DO you relate to feeling uncomfortable or experiencing avoidance when faced with answering your children’s questions about sexuality or sex education? 

I can assure you that you are not alone. Many parents faced with this proposition often want to delay it until the last possible opportunity – possibly when the kids are about to leave home or get married!

Jokes aside, maybe our hesitation has something to do with the way we received this education. For me it was my mother telling me “don’t do it until you’re married or else no one will respect you” and to make sure I had enough fear to not want to explore the topic. 

A lot of my real education came from my siblings or friends.

Imagine the incredible confusion when, as a young adult faced with some health concerns, my doctor asked: So have you had a look? I looked at her puzzled and confused. Is that what I’m meant to be doing? Aren’t you the expert?  It was as an adult that I came to the realisation that I needed to know more about my body than my doctor.

Changes occur in children’s bodies from a young age – new things grow, new sensations occur and at times their little bodies do things that they can’t explain. 

Along with changes in relationship dynamics, lack of information for young people about these experiences can create extreme confusion.

We know that many parents worry that giving their child information about sex will lead them to become sexually active earlier. Research shows this is not the case. A research review conducted by UNESCO in 2009 provides evidence on how sexuality education can influence behaviour. The review looked at 87 studies from around the world and found that none of the programs led to earlier sexual activity in young people, and that more than a third of programs delayed sexual activity.

Teaching kids about sex education doesn’t take away their innocence, but not talking about it does limit their ability to make informed choices. While you might think that your child is too young to be learning about sex, it’s important that, from a very young age, they learn what sort of behaviour is OK versus what is inappropriate.

 We have seen from Interrelate’s work that this can make a huge difference between a child coming forward to disclose abuse or thinking that abuse they are experiencing is their fault. 

Self-awareness early in life leads to positive health outcomes. Providing age-appropriate information is critical to ensure we support the development of healthy, confident and self-aware people.

Many early detection programs require individuals to be comfortable with their bodies to recognise any anomalies or concerns. Breast cancer and prostate cancer are examples. 

I’m so pleased my doctor asked me those questions 26 years ago.  This lead to my early detection of breast cancer. 

Interrelate provides workshops and resources to help families ease into these conversations. For information on Interrelate’s Questions Kids Have book series and programs, phone 1300 i relate (1300 473 528) or email schoolservices@interrelate.org.au.

This article was originally published in the Newcastle Herald.