No matter how uncomfortable it may be, talking about the birds and the bees with your kids is critical to their well-being. The key to your child’s sexual health is starting that conversation early and keeping it going through the years.
“They’re hearing about it from other kids at school, social media and television, and we want to make sure they’re getting the correct information from someone they trust,” said Dr. Ryan Van Ramshorst, pediatrician at the University Health System Teen Health Clinic, which serves children, teens and young adults ages 10-24. “We routinely ask kids around age 11 or 12 if they’re having sex.”
While that might be a scary thought, parents have some influence in keeping their kids safe when it comes to sexual health.
Research shows that teens who talk with their parents about sex, relationships, birth control, and pregnancy begin having sex at a later age, use condoms and birth control more often if they do have sex, have better communication with romantic partners and have sex less often.
So how do you start the conversation?
Van Ramshorst urges parents to start early, teaching children around 2 years old the correct names for body parts. As the child ages, parents can tailor the conversation according to each developmental age.
In early childhood, talk about inappropriate touching, understanding boundaries, and where babies come from. Later, conversations should include discussions about safe relationships, sexual abuse, sexual intercourse and how to communicate with romantic partners.
“There is no ‘right age’ to start going into more detail,” Van Ramshorst says. “The important thing is to have an ongoing conversation and be open to the questions that children might have.”
Sexual health resources can help
If it feels awkward, remember you don’t have to go it alone. To help you know what to say, take advantage of informational resources such as
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Reproductive Health
American Academy of Pediatrics: Healthy Children, Dating & Sex
Van Ramshorst also encourages teens to have an annual visit to their primary care physician to talk about sex, mental health, and other important topics.
To schedule an appointment at the Teen Health Clinic, call 210-358-TALK (8255).