Call it what you will — whether it’s “the facts of life” or “the birds and the bees”, there comes a time in every parent’s life when they need to explain sex to their children.

But a preoccupation with finding the right time for a perfectly scripted conversation means some parents will leave the talk until it’s too late, or worse, never have it at all.

Sharyn Burns, of Curtin University’s school of public health, said sexually explicit images and language were an everyday part of life but parents should remember that children could only process information according to their age and developmental level.

“It’s not just ‘the talk’— issues surrounding sex can span over several years, and there will be a series of talks, ” Associate Professor Burns said. “Kids will only take in what they need to know according to their age, so keeping answers simple for young children will make things easier.”

Questions such as “Where does a baby come from” asked by children younger than six, only needed simple answers like: “Mummy provides an egg and Daddy provides a sperm and together they make a baby.”

“A simple answer is usually enough, and the child will be satisfied — they are not asking for an explanation of the whole process, it’s just the first level of curiosity, ” she said. “Questions about intercourse don’t happen until much later.”

While it was important to talk to children about sex at some stage — including issues surrounding relationships, sexuality and gender diversity — sometimes those in their tweens were not ready to talk, and parents should avoid pressing the issue.

“If the child is not showing much interest, then leave it until they are — most kids will ask when they’re ready and it’s a good idea to let them know they can ask you anything, so they feel comfortable, ” Professor Burns said. “Many will start to ask questions when they see changes in their own bodies during puberty, and that’s a good time to explore different topics.”

By the same token, when children asked questions, parents should not avoid talking to them, instead setting aside time for discussion when things were not so busy.

“Children have a knack for asking important questions at the most awkward times, ” Professor Burns said. “Make sure you let them know that you’ll talk to them at a later time. It’s OK to admit you’re not sure when they ask a really tricky question but that you will do your best to find out.”

It was important to talk about sex in the context of relationships, keep things simple and use the right terminology for different body parts from an early age.

When it came to issues such as sexting and unwanted sexual attention, particularly from adults, those were usually tackled by schools during sex education sessions, and it was a good idea to keep in touch with the school about when these would take place.

Parents could then ensure they broached the subjects before the school did.

By years 6 and 7, bullying and sexting would become an issue and parents should be prepared to talk to their kids about the consequences. In the teenage years, parties and issue of consent would be on their minds, and in later years helping children with issues of sexuality and fidelity might crop up.


© The West Australian

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