While there’s no set age to begin talking with your child about sex and reproductive health, establishing a foundation early in life is a good idea. Start by teaching kids to use correct anatomical names for their genitals when they are toddlers. Also, teach them who should and shouldn’t be able to see certain parts of their body, behaviors that aren’t OK, and what to do if someone is harming them.
Conversations about safe sex should begin as early as the pre-teen years and continue throughout adolescence. Topics can be adapted for age appropriateness, developmental level and life experiences. Don’t assume sex education provided in school or a one time talk on puberty is sufficient. Regular talks about sex and relationships can help normalize the topic and create a level of comfort.
“It’s better to feel a little uncomfortable than for your child to not have the necessary knowledge to advocate for their health and safety,” she says. “Sexual health needs to be discussed just like physical and mental health.”
What topics should you cover?
- Normal pubertal changes
- The different kinds of sex
- Contraception practices for males, females and gender-diverse adolescents
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and how to prevent them
- What a healthy relationship looks like as far as feeling safe, respected and supported
- Relationship red flags like controlling behaviors or being forced to engage in sexual behaviors that make them uncomfortable
Janosko says if your family holds certain religious or cultural values or morals surrounding sexual activity, these should be discussed in conjunction with factual sexual health information.
“While abstinence is an important topic, it shouldn’t be the only topic discussed,” she says. “Research continues to show that abstinence-only education is not effective. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that adolescents have access to comprehensive sexual health information.
“It’s also critical to be affirming to your child and convey unconditional love and support to them regardless of how they identify in respect to gender and sexuality and who they are attracted to,” she added. “Failing to do so, can alienate your teen and cause them to seek information from other sources that may not have their best interests in mind.”
For additional resources about adolescent sexual and reproductive health, talk to your child’s health care provider or make an appointment with one of Akron Children’s adolescent medicine specialists.