females just have to take it, that mutual pleasure is not a priority, that violence is sexy and that there's no need to condoms.

In her parent sessions, Vanessa asks parents to identify what they want their kids to know and understand about sex. She gets answers like, fun, pleasure, safety, consent, fulfilment, and then she asks how the kids are going to get that.

"They're not going to get it if they're learning from porn. Parents have to give an alternative version to our current society's version of sexuality which is in that media sex bubble."

"My biggest message to parents is 'you've got to be brave. You've got to back yourself and believe all this stuff I'm telling you and then you'll see the positive outcomes of that.'
Vanessa's Sexuality Education Top Tips for parents

    Remember it's mostly not about sex. You're teaching your children about human sexuality.
    Be brave and just start. It's never too early or too late to start.
    Strip back your own personal layers of your own past sexual journey and thoughts, especially if you have a negative attitude towards sex.
    Be an askable parent.
    Be sex positive.
    Sexual health and wellbeing is one of your key responsibilities as a parent.
    Keep it simple but accurate.
    Use teachable moments that are around you all the time "The pregnant woman crossing the road; 'Oh, that reminds me. Wow, how amazing and strong she looks. I haven't told you guys about how babies are made. What do you know about that?" Vanessa suggests.
    Talk in the car or doing the dishes. "Talking in the car means you don't have to face each other and they're locked in. They're a captive audience."
    Buy yourself some time and valuable insight by asking kids what they already know. "That's a great question, I'm so glad you asked. What do you know about that?"
    Prepare yourself, buy books, practice, say the words in the car. "When you see a Volvo driving along, say vulva to yourself out loud."

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