How To Talk To Your Kids About Sex At Any Age
Many parents are at a loss when it comes to supplying their kids with adequate sex education. It doesn't help that sex ed hasn't changed much over the past 100 years. Inaccurate and fear-based sex ed still runs rampant in many states, leaving kids unprepared and full of questions. With only 17 states requiring sex ed to be accurate, much is left up to interpretation and supplemented by material found on the internet -- including pornography.
Saint White was driven to create My Little Yoni, "the world's first vagina superhero." Backed by Dr. Debra Wickman, OBGYN, My Little Yoni is a joyful character designed to destigmatize and demystify the vulva. Yoni "not only teaches the importance of all kids learning proper anatomy, but promotes body positivity, respect, and consent in an age appropriate way," shares Dr. Wickman. With schools and the government failing our youth, Saint White believes it's up to parents to help educate families across the country, and sometimes they need a little help.
"We have to stop expecting schools to provide this crucial education and instead help parents address these topics directly inside the home, leading to immediate, positive change that prepares our kids for the future," notes Saint White. "Since most parents don't know where to start, we wanted to make the process easier and more approachable, and My Little Yoni was a way to do that."
When Should I Start the Talk?
There are several good reasons to start the talk earlier rather than later. "The process seems more daunting than it needs to be," notes Saint White. It's important to reframe this as a series of conversations that will happen over time rather than a momentous — and stressful — singular event that most remember as awkward and unhelpful.
My Little Yoni helps parents realize that they want to be the first one to tell their children about sex. Why? Kids learn about sex from a variety of sources including classmates, explicit material on the Internet, music, movies, and advertising. These paint a dangerous and inaccurate picture of what sex is, and by not talking to your kids you inadvertently contribute to their learning from these sources. The most powerful way to combat these cultural sources is to be the first one to step up and start the conversation with your kids about sex ed, right from the beginning.
Even if you're worried your kids are "too old" or "too young" to start the conversation, there is never a wrong time to start the talk. In fact, having the conversation early sets you up as the "askable" adult in your child's life, making them more likely to come back to you when they have more questions. This gives you the opportunity to ensure they're getting the factual and caring education they need.
For those parents who worry that talking about sex will "ruin" your child's innocence, there's nothing to worry about. Studies have shown that talking to your child about sex does not lead to their engaging in sexual activity early, and in fact, it generally has the opposite effect. Early comprehensive sex education leads to kids making smarter decisions and postponing sexual activity until they are ready. "You want to be the one to educate them on sexual boundaries, and to teach them about important concepts like consent," Saint White explains. "Ultimately, you are setting them up with these guideposts for the complexities that arise in sexual development. But you don't have to do it all alone, and that's why we created My Little Yoni and Yoni Magic."
How to ACTUALLY Start the Age-Appropriate Talk
Saint White has a few age-specific tips to make sure you keep the conversation positive, accurate, and ongoing. Children develop at different rates, so a good rule of thumb is to let your child steer the conversation. If they ask questions, answer honestly. If they ask follow up questions, continue answering honestly until they seem satisfied with the information you shared. You don't want to confuse them with myths or lies, but you don't want to overload them with too much information. "Generally, when kids have had enough info, they stop asking questions and move on to a new topic or activity," Saint White explains.
For Kids 3 and Younger:
First, think about it as you are teaching your kids about the creation of life, this is how you start the conversation. Keep language simple and factual. This means no stork or cabbage patch! Saint White notes, "The conversation will grow as your children do, of course there's more to sex than reproduction, and eventually you'll teach your kids this too." So, when your child approaches you with the dreaded question, "Where do babies come from?," try not to panic! There are many different explanations you can use: a woman and man, a sperm and an egg, cells, or anatomical parts. As your child asks more questions, you'll want to name these parts by their accurate names. Generally when parents first start the talk with kids 3 and younger, they say "two parts, sperm and egg, come together and make a baby." Remember, this conversation will get more in depth as they get older and start to have more questions.
When it comes to anatomy, Saint White says it's important to accurately name all the body parts. Technically, even the word Yoni is an accurate word for the female reproductive system, including the womb and vulva. Unlike other nicknames, Yoni is a sanskrit word for vulva, translating to mean 'sacred gateway.' It's important for kids to learn the proper anatomical terms for all their body parts, including their genitals. When your children are two-to-three years old, you can name reproductive organs and start discussing that boys and girls have different anatomy. Saint White emphasizes this point, "If you are already naming other body parts, there is no good reason to skip over the genitals. Skipping over certain parts can start to create shame or confusion, without even meaning to. It's one whole body, with all its different parts, so learning about all these parts accurately and free of shame is what prepares kids best."
