Lots of parents find talking to children about sex, bodies and relationships difficult. But not talking about those topics can send out a powerful message. Feeling that certain bits of their body are taboo can leave children unable to negotiate issues around intimacy – or even just seek medical help – when they are adults. More than half of young women in the UK avoid seeing their GP about sexual or gynaecological concerns and two-thirds of 18-24 year olds say they would be too embarrassed to use the word ‘vagina’ when talking to a doctor.
For young people, being able to talk about their bodies and express their wishes around intimacy is a key component in staying healthy and safe. It is essential for avoiding sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancy – both of which have lifelong and potentially life-limiting consequences. In the worst case scenario, it is the difference between life and death. Diseases such as cervical cancer and testicular cancer strike young and have a much higher survival rate if they are caught early. Half of the young women who say they are reluctant to visit a doctor about intimate issues say it is because of fear of a physical examination. But a quarter of them say it is simply because they would not know which words to use.
Building a relationship with our children right from the start in which sex and bodies can be talked about makes it much easier to discuss these issues when they are older and makes it more likely that they will seek our help and advice as they grow up.
If finding the right words is something you find difficult, here is a comprehensive resource list of articles, websites and books to help make those tricky conversations a bit easier.
For general advice, start by reading Talking to children about sex, bodies and relationships. If you find talking to your teenager in general quite difficult then you might find these tips for Communicating with teenagers useful.
FPA – Advice for parents and information about sexual health. Publish leaflets and booklets for children of different ages. www.fpa.org.uk
Family Lives – Specific advice on issues like pornography, sexting and sexuality, with helpline and email support. www.familylives.org.uk
NSPCC – Useful sections on talking to children of all ages on sex, stranger danger and staying safe. Check out their fantastic PANTS campaign for talking to young children about sexual boundaries. www.nspcc.org.uk
FFLAG – Supports parents and their gay, lesbian and bisexual sons and daughters. www.fflag.org.uk
Brook – Provides free and confidential sexual health advice to young people via email, webchat and telephone helpline. www.brook.org.uk
BBC Advice for Teens – Useful advice for teenagers on sex, relationships, bodies, drugs, alcohol etc. www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/mRNnm7sBVxQZb4WnCRHKM5/categories
Useful Books (for children 2-10 yrs)
Reading books together is a great way to open up conversations about difficult topics. Check out these reviews to find books that will help:
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