In this interview I answer the question that is on lots of people's mind-
When is the right time for us to talk to our kids about sex?
Kerrin: The right time is 'the sooner the better' and so the earlier you can start is great but if you haven’t started early the best time is as soon as possible. If you have a teenager in the house that you’ve never spoken to about sex just starting the conversation when you can is a great time.
When you say the earlier the better can you give us some examples, I mean how young are we talking?
One of the myths around it is people think when we talk to young children about sex, we are explaining the ins and outs of sexual activity. Just like anything else we teach kids, you start at age appropriate ideas. Young children who are able to correctly identify or name their private body parts are able to demonstrate protective behaviours and that’s a really important step. So, we are looking at very young almost from birth, just using the right words not calling them by pet names like doodoo and willy. A penis is a penis the same as an elbow is an elbow.
You mentioned before that whether its aged 13 or older we need to start having those conversations but it’s one thing to say we need to do it and another to actually do it. Can you give us some practical ways we can open up that conversation with a teenager?
A teachable moment is always a great one. In the car works quite well, it’s less confrontational. If you see something on the TV or on the street, just saying to that young person "Did they look like they were consenting to that kiss?".
It's pointing out those key elements that are going to support their own sexual exploration and their own formation of healthy relationships.
I’m sure there are many kids out there that ask some pretty awkward questions. How do we best handle it when our children ask us questions about sex?
There are a few different strategies that you can use, the first one is to turn it back on them and say, "that’s really interesting, what do you know about that?" and that gives you the chance to work out why they’re asking the question. It’s the old thing about kids will ask something and we interpret it through our adult lens and panic, thinking "oh no they want to know". Particularly in young children all they want to understand is "where did I come from?".
They don’t need to know how the really complicated stuff works around sexuality works, they just want to know where they came from. So, it is stripping it right back and you can throw it back at them.
The next strategy is to just make it short and simple, supply the shortest and briefest answer that addresses the question. If the child wants to know more, they will then ask a follow up question. You don’t need to launch into an hour long lecture when the child says where did I come from you can just say things like "to make a baby, a sperm needs to meet an egg".
Leave it at that. The kid will go "where does the sperm come from?", and we can then explain that sperm is produced in the testicles and let the conversation evolve more naturally that way.
Now you’re a sexuality media expert and I'm sure that really enters into today’s environment such as kids watching porn or seeing things online. How do we actually enter that conversation with them?
Pornography is pervasive in our society now and the other issue with that is that not only is it porn in the way that we think of porn xxx movies online but it's sexualised media and it's ads on buses that feature women in sexually submissive positions with hardly any clothes on. So, there are some strong ideas about what sexuality should look like and those messages are taken in by kids.
We also know from the research that the average age of exposure to pornography is 11. Kids are getting younger and younger and its harder and harder to avoid. Again, its really about starting those conversations and they’re about calling out casual sexism, calling out gender-based violence, they’re around really having conversations about the role women play in our society and helping young people understand that perhaps the messages in porn don’t portray equal and healthy relationships.
The other side of that comes back to what makes great sex? We know that porn is watched more by cis males than cis females, the research shows us that it's highly gendered in viewing and many young people report watching it because they want to be great lovers. When you throw that back to them and say well a great lover is someone who communicates and listens to their partner and understands consent , porn suddenly falls flat.
What if we have some fairly strong family values that exist in our current relationship with our current partner, husband, wife whatever that might be. How do we actually instil those values in our children?
We really do that from day 1. One of our jobs as parents is teaching kids our family values, we teach them what we want love to look like, what manners look like, we teach them what equality and respect looks like and then all of a sudden when it comes to sex we just throw the values out the window and forget to teach them how it carries over.
It is about showing how those values function in a healthy relationship and a sexual relationship.
Want to feel more comfortable having conversations about sexuality? Check out 1:1 or Group Mentoring.