When it comes to addressing sexuality as a parent and in a family environment, being straightforward will help improve the relationships children have throughout their lives.
Gloria Hurtado Castañeda, psychologist and expert on sexuality, practitioner at Coomeva Private Healthcare.
After a long trip of carrying their little package wrapped in a cloth from halfway across the world, storks would deliver babies hanging from their beaks to the window or door of a home. More commonly heard of in movies or in other cultures, this story was used to explain to children where babies come from.
In our culture, however, this myth isn’t as widespread, and the actual information on sexuality that our grandparents, parents or that we received at home was either minimal or nonexistent, as it was limited either by cultural taboos or by a lack of understanding of how important it is for these issues to be discussed at home.
While this is something we can acknowledge, sexuality is an inherent part of being human. As Gloria Hurtado Castañeda emphasizes, for some parents, it can be awkward to talk about this topic with their children, and they may even decide that it is best to stay quiet. (It may interest you: Conscientious sexuality)
“While it hurts to say it, we have to admit that parents are not good sex educators, as they are leaving this responsibility to teachers and schools,” Hurtado points out.
With the right conversation, and well-guided and accurate information, it is not only possible to answer children’s questions at home, but also prevent problems from happening that can affect children’s lives as they become adults.
But how can you talk about it?
Before parents make their best effort to reveal what they may consider as some of the biggest secrets about how life begins, reproduction and about the relationships we have with our bodies, Hurtado argues that parents must have a clear understanding about the difference between two concepts: sexuality and genitality. Genitality is the term used to refer to the physical aspects of sexuality, or genitalia, which is just one part of sexuality. Sexuality, on the other hand, “…is an inherent part of our daily and family lives. So, whether it is intentional or not, we’re always sending messages to our children about this. We’re always giving them some type of indication or parameter about how to be a man or how to be a woman,” Hurtado explains.
With these differences in mind, the best way to teach children about sexuality is to focus on the small aspects of our daily lives. The ideas that are established at home and how relationships are formed are a fundamental part of creating a healthy environment where a child’s sexuality can be defined.
“Sexuality is loaded with symbols that children easily pick up on, which is why parents must be careful. For example, it’s not healthy to kiss children on the lips or have them get used to being present during times of intimacy, such as when parents engage in their physiological needs,” Hurtado states. For her, there should always be boundaries for respecting intimacy at home.
Engaging in conversation, a natural part of family life, is the best strategy to facing the questions that children have about their genitalia. The psychologist recommends allowing this to happen naturally, depending on the child’s age. With younger children, this can be done through play, and depending on the case, specialists can help guide older children sort out the different questions they may have.
Either way, when it comes to giving children the information they ask for, it is important for parents to agree about how to do this and that they never contradict each other. Hurtado also emphasizes that you should always avoid lying to children; so, telling stories about storks or allowing silence to serve as an approach to teaching at home is not the best way to help develop a child’s sexuality. (May interest you: Hey couples! Bring back the spark!)
- When children discover that their genitalia are different than a person of the opposite sex, explain that boys have penises and girls have vaginas instead of saying that one has one and the other does not.
- Keep the cognitive development of the child in mind and speak in their language. Don’t provide them with the information that they cannot understand or that confuses them.
- Do not ignore children’s questions. Try to answer them naturally and seek out information that can help give them a better understanding.
“The best place for a child to learn about sexuality is at home. Nobody can replace the lessons that are taught with love at home.” – Psychologist, Gloria Hurtado Castañeda