Start talking to your child about sex before they hit puberty (Photo: iStock)

Talking to children about sex has always been embarrassing to parents and kids alike. As a result, there’s very little conversation in many families despite the fact that children are becoming sexually active at younger and younger ages.

A prepubescent child is not a sexual being. ‘Sexual’ behaviour such as touching genitals could be due to mere curiosity about their anatomy-nothing to worry about. In cases where such behaviour recurs too often, actively mimics and or attempts to have sex- then the parent should be very worried.

Exposure

So where do young kids learn about sex? Well, we live in a sexy world-like it or not. From steamy scenes in TV shows and movies and easy access to pornography to ‘strange’ scenes in cartoons and kid shows.

Well, children are naturally curious and wired to mimic-so they just mimic.

The Age of Information has been marked with a steep drop in the sex debut age with the earliest encounter being as low as 7 years. Studies show that at least 75% of teenagers will have had sex at least once by the age of 19.

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Pressure to have sex

Most adolescents are being pressured by peers- often teased for being virgins and influenced when others explicitly share their sexual escapades. Adolescence is the age when one struggles with identity issues and a need to fit in. A need that will force many to give in.

Teenage sexual behaviour is often associated with three things; the sexual activity of their peers-where teens with sexually active peers will themselves indulge. How much their peers approve-where normalizing will communicate that there’s no problem with having sex at that age.

And how much they feel pressured to have sex where the amount of pressure is directly proportional to involvement. Many girls also report having given in to avoid hurting the other party. 

Most teens regret having sex the next day since they ‘lost’ a friend by crossing a boundary they shouldn’t have. Emotional consequences come as a result of sharing physically without trust and communication and a feeling of ‘loss of something valuable’ especially for girls.  Not forgetting unplanned pregnancies and diseases.

‘The talk’

Whether you wish your child would engage in sex whenever they’re ready or wait till marriage- it is up to you to pass your values down to them. If you shy away from having ‘the talk’, then you leave your child exploring sex in the dark. The absence of clear social mores and guidelines leaves children feeling confused.

Only parents can decide what they want to communicate to their kids. They must understand that the latter observe and implement their behaviour as well.  In this case, the parent cannot ‘preach wine while drinking water'. For a child to be sexually responsible, the parent must depict the same through their actions.

Before striking the conversation, ensure that you have the relevant information- that is the sex anatomy, intercourse, sexual response cycle, menstruation, pregnancy, consent, sexual assault, contraception, STIs/STDs, HIV/AIDS, romantic relationships, emotional involvement and implications.

Your child will take some time to warm up, your body language will set the rhythm- lean forward and maintain an open centre. Use a matter-of-fact tone to avoid awkwardness. Remember this is a conversation, not a lecture. Listen to your child, it is not one-sided. Encourage them to ask questions and give detailed answers.

Avoid, by all means, portraying sex as ‘evil’ or ‘dirty’, doing so will mess with your child’s sexuality. Also, don’t portray the opposite sex as ‘bad’ or ‘untrustworthy’, that will only make your child have trust issues in future romantic relationships.

This is not a one-time conversation but the first time will determine your child’s openness in future. You don’t have to bombard your child with tons of information all in one sitting, do it bit by bit and start light.