“The Talk” — it’s the most infamous part of puberty. The dreaded sit down with a parent or teacher for some of us and for others it’s a book about the body placed in our room. Sex education is often awkward for the one teaching it and the one learning. If you for some reason can’t be the one to teach your kids about sex education and their bodies, please make sure someone does. Without the proper education the sexual health and safety of children, teenagers and young adults can be at risk.
I read an opinion article in The Washington Post, “After surviving cervical cancer I’m teaching my kids about sexual health to save their lives” by Eve McDavid.
McDavid was about to go on maternity leave when she found out she had cervical cancer, which was caused from having contracted human papillomavirus (HPV).
“Human papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common viral infection of the reproductive tract,” and cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer diagnosis in women, according to the World Health Organization.
McDavid makes the great point that when a child gets the HPV vaccine (usually around age 12 but as early as age 9) you don’t have to give them the sex talk. You can uncouple sex from the vaccine explanation. When a child gets the tetanus vaccine, we usually don’t go into more detail than to say, “It will keep you from getting sick if you step on a rusty nail.”
We can simply tell our children and young adults, “It will keep you from getting a common virus that can lead to cancer.”
The health benefits of sex education aren’t just limited to women and girls. Men and boys also benefit from education about their body parts.
The other important reason to educate our children about their bodies is because it can enable them to tell someone if they have been sexually assaulted. Children are often told that there are private parts of their bodies that no one should touch, and that if someone does touch them there, they need to tell their parents. However, we should not leave it at body parts, but make sure children know the anatomical names — penis and vagina — among them.
Teaching children the names of their body parts and explaining that some areas are private, creates open dialogue about bodies between parents and children. As a former easily embarrassed teenager, knowing that there was someone who I could trust to talk about a very vulnerable topic was priceless.
And in the horrendous circumstances in which children and teenagers are sexually abused, this open dialogue may empower them to tell their parents or someone else about the abuse.
According to Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) when children know the names of their body parts, they may find it easier to ask questions about those parts. And when teaching children, particularly young children, about private parts make sure they know what areas should never be touched by someone else. Putting these two topics together accomplishes two goals in one conversation.
Sex education alone won’t stop sexually transmitted diseases or sexual abuse, but it gives parents and children more power and autonomy to prevent or respond to these issues. Sex education isn’t just one talk about the birds and the bees when a child enters middle school. It is a multi-conversation topic that can span over several years. Parents should decide when an appropriate age is to have certain discussions in the realm of sex education, but it is imperative they do not avoid these discussions.
Most parents want to put their children on the best track in life possible and make sure they have the tools to succeed. So instead of leaving it to a book you place in a child’s room or to a teacher, take the first step in the sex education journey and make it a safe and confidential environment for you and your child.