Parents are their children's primary sexuality educators. Research shows that when families talk about issues relating to sexuality, youth make healthier decisions about their relationships, delay sexual activity longer, and are less likely to engage in risky sexual behavior. When it comes to sex, there is increasing evidence that young people want guidance, information and support from their parents more than any other group. Yet many parents are unsure of or uncomfortable about what to say.
Our Parenting Programs provide valuable information and tools to help parents and caregivers effectively communicate their values while providing the information young people need to make healthy decisions.
- Healthy Foundations: Responding to Young Children's Sexual Questions and Behavior
- Beginning the Conversation: How to Talk With Your Child about Sexuality
- Communicating Your Values and Exploring Sensitive Topics
- Adolescent Sexual Attitudes and Behavior: What Parents Need to Know
- Human Sexuality
- Addressing Media Messages and Internet Safety Issues
Tips for Talks
We know these are difficult conversations to have with our youth, but it is important to give our youth medically accurate and “sex positive” information. Remember: if children are old enough to ask a question, they are old enough to hear a medically accurate response.
The "teachable moment" is a simple way to engage in a conversation with your child. These moments happen everyday. A neighbor who is pregnant, a commercial on TV, a situation from a book your child is reading, or an event that happened in school, are all great ways to start a dialogue with your child about sexuality. Who knows, you may actually find out just what is going on in your child's head.
The following are messages that children and youth should know about their bodies and sexuality. These messages were developed by a national task force of experts in the fields of adolescent development, health care, and education. The tips have been broken down by age groups to ensure age appropriate information.
- Each body part has a correct name and a specific function.
- Both boys and girls have body parts that feel good when touched.
- Bodies change as children grow older.
- Reproduction requires that a sperm and egg join.
- Not all men and women have children.
- Individual bodies are different sizes, shapes and colors.
- All bodies are equally special.
- People can love people of the same sex and people of the opposite sex.
- There are different kinds of families.
- Everyone, including children have rights.
- A young man's ability to reproduce starts when he begins to produce sperm.
- A young woman's ability to reproduce starts when she begins to menstruate.
- Puberty begins and ends at different ages for different people.
- Everyone's body changes at its own pace.
- During puberty many people begin to develop sexual and romantic feelings.
- Contraception can prevent fertilization and pregnancy.
- Sexual orientation is just one part of who a person is.
- People of all sexual orientations can have fulfilling relationships.
- Biological sex refers to whether a person has male or female genitals and/or chromosomes.
- Gender roles refer to the way society expects people to behave based on their biological sex.
- Masturbation does not cause physical or mental harm.
- Boys and girls should keep their genitals clean, healthy and free from harm.
- STIs can be passed during vaginal, oral or anal intercourse.
- Some sexual and reproductive organs provide pleasure.
- People should use contraception during vaginal intercourse unless they want to have a child.
- The size and shape of penises, breast and vulvas can vary significantly.
- People do not choose their sexual orientation.
- Some people's gender identity differs from their biological sex.
- Love is not the same as sexual involvement or attraction although it can happen at the same time.
- Individuals always have the right to refuse any person's request for any type of sexual behavior.
- All people are sexual beings.
- A person should not pressure a partner to engage in any sexual behavior that he/she is uncomfortable with.
- There are many different methods of contraception.
- Condoms also provide protection against the transmission of STIs and HIV/AIDS.
- The only way for someone to know if they are infected with an STI is from testing and a medical exam.
- A person's body image may impact his/her decision-making and behavior.
- If a person is being intimidated, harassed or harmed because of a real or perceived sexual orientation, it is important to tell a trusted adult.
- All people have the right to express their gender identity.
- Sexuality is a natural part of being human. Be clear about your values. Before you begin speaking with your child think about what your values are. What do you believe about teens having sex? What does your faith community believe? You need to be clear about how you feel, so you can convey your values to your child.
Talk about facts vs. beliefs. Facts may sometimes contradict your own values. It's okay to discuss the factual information about something and also convey to your child your values about this. Always give an honest and direct answer to your child's question. Letting your child know that people have different views, values and opinions about something is always a positive thing. Don't worry if you don't have all the answers. "I don't know" is a perfectly acceptable answer to a child's question. Responding with "let's find out together" is a way to promote a discussion.
Do not assume that because your child is asking questions, she/he is engaging in sexual activity. Children are naturally curious. They may have questions because they have heard or seen something that is confusing to them. Sexual images are everywhere; on T.V., on billboards, in magazines and on the internet. It's a good sign that they are asking you.
Practice what you preach. It can be confusing for young people to hear one thing about sexuality and then see an adult act in a way that does not support this. Acting on your values and being a good role model are powerful messages for your child.
But don't preach. A conversation is a two-way dialogue. Don't talk at your child. Some of the best information about what is going on with your child's life comes from keeping quiet and listening.
Encourage a sense of pride. All children deserve to be loved and wanted. Let them know you are interested in them as people. You want to know what they think and how they feel.
Keep the conversation going. Talking with your child about sexuality is an ongoing process. It is not a single event. It is important to start the conversation early and to let your child know that you are always willing to talk with them.
Keep your sense of humor. Letting your child know that sexuality is a natural, normal part of life is a powerful message. As you become your child's primary sexuality educator don't be surprised when your child asks you a question about sex in the line at the grocery store!
Other Services Offered for Parents
Because we understand the importance of community, parents, schools and teens working together for healthier outcomes related to reproductive and sexual health, we can assist parents with advocating for quality sexuality education in their children's school.
ED Code Section 51933 states that if sexuality education is taught in California public schools it must be comprehensive sexuality education. EC Section 51933 requires that comprehensive sexual health education shall be age appropriate; medically accurate and objective; available on an equal basis to English language learners; appropriate for use with pupils of all races, genders, sexual orientations, and ethnic and cultural backgrounds; and appropriate for and accessible to pupils with disabilities.
This education shall encourage students to communicate with their parents or guardians about human sexuality and shall also teach respect for marriage and committed relationships. It shall not teach or promote religious doctrine nor reflect or promote bias against any person on the basis of any category protected by the non-discrimination policy codified in EC Section 220.
The California Comprehensive Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Prevention Act was created to clarify and simplify the California Education Code regarding the teaching requirements for sexuality education and HIV in public schools.
ED Code Section 51931 (d) requires HIV/AIDS education at least once in middle school and at least once in high school. EC Section 51931(d) defines HIV/AIDS prevention education as: “Instruction on the nature of HIV/AIDS, methods of transmission, strategies to reduce the risk of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection, and social and public health issues related to HIV/AIDS.”
To learn more about our parenting resources or to schedule a training:
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Additional Resources for Parents
All about Sex: A family Resource on Sex and Sexuality. Our comprehensive resource will help families establish positive sexual values and encourage responsible sexual behaviors. Including a glossary and an extensive resource section and reading list. Contact: Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc., