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Published on Monday, September 4, 2023

More than the birds and the bees

Sexual health discussions should also include topics like consent, gender, and healthy relationships

By Monica Blair, RPN

Jacqueline Parkes, RN

Grey Bruce Public Health

 

As a parent, you have a central role to play in teaching your children about sexual health.

And this doesn’t mean just having a conversation about sex.

Discussions about sexual health should also include topics like healthy relationships, gender, sexuality, consent, puberty, and personal hygiene.

Parents are an important source of information for their kids because the information is coming from someone they trust and love. Being open and starting these conversations with your kids as soon as possible can help them to know that you are comfortable with these topics and want to talk about them.

You can prepare yourself for these sexual health-related conversations by reading up on topics, such as puberty, consent, and sexual and gender diversity.

 

THE HOW AND THE WHEN

It’s never too early or too late to talk with your child or children about these things.

The level of detail you provide may change based on your child’s age, but accurate terms to describe body parts should always be used.2

Having small, regular conversations throughout their childhood, rather than sitting them down one day to have “the talk,” will help to normalize and integrate the conversation into everyday life, give your child time to think about and process the information they’re given, and let them know that you are available and willing to talk about it at any time.1

Using everyday “teachable moments” to start the conversation may be helpful. Conversation starters can include things like a family member announcing they are pregnant, a commercial appearing on television to promote hygiene products, or watching a certain relationship being portrayed in a movie.2

 

HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS

It’s important to talk with your kids about different kinds of relationships and what healthy and respectful relationships look like.

Remember, when you talk about sexual relationships, don’t assume that your child is only interested in relationships with the opposite sex. Use gender neutral pronouns and terms, such as partners, when chatting with your child about relationships.

Healthy relationships have characteristics like mutual respect, trust, honesty, individuality, and good communication. Unhealthy relationships are often marked by disrespect, dishonesty, and control. It is important to educate kids on characteristics of healthy and unhealthy relationships to help them develop realistic expectations and healthy practices going forward.

 

PUBERTY AND PERSONAL HYGIENE

Puberty is the process of physical changes through which a child’s body begins to develop into an adult body.

This can be a difficult and confusing time for your child.

Conversations about puberty should begin before these changes start – and it may be earlier than you think. Puberty can begin as early as eight years old for girls and nine years old for boys.3

Conversations about personal hygiene and the changes that come with puberty can naturally progress into discussions about sexuality and sexual health.

 

CONSENT

The importance of consent in all relationships should be discussed regularly and these conversations should begin at an early age.

Teach your child it is ok to say no.

Respect your child’s choices about touch and teach your child about respecting other people’s boundaries. If your child is on social media, talk to them about sharing images and set an example by asking for their permission before sharing their image on your social media accounts.

 

GENDER AND SEXUAL ORIENTATION

Gender diversity and sexual orientation are also topics that parents should be open about discussing with their child from an early age.

Some children have a gender identity that is different from the gender they were assigned at birth. Some children do not identify with either the male or female gender. They may feel like they fall somewhere in between or that they have no gender.

Sexual orientation, meanwhile, refers to a part of a person’s identity that relates to their emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attraction to persons of the opposite, same, both, or neither sex.

The important thing is to let your child know that you love and accept them no matter what.

If applicable, you can help to connect them with local LGBTQ2S groups. Also, be on the lookout for signs that they may need mental health support.

 

SAFER SEX

The all-important topic of safer sex should also be a regular part of the sexual health conversations parents have with their children.

Safer sex is the responsibility of both partners.

Abstinence is the only way to ensure the prevention of unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

However, there are ways to make sex safer.

Condoms should be used every time to protect against STIs, and there are many birth control options that can be used in addition to condoms to increase protection from unwanted pregnancy. These options include shorter-acting methods such as the pill, patch, vaginal ring and the shot and longer-acting methods like intrauterine devices and implants.

Sexandu.ca is a wonderful resource for all things sexual health-related and has a downloadable contraception guide that provides information on each method all in one place. A healthcare provider can walk youth and their parents through these options and help them choose the best one for them in their current circumstance.

 

NORMALIZING SEXUAL HEALTH CONVERSATIONS

Conversations about sexual health can be uncomfortable, but here are some tips to help normalize it:

  1. Start Early. The earlier conversations happen, the easier and more comfortable they will be.
  2. Be Open. If a child is old enough to be curious, they are old enough for an honest conversation. 
  3. Learn Together. If unsure, seek out answers to questions your kids have together. This could be a good way to teach kids about safer internet use as well. 
  4. Look for Teachable Moments. Normalize discussions about sex by having frequent, short conversations when a question arises or an opportunity presents itself.
  5. Listen. When a child asks a questions about sex, listen and answer as best you can without lecturing.

These conversations will help frame the way that your child views healthy sexuality. As your child gets older, they may start to look for answers and information about sexual health from their friends and the internet. But having open communication early on with your child will let them know that they can come to you whenever they have questions and will help them make healthy, informed decisions now and later on in life.

 

OTHER RESOURCES

Grey Bruce Public Health’s website, publichealthgreybruce.on.ca, is a great place to go for sexual health-related information and resources.

There is information about birth control and sexually transmitted infections as well as links to many sexual health-related resources.

Public Health also operates a Sexual Health Clinic, which offers confidential services related to sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, pregnancy testing and options, access to low-cost contraceptives, and emergency contraception.

At the time of writing this article, the Sexual Health Clinic is open each Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Grey Bruce Public Health building in Owen Sound and every second and fourth Thursday of each month at the Green House in Wiarton. Appointments are preferred, by calling 1-800-263-3456 ext. 1256, but walk-ins are also accepted.

You can also get answers to sexual health questions as well as information and assistance by visiting sexualhealthontario.ca and using their live chat function or calling the toll-free Sexual Health InfoLine Ontario at 1-800-668-2437 and speaking with a counsellor.

 

 

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Sources:

  1. Tips for Talking to Your Kids About Sex & Relationships (plannedparenthood.org)
  2. Ten Things to Remember When You Talk to Kids about Sexuality | Stop It Now
  3. Talking to Your Child About Puberty (for Parents) - Nemours KidsHealth
  4. Sexandu.ca
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Categories: Your Health, Sexual Health

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