Today we’re talking about something different than what we’ve discussed on the show before …
So let’s talk about sex baby, let’s talk about you and me… yes, that’s me doing a little nod to Salt-N-Pepa.
We are definitely going to talk about “all the good things and the bad things”. There are lots of misconceptions about sex, both for parents and certainly for children. So today we’re talking about some of them.
I’m excited to have this conversation because it’s so important. And don’t worry because of course I have other perspectives to share with you on this topic in upcoming episodes. Including an interview with my step-daughter, her father, and an intimacy expert.
But today we’re talking about why this is such an important topic and why you want to be paying attention to it and not overlook it.
I’m sure many of you remember what it was like when you first learned about sex or were starting to get interested in kids “in that way.” Or maybe you just remember the physical changes happening in your body as you were going through puberty.
My Childhood Experience with Sex Talks
I don’t know if your experience was like mine, but for me it went something like this…
I was an only child raised by my mom and grandparents. My grandparents would never talk to me about sex or anything sexual because they were old school Russians and deemed it inappropriate.
My mom, being a doctor, reviewed my body with me from a clinical perspective and asked me to let her know if I had any questions.
In 7th grade we had a health class where the teachers separated the girls from the boys to talk to each group about changes they are experiencing or will soon be experiencing in their bodies.
And then in 10th grade I had another health class where the teacher addressed the questions and concerns of my fellow classmates. I was grateful for that class and the brave souls who put themselves out there and asked questions.
In conversations with other step-parents, parents, and caregivers many shared that they did not have an adult to speak with about sex or sexual development. And if they had a health class, things were only discussed from a clinical standpoint. And they had to navigate these matters on their own.
Not to mention at the time I was growing up pornography was not as widely available like it is now. Which is largely influencing kids’ perspective of sex and sexuality, not in a beneficial way. Kids also didn’t have a personal computer in their pocket at all times like today.
Why Having Sex Talks With Children is Important
The reality is that many struggle with intimacy and making sense of what is pleasurable to them as well as how to sustain an intimate relationship with their partner.
According to Healthline a 2017 study found that among 18- to 89-year-olds in the United States, 15.2 percent of males and 26.7 percent of females reported no sex in the past year, while 8.7 percent of males and 17.5 percent of females reported no sex for five years or more.
Though there are many contributing factors to this, I believe that just like things we see and experience in childhood that have a profound impact on us so do things around intimacy and sexuality.
A tween or teen needs a trusted adult who has successfully navigated their journey into sexual maturity to light the way. They need this person to be a touchstone to help them make sense of what they’re experiencing and how that feels.
This helps them figure out what they enjoy, and to create healthy outlooks that will serve them in the future.
Think of how many times things you’ve heard either from a parent or caregiver, the church, or media has influenced your relationship with your sexuality. Have you ever been shamed or guilted for liking something or not liking something? How has that impacted you?
Usually, these things don’t just live in a bubble of a one-time occurrence that you never think about again. Most of the time, these events have lasting impact on how you view yourself and your preferences and how you respond to these desires.
Maybe it’s causing you to feel like you need to hide yourself and your desires from everybody. Possibly even including from your partner, because you’re afraid of how they will respond or what they will think of you.
You have an opportunity to change that experience for your child. You can help them flourish and embrace all of themselves and show up fully in their lives and in their relationships.
Here are some tips and reasons to have many more conversations about sex at a much earlier age …
Start when they are 4 or 5 years old. By then kids have a bit more language and understanding. They are also starting to get curious about their bodies and about touching others.
It’s a great opportunity to help them identify the what, where, when, and how to be appropriate and still get their needs met.
For example, if you have a little boy who is exploring his genitals and tends to run around the living room and dining room while doing so, you can explain that it’s something meant to be done in private, like in his room or in the bathroom.
Figure it Out Together
By starting to have these conversations early, you’re allowing both of you to be new at it and you lay the foundation on which to build these conversations in the future when more detail or nuance is called for.
You don’t need to have all the answers. You just need to be present and tune in to what you’re noticing. If you notice your kiddo shut off, name it and let them know that if they’re uncomfortable, you can stop and try again another time.
It’s even better when you don’t have all the answers or details and you guys look stuff up and learn together.
4 Steps for How to Begin
1. Who Starts?
As the adult you’re going to have to begin the conversation. I know it’s hard and probably not what you want to hear. But you need to guide the way. This takes the pressure off your child. It also shows that it’s okay to talk about this stuff because you’re modeling it by paving the way.
When you start talking about this, you want to be relaxed. Don’t try to cram all the knowledge and warnings in right away. You’re just opening the door. Keep it breezy and light, especially with tweens and teens.
If you make it too important right away, then they’re going to shut down. Which is not what you want. Absolutely no judging! Create a safe space where they feel comfortable and welcome to share.
3. Let Them Teach You
Even if they have everything backwards, you want to first know about it. Learn what they know, what they think, what they’ve experienced, and what their peers are doing.
Let them teach you, the lingo, what’s common, and what their world is like. This way you can understand them and speak to them on their level. An adult actively learning from a child especially about important and vulnerable subject matter is empowering and confidence building for the child.
Then you can slowly begin to look for opportunities to explore with them some of their views and maybe even share something they didn’t know or point out something they didn’t realize. But this happens in stages. It takes time and several conversations to get there.
The more pleasant and comfortable you make the conversations, the more they will be open to hearing your thoughts and taking your advice. It’s about building trust and connection both of which take time.
4. How to Start
You can start by sharing that you remember what it was like being their age and all the changes that your body was going through.
The reality is, you’re going to have to share an embarrassing story to break the ice and gain their trust for them to open up.
If you make it awkward, and simply say, let me know if you have any questions, they’re not going to come to you. And by being awkward, and not acknowledging it, you’re sending the message that you’re not comfortable.
Which feels a lot like you don’t know what you’re doing or talking about. This will prevent them from speaking to you openly and from taking any of your advice. Which is the opposite dynamic that you want to create.
Should Stepparents Take the Lead to Have Sex Talks with Their Stepchild?
If you’re a stepparent and are on the fence, here are some things to keep in mind…
As we’ve discussed kids need to have a trusted adult be a guide and a touchstone for them during their journey through puberty and as they come into their sexuality. Whether or not that’s you, depends on the relationship you have with your step-child.
You will know because they will likely seek you out to have a conversation or share things with you. You can also check in by letting them know that you’re there in case they ever need to talk about anything.
The truth is even if they feel comfortable speaking about sex and sexuality with their parents, it doesn’t hurt to have another trusted caregiver to speak with and to offer another perspective.
Kids often need to hear things multiple time before it sinks in. In addition, hearing things put a slightly different way also help the information to sink in. As long as your step-child is comfortable talking to you about these matters, be an ear to them.
You can still encourage them to speak with their parents too to get their perspective and thoughts. Whether they will or not is not your responsibility, but it’s a good opportunity to plant the seed for them to keep their parents in the loop.
Thanks for tuning in to this conversation.
Remember, as their parent, stepparent, or caregiver, you are transitioning from parent to a mentor. Which means you are helping them gain the knowledge, resources, and access to information and encouraging them to make the best decision for them.
I want you to take some quiet time to think about this conversation with your stepchild or child, and really think through how it may go. And then I want you to put a date and time on the books and have the conversation.
DM me on LinkedIn or Facebook and let me know how it goes.
I know this can be a difficult and scary transition that no one is ever truly prepared for, but by responding proactively, you are setting your child up for success in navigating life’s difficult and complicated transitions with integrity and intentionality.
Until next time, be well.
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