If you have young people in your life, you might be wondering how and when to talk with them about sex. Or maybe you've already spoken to them about “the birds and the bees”, but feel like there's more to say.
The infamous idea of “Having The Talk” sets us on the wrong path. Rather than one conversation, young people benefit from on-going, open dialogue that situates sexuality as a normal, healthy and integrated part of life – not something scary, secret, or fenced-off.
The quality of sex education varies greatly, but all too often it focuses only on reproduction, contraception and STI-prevention, missing the opportunity to teach children and young people about relationships, pleasure, desire, boundaries, consent, gender identity and more.
Most young people want to know about sex, and the less able they feel to get the full picture from the adults in their life, the more likely they are to rely on sources like rumour, stereotypes and readily-available internet porn.
Though you might feel nervous about talking to the young people in your life about sexuality, remember that you are an invaluable resource for them!
1. Find ways to weave these topics into everyday conversations.
Talking about situations faced by characters from movies or books you have shared is a low-pressure way of doing this, as is chatting casually about the relationships, identities and family constellations of people you know. Even mentioning your menstrual cramps or upcoming gyno appointment can help to normalise conversations about bodies.
2. Let the young person set the pace.
Kids have a pretty neat way of asking for the information that they're ready to make sense of. For example, plenty of little children who ask where they came from will be satisfied to learn that they grew inside someone, and only a year or more later want to know how they got there – and how they got out! Listen to what the young person is actually saying and answer their questions, as honestly and accurately as you can. Keep the conversation open and continue as long as they want, but also don't panic that you have to tell them all of the things right now.
3. Elicit and value the young person's opinions and experiences.
Being dismissive or patronising is a sure-fire way to make a young person shut you out. Whether they're in love, heartbroken, or think that sex sounds disgusting, don't tell them that they will grow out of it! Respecting their reality shows them that you are trustworthy, and validates that they have a right to their own feelings, preferences and beliefs.
4. It's okay not to know stuff.
We might feel embarrassed that, as an adult, we don't know everything there is to know about sex, but bluffing your way through doesn't help anyone. Instead, help the young person figure out where to find the answer – for example, by looking at a reliable sex education website together, or offering to accompany them to an appointment with a medical professional. You might learn something too!
5. Remember that children and young people learn from what they observe, as well as what they're told.
It's important to clearly tell kids that their body belongs to them, and that no-one should touch them without their permission. Role-modelling consensual touch (for example, asking the little ones in your life if they would like a hug – and respecting their yes or no) is also incredibly valuable.
6. Finally, don't ignore the context.
Young people are smart and observant. If a few rad adults are giving them messages that are totally at odds with what they see in the media, hear at school, and experience online, they will be aware of that contradiction (and might start to suspect that those sex-positive adults are deluded!). If you see a sexist advert or hear a homophobic comment, talk about it. The young person is probably already aware of these issues, and you can help them to start to make sense of them.
For legal reasons, people under the age of 18 are not allowed to visit Other Nature. However, they're welcome to read these info pages! We also stock books for children and young people – from stories featuring queer families and colouring books that disrupt the gender binary, to quality sex-ed for a range of ages – so supportive adults can stop by and pick up resources on their behalf.
If you are under 18 and interested in binders or other products related to gender-expression, please get in touch with us! We can sometimes make arrangements for young people to look at, try on and purchase these items away from the shop itself, and we offer evening info sessions for all ages about gender expression gear and also periods.