In several cultures, sex education conjures unpleasant images of children involved in sexual activity. This may lead to parents hesitating to offer sex education to their children. Sometimes, parents find it difficult because they were not given sex education themselves. Sex education empowers children to own their bodies, can be a useful tool to help them avoid sexual abuse. Additionally, sex education creates opportunities for children to bond with parents. It is a parental duty.
When should you start sex education?
There is no specific age when sex education should start. You can start sex education by teaching your child the correct names for his sex organs, maybe during bath time. Toddlers should be able to put a name to all their body parts, including their genitals. You can make it into a game. Your toddler points and you name the body part, or you point and your toddler names the part. Don’t giggle or show that you feel shy. Tell him which parts of the body are private. Explain to your child that only those who clean him can touch those parts, and even then, they can touch only in the setting of cleaning him up.
Using the correct names for body parts will allow your child to better communicate with you, if for example, he hurts in his genital area or someone touches him inappropriately. It also helps him to see these parts as normal. This will promote self-confidence and a positive body image.
Is it bad for my toddler to touch himself?
It is normal for toddlers to explore their bodies, which includes touching their genitals, but they should understand when and where it is alright to do so. Boys may pull at their penises, and girls may rub their vulva or clitoris. Don’t scold your child for touching himself. If your child starts touching his genitals in public, try to distract him, but do not punish him. Sometimes, frequent self-stimulation can point to the fact that your child feels anxious or isn’t getting enough attention from loved adults. It can also be a sign of sexual abuse. A child being excessively and inappropriately shy of his genitalia may also indicate sexual abuse.
How long will sex education take?
Sex education should be a continuing process, and not a day’s event. It should happen just as naturally as you teach your child other things, like cleanliness. This empowers children to protect themselves from premature sexual activity, and abuse. Make your child understand that he can talk to you about anything, including his private parts, and that you will always protect him. This makes him able to confide in you when someone touches him in a way that he does not like.
Co-written with Dr Nelly Adade Ackay