While naming body parts, let your child know that only they are allowed to touch their genitals. This lets them know they have boundaries, protects them from possible abuse, and allows them to touch themselves without any shame. Again, different kids develop at different rates but it's not uncommon for kids as young as 3 years old to start touching their genitals. As long as you make clear to your child that they should be in a safe private space while exploring their body, it's perfectly fine to have this talk with your children early.
For Kids 5-7 Years Old:
When talking about reproduction, you'll want to tell your children that sperm comes from males and that eggs come from females. Telling your children where these parts come from gives them a better understanding of how life is created. Saint White recommends beginning this part of the conversation around the age of five.
Generally, parents start the conversation by explaining that penetration-based sex between women and men is to make babies. However, there's obviously a lot more to sex than that and most sex is not procreation-based. It's also important to explain that babies come to their parents in a variety of ways, such as adoption, surrogates or implanted embryos with the help of medical technology, and that parents can be any combination of genders — all families are equal and normal.
Around age seven, you can explain to your child that there's more to sex than making babies and that consenting adults will do it because it feels good. Explain that it helps them feel close and can be an expression of love. Some parents prefer emphasizing trust over love, saying that sex is something that adults in a relationship who trust each other do. "It's important to make it clear that sex is for consenting adults and not for kids. Around this time you can also begin to explain sexual risks like unplanned pregnancy and STIs," says Saint White.
Age seven is a good time to start covering concepts like consent. "Unfortunately, only seven states require topics like consent to be covered in sex ed, even though it's clearly a vital topic for our kids to be learning," Saint White shares. Practice consent in your everyday life to better show your child how to ask for consent. Always ask your child for kisses, hugs, and to touch them. This also means don't force them to hug every relative they see. Practicing consent like this lets your child know their voice and boundaries matter, and sets them up to see that others' boundaries are to be respected.
A major topic typically left out of even the most progressive sex ed conversations is masturbation. It's important to take shame out of the equation while also making sure they are safe and appropriately behaved for the setting. The main thing is to emphasize that having feelings in their body is normal and that it's okay if they want to touch and explore their own body, but that it needs to happen in a private space like their bedroom, away from other people. Saint White suggests starting this conversation at ages six and up, if you and your child haven't already approached the subject or exhibited these behaviors. Most importantly, make sure your kids know that their body belongs to them and that no one else should be touching their body. Having conversations like these will help protect your children, empower them with knowledge, increase their body confidence, and set them up for more success in their future relationships.
For Kids 9+:
If your child is around age 9 or older, it's a good time for them to learn about puberty. "They are likely nearing puberty at this age, and even if they aren't, friends and people they know are. They need to begin learning how their bodies will change," Saint White explains. Sharing how the menstrual cycle works, how bodies develop, and how their entire reproductive system works will better prepare them for this transition. Explain how hormones might affect their mood or body, how to handle bodily processes like cramps or PMS, and what hair will begin growing. All these things can take kids by surprise if they don't learn about them properly, so make sure to keep your child informed.
At this time, take a moment to check in with your child and make sure they don't have any questions for you about these subjects. "It's all about an ongoing conversation. As a mom, I understand how daunting starting this process can seem but please take heart in knowing it doesn't have to happen all at once," Saint White shares. These conversations will happen continuously and will develop over time. There's no need to explain everything at once, especially since kids have short attention spans and are not going to grasp everything immediately. What's important is that you start the conversation, establishing yourself as trustable and approachable while providing your child with honest information.
How Can I Keep the Conversation Going?My Little Yoni's most recent venture is Yoni Magic, a doctor-approved series of 10 books offering medically accurate, shame-free education on vital topics including periods, getting to know your own body, gender identity, how babies are made, consent, and more, each with colorful covers and illustrations.
On March 30th, My Little Yoni launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to publish the book series and to provide free doctor-approved sex education to at-risk families across the country. Beyond empowering education, every time a book is sold, My Little Yoni donates a book to a family in need. Any contributions will help to provide positive sex ed to those who need it most -- and you can get exclusive prizes in the process.
The Yoni Magic books were created within comprehensive sex ed guidelines and are accessible to kids ranging from ages 3 to 9. Starting these conversations early will give your child long term benefits and lessons that they can carry with them for a lifetime. While many of us grew up with reinforced gender stereotypes, inaccurate views around our bodies, and an unhealthy idea of what sex is, My Little Yoni is supporting a future where our kids can grow up with accurate information, respect of boundaries, and body confidence.
Have you had "the talk" with your kiddos? Share with us @BritandCo!