This article discusses the emotions that surround sexual behaviour and relationships and including them in sexuality education for children and teenagers.

Teenagers receive much information about sex from many sources – some is conflicting, some is glamorous and some is dangerous. Ensure that the messages around sex that your kids receive at home are positive, informative and helpful in assisting them to make good decisions about their sexual behaviour.

Discussing sexual practices and relationships with your children will not encourage them to have sex. The sharing of information with them around safe sex practices will encourage them to stay healthy and to consider sexual behaviour in a mature and responsible way.

What is sexual education?

Sexual education is about the functions of sexual organs, the process of sexual reproduction, and it is also about the emotions surrounding sexual behaviour and relationships.

Undoubtedly sex is a physical act, a function of life, an activity of living. It is also an emotional act that is closely tied to our feelings for others and our perception of ourselves.

In teaching children and teenagers about sexual behaviour it is vital that we include behaviour, emotions and conscience – as well as the basic biological functions of sexual reproduction.

What are useful triggers for talking about sexual behaviour?

It can be artificial and embarrassing to broach the subject of sex with our children – most people feel uncomfortable discussing sex with others from another generation, whether that be older or younger! We are surrounded by sexual messages that we can use as triggers to start discussions with our kids, to open up the door of open communication.

Great examples are:-

  • TV programmes, especially soap operas – these allow you talk about issues in the third person, discussing the behaviour of a fictitious person rather than people known to us
  • Advertising boards with sexual messages that you notice while you’re driving in the car together. The car is a great place to discuss ‘tricky issues’ – you’re in there together, neither can walk away and yet eye contact is limited.
  • Books that you have both read can be a great place to start discussion.
  • Films that you have seen together or separately

If you have any other great ideas, please add them to our discussion at the bottom of the page.

What issues do parents need to cover and when?

Basically the more you discuss sexual issues with your own children, in an age appropriate way, the more you will ‘know what they know’! Certainly the school will provide sex education, which is compulsory unless the parents officially opt out on behalf of their children. Parents are invited to learn about what the schools teach in sexuality education, and as sexual behaviours will concern your child not just at school, but also at home, in the work place and out with friends, it is preferable that they can learn from you too. The school may adequately cover the biological act of sexual intercourse, but may not discuss emotional issues in a way that is appropriate to your family values.

The functions of the reproductive body parts can be adequately covered through reading material, but do check it out yourself first.

The issues surrounding sexual behaviours are, however, enormous.

There are no fixed ages at which various topics should be covered. Individual decisions need to be based on the attitudes and experiences of each individual child. Their place in the family will also be relevant, as youngest children will be exposed to far more at an early age, through older siblings.

Early discussions with children could cover noticing the opposite sex, feeling different towards them, respecting the feelings of others around playground teasing.

As older children/young teenagers take an interest in fashion, then discussions around sexual messages become appropriate. Likewise as puberty occurs then bodily changes and feelings around that become important.

Consent around sex – all children and teenagers need to know that their body is theirs and theirs alone and that it is precious. No one should ever touch them in a way that they are not comfortable with and that they have not given permission for them to do so.

Issues to be discussed with teenagers

Teenagers need to know that they can say No to sex, if they wish to do so. They also need to know how to protect themselves if they want to have a sexual relationship.

It is vital that safe sex is discussed as part of any discussion. Just as we discuss safety around not sharing drink bottles, we need to share the message that sex is potentially dangerous if the spread of disease is not considered.

Teenagers need to know the consequences of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) such as gonorrhoea, herpes and Chlamydia.

They need to know about potentially life threatening diseases such as Hepatitis and HIV/AIDS.

Discussions about:-

  • Respect for your own body and those of others
  • Respect for your own feelings and those of others

should be part of sexual discussions at all ages.

Be sure your teenagers know about the effects of drugs and alcohol on sexual inhibition and safe decision making around sexual practices. For more information on prevention of unwanted pregnancy – see articles on Contraception.

Homosexuality and bisexuality are portrayed in the media. Discussing these issues at home will help your children to understand these issues without prejudice and fear.

And finally…

The simple message to teenagers is

If you choose to have sex, use a condom every time.

Useful articles

For more information on Contraception, click here.

This article is part of a series of Kiwi Families articles, including –

Sex Education – An Introduction

Sex Education – The Practicalities

Sex Education – Sexually Transmitted Infections


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Paula Skelton is a qualified NZ nurse and midwife, a midwifery & childbirth educator and the mum of three lovely girls.

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