How To Have Sexual Health Conversations With Your young Ones
In my work as a public health physician and reproductive health specialist, I often encounter parents and guardians who are reluctant and uneasy about having sexual health conversations with their young ones. They often consider it a challenging and uncomfortable topic - hoping that somehow, their young ones will come into the knowledge of their sexuality as they mature. Regrettably, as is often the case, many young people are left to themselves to figure out their sexual health, exposing them to risks of sexual vulnerability and predation.
The reproductive hormones course through the body at the onset of puberty and begin to prompt physical and biochemical changes that elicit emotional and psychosocial responses. Providing young persons with age-appropriate, evidence-based information will aid them in navigating this phase of their life positively, purposefully, and responsibly. This article aims to help convince adults on the need for sexual health education for minors as well as how to help simplify the process and make it a worthwhile one.
Fundamentally, sexual health education is most essential for young persons because:
They require guidance and protection from sexual vulnerability. As is in other aspects of life, children need to know why the reproductive parts of their bodies are changing and how to groom themselves as this happens. They need to know not to feel embarrassed or distraught about normal bodily processes and changes. Early sexual health education gives them insights to the seriousness of fertility and virility as well as the necessity for sexual responsibility.
We need to fill the knowledge gap about their growing bodies and sexuality. Rather than leaving them to being susceptible to erroneous or bogus information from their peers and social media, you have the chance to provide them with correct and evidence-based information.
Puberty is starting earlier than later - in 1840, the average age of onset of menarche was 16.5 years while in 1995 it was 13 years. Nowadays, menarche is commencing as early as 9 years in many girls even though the recorded average age is 12.4 years. These days, most male and female 10-year-olds already exhibit signs of puberty. Educating children in advance of this occurrence increases their self-awareness and self-confidence in readiness for pubertal changes.
It is essential to foster an enabling environment for sexual health conversations - when sexual health conversations are a usual occurrence in the home, it makes for an establishment of trust in matters of sexuality. Consequently, sexual conversations are easier and less embarrassing.
According to UN “evidence has shown that comprehensive sexuality education (CSE) that is scientifically accurate, culturally and age-appropriate, gender-sensitive and life skills-based can provide young people with the knowledge, skills and efficacy to make informed decisions about their sexuality and lifestyle”.
Research shows that young persons who have sexual health education are more likely to be sexually responsible and to delay their first sexual experience.
My recommendation for when best to initiate sexual health conversations is to start as soon as a child becomes body aware - usually from eighteen months of age. At this stage, children are usually able to touch their bodies, communicate better and begin to learn the names of parts of their bodies. As they grow older, you may begin to help them understand the parts of their bodies that are private and emphasize the need for these parts to be covered up and shielded from other people’s view and touch. As they grow, it is always a good thing to encourage and answer sexual related questions by providing them with correct, scientific, and age-appropriate answers. For instance, my five-year-old daughter once asked me when she will grow a penis - this was a teachable moment for re-emphasizing the different components of the male and female genitalia.
For older kids who haven’t had any formal sexual health education, there’s room for educating them still - the saying goes it’s better late than never. You will find teachable moments with them from happenings around you – in the news, books they read, TV and social media moments, questions bordering on sex and many more. You may also initiate sexual health conversations with them by asking questions on what they know about the changes and feeling in their body and their sexuality - this will provide insights on their baseline knowledge and help you lead meaningful conversations with them in this regard.
For emphasis, note the following on how to keep the sexual health conversations going:
· Latch on teachable moments on sexual contents from questions asked, books read, movies watched, happening around you, trending news on sexuality etc.
· Make it age appropriate – they do not need to know all the information about sexuality in the first instance. Pace the information you give them ensuring that each information is well suited to their age.
· Don’t tell bogus stories about private parts, where babies come from, how babies are made or about sex.
· Use the right medical terminology for body parts.
· If you may, give examples of some of the challenges you encountered at their age and how you fared. You may also tell them some of your mistakes and what you wish you knew that may have helped you when you were younger.
Finally, I have found that though sexual health conversations with young people may be challenging in the first instance, nonetheless, it gets easier and less awkward subsequently. It remains our duty as older folks to protect our young ones’ sexuality by teaching, guiding, and making healthy sexual knowledge and information accessible and attainable to them. Having sexual health conversations with young people is not rocket science. When they know better, they will do better.
You may also see this video for more on "How To Have Sexual Health Conversations With Your Young Ones" https://www.instagram.com/tv/CbkCGhjhYx5/?utm_source=ig_web_copy_link
Dr Anne Olowu, is a Public Health Physician and a Health Promotion expert with varied work experience across Africa. She is the Lead Public Health Consultant at www.anneaideconsulting.com She writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
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