One of the aspects of parenting as well as homeschooling is discussing sexuality with our kids. Our two eldest have already engaged in several long talks about sex, their bodies, communication, consent, disease, and pregnancy.
We’ve talked to them about the importance of knowing themselves, their bodies, and their feelings of readiness to share that with someone else. All three of our kids, from an early age, discussed their body parts–all of them–so they would understand proper terms for them. This may have led to a few interesting moments, such as Daughter pointing to her lower half, and announcing at age 3 to bank tellers and old ladies on the street, “I have a clitoris!”
But it’s that sort of affirmation that is encouraging for a healthy relationship with her body. We used to live near a pair of girls, one of whom loved to announce, “I have a uvula!” She even knew to open her mouth and show it to us at the back of her throat. While she may have just loved the sound of the word, it was an important lesson in anatomy, and body-awareness.
When you’re open to discussion about all the functions of your child’s body from an early age, and the feelings that go along with changes, discomforts, and questions, then they’ll know they can come to you when their stomach hurts, their bowels are obstructed, or they’ve just had their first wet dream and need to make sense of it. I’ve had some surprising conversations–private ones–with my daughter about her own developing body. Some of these conversations I didn’t expect to have as early as we did, but once the initial surprise wore off (I covered it quickly enough), we were able to have meaningful talks about her body and address her needs in a way that was healthy and safe.
While some might cite averages, there are no fixed ages when development will take place, but instead, vast ranges. Sometimes children begin to grow curious far younger than their body’s development, others wait for a while. The two most important things you can offer your child is an open attitude that shows you’re ready to explore questions at any time, and the encouragement and resources they need to know their own body before they try to share it with anyone else.
To get started, I would recommend looking into some age appropriate resources to help both you and your child begin learning how to approach these questions. If they already know the names of their body parts, then it’s a good step in preparation. If not, I recommend a basic cover of anatomy using tools that are easy for them to understand at their development level (the two oldest both have copies of the Human Anatomy Coloring Book).
3 – 8 years of age (approx):
I had the privilege of working with Joani Blank to get her A Kid’s First Book About Sex digitized as a .pdf file. She also has a workbook with the same message, but intended for older children (6-9) who can read and write titled The Playbook for Kids About Sex, which is also available for download for free. The books are both out of print, but excellent resources for parents, schools, and homeschoolers. Donations are welcome, but Joani does not want any cost to prohibit its use. Details can be found in both .pdfs should you wish to contribute to her efforts.
Recommended by my friend Alba for explaining human reproduction: Where Did I Come From? by Peter Mayle.
8 – 12 years (approx):
The Care and Keeping of You: A Body Book for Girls by the American Girl Library offers discussion about female bodies in their preteen years. I checked this out from the library for my daughter, but she hasn’t read enough of it to give feedback one way or another. YMMV.
My Body, My Self for Boys is an introduction to puberty for the preteen male. Since I don’t have sons myself, I chose this based on user reviews of several titles in the genre.
What’s Happening to Me? A Guide to Puberty, also written by Mayle and recommended by my friend, is a guide the girls at the Mabon celebration this fall couldn’t put down. They flipped through it, giggling at the pictures, and solemnly reading the information. Good for any gender/sex.
As long as the book you’re choosing for your preteen is upfront and discloses accurate, medical information in an open and understanding manner, you’re not likely to go wrong. Many of these titles might be available at your local library, so if cost is an issue, check there first.
9 – 109 years (approx):
This article from Scarleteen is accurately titled “10 of the Best Things You Can Do for Your Sexual Self (At Any Age),” and was sent to a newsgroup this morning to which I subscribe.
The National Institute of Health (NIH) has a good web site for Reproductive and Sexual Health questions based on current medical facts, and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) address some of the developmental and behavioral aspects of developing sexuality.
But one of my all time favorite sites for questions asked and answered about human sexuality is Go Ask Alice! There’s a wealth of sexuality information from sore breasts before menstruation to exploring sexual and gender identities. It’s not just for sexual questions, but an excellent resource for many topics both youth and adults struggle with.
One more important point I’d like to add: no matter what kind of conversations you’re having, make sure that it’s truly a dialogue, and that you listen. Answer questions with honesty, even if it means honestly admitting you don’t know, don’t feel comfortable discussing it, or wouldn’t mind finding out yourself. Listening is key, though, because our children need to know that they’re heard, no matter the subject; it adds to their self-esteem and confidence, and helps them build healthy identities, which incorporate healthy sexual identities.