Can I talk to a child about sexuality?
Curiosity about sexuality is a natural part of growing up.
Children have the right to receive information, support and positive messages about sexuality, relationships and reproductive health.
As a provider, you can assist a child by giving information about sexuality that is clear, correct and positive. It is best for this information to come from the adults in their life that they know and trust. You are often the person in the best position to provide assistance and respond to their needs and questions.
What topics can I talk about?
Talking about sexuality can include talking about sexual development and puberty, relationships and being safe, sexual violence, self-esteem, feelings, body image and gender roles. It can also include talking about reproductive health issues like safe sex, contraception, pregnancy options and sexual health.
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Tips for discussing sexuality with a child in your care:
- Be approachable. Let them know you are happy to talk with them. Encourage questions and do not dismiss their concerns.
- When it comes to talking about sexuality, people are often embarrassed. If you feel embarrassed or uncomfortable, talk about this with the child. You could say something like “I’m finding this a little difficult because no one ever spoke openly to me about sexuality when I was growing up, but this is an important subject so I really want to talk to you.” In this way, the child will not think the subject is an inappropriate or rude one to talk about. It is important they know you care and can be approached. They will respect you for your honesty.
- Be factual and positive when answering questions. Give enough information to answer their question.
- Use correct terminology. We call an arm an ‘arm’ and a nose a ‘nose’, so it makes sense to call a penis, vulva, vagina or breast by its correct name as well. By doing this, you ‘normalise’ these words and don’t single out these parts of the body as being different. You also give the child the correct language to communicate about these private parts of the body.
- Children may be attracted to others of the opposite sex or the same sex. It is important to use inclusive language when discussing ‘boyfriend/girlfriend’ relationships, rather than making the assumption that all young people want a partner of the opposite sex.
- Discuss sexuality issues in a private place when possible. Sometimes children ask questions at awkward times or places, such as the supermarket, sitting in a crowded bus or when you are just too busy. When this happens, tell them their question or comment is very interesting and important. Let them know that it is one that is better discussed in a more private place, when you are alone together or when you are not so rushed. Always make sure you follow up when the time is more appropriate.
- Use ‘learning moments’ to talk about sexuality. Maybe a friend or relative is pregnant, a pet may have had babies, an issue may be raised on television or the internet, or an older child in the home is going through puberty.