Some argue that the number one reason parents do not talk to their young children about sex is because it conflicts with their values. It’s just a close second. The primary reason parents do not talk to their young children about sex, whether they realize it or not, is fear. Fear of sexualizing children too early, fear that it will increase their curiosity, fear that their innocence will be cut short. The opposite is true. A young child brought up with appropriate knowledge is better able to feel happy in their own body, safely normalize curiosity without shame, and maintain appropriate boundaries. Secrecy, lack of information, and shame are the ingredients for disaster. Fear is your greatest enemy in this arena.
If you are afraid or nervous to begin these conversations, you are not alone. These are not easy topics. Talking about sex is uncomfortable for a lot of people. If you are scared or hesitant to talk about sex, then let’s start there. After this first conversation, things tend to open up, leading to more constructive discussions that can eventually include your child.
Children are born in bodies capable of being sexual; however, young children do not have adult and acculturated views of sex and sexuality. The ways in which parents react to innocent and normalized sexual expression in childhood begins to shape that child’s beliefs about sex and sexuality. Parents may inadvertently give that behavior meaning that the child finds confusing. They don’t understand why a particular behavior, such as touching themselves, provokes such a strong, and often negative, response.
Children are learning, touching, seeking, looking. Situations that result from this natural curiosity are, oftentimes, developmentally appropriate and manageable. In some cases, natural impulses need redirection. Be vigilant, these behaviors are often triggered by something other than simple, harmless curiosity. At these times, the sexual behavior can become harmful to the child, pets, or other children. Problematic sexual behaviors in children are not limited to any particular group or gender, they occur in children across age ranges, income levels, cultural, living circumstances, and family structures. We must always remember, they are all just children. Children respond well to parental guidance, supervision, and treatment. With these types of supports, most children do not continue to have problematic sexual behaviors into adolescence or adulthood.
TIPS TO REMEMBER
If you do not create an open and healthy space to talk to your child about bodies, sex, and healthy development—someone else will. Peers and their older siblings, other adults, and the internet can be where your child goes to get questions answered–and you may not agree with the answers they receive. Have an open line of communication about sex with your child, and talk about it early and often.
IMPORTANT: The data is clear that young children who have been sexually abused can, and often do, display overtly sexualized behaviors. If you have any concerns or suspicions that your child may have been sexually abused immediately contact the police, and take your child to a medical professional. In most cases, after safety and stability have been reestablished and safeguards put into place, the child can go on to develop healthy views of sex and sexuality.