Age-by-age guide to talking about SEX with your CHILD

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Sex in traditional African societies was a taboo topic that was only mentioned in the cover of darkness and more so, in hushed tones. It was a preserve of the married and fornication was highly discouraged. But times have changed. The influx of Western culture and accessible media has served to glorify sex. We can no longer bury our heads in the sand and pretend that children do not engage in sex. This is why you should have that sex talk with your child. Here is an age-by-age guide to talking to your child about sex.

Sex education is now offered in schools as part of the curriculum but do not count on that alone. Sex education is your responsibility as a parent. Take time and talk to your child about sex as early as possible and cultivate an environment where your child will always feel free to talk to you about anything under the sun. Other means of disseminating sex education to your child are through books or videos that explicitly touch on sex issues. Remember, the goal is to empower your child to make informed decisions in your absence.

Birth to two years

If you think that your child is too young to understand sexuality, then think again. Children the age of zero to two years are normally curious about their body parts and it is not surprising to find them touching their genitals in the bathtub or even during diaper changes. You may also have noticed that your baby boy has regular erections. Infants have no sense of privacy and may masturbate quite openly. Your reaction will tell the child whether what they are doing is acceptable or not acceptable. Calmly tell them that what they are doing is not proper. It is also advisable to start teaching infants the correct names of their genitals just as you do with other body parts.

Three to five years

This is the “what is this?” stage as they enquire about anything new they come across. It is also when they start interacting with other children and of the opposite sex. They are then bound to notice the difference between male and female genitals. It will not be surprising to find your child playing mum and dad with a kid next door. In such a case, do not scold your child or make them feel they have done something wrong. Explain to your child that his/ her private part is off limits and nobody should be touching them except mum, dad and the doctor for health and cleanliness reasons. Also reinforce the difference between good and bad touch and ask them to report to you when they feel someone has touched them inappropriately.

Six to nine years

You should now expect questions like “where do babies come from?” or “what is sex?”  Do not cower for cover. Simply and in a matter-of-fact way explain what sex is and state that it is for adults. Puberty is happening earlier these days and it is therefore imperative to teach your child the basics of puberty. Do not wait for your child to start asking questions as they may interpret sex as a taboo topic.

Nine to 12 years

Your child is on the threshold of puberty and may be shy to talk about sex.  Reassure them that the physical changes they are experiencing are absolutely normal. Remember to talk about the emotional changes as well as this can be more confusing than the physical changes that are happening to them. Caution them against becoming sexually active too soon and explain the inherent dangers like STDs and getting pregnant at an early age.  Be explicit of what you expect from your child.

13 to 18 years

Your teen’s hormones are on overdrive and the pressure to engage in sex is mounting.  Ensure that your child understands that what he/she sees in the sex saturated media is not real and that majority of young people are not sexually active. Seize any opportunity that will offer you a chance to have the sex talk. Use TV or radio programmes as a springboard for the discussion. Be direct about your position on sex without sounding overbearing or invoking scare tactics to discourage sexual activity. Your teen may seem disinterested in what you are saying about sex, but say it anyway. They are probably listening. It is also a good time to introduce the topic of contraceptives.

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Published in April 2015

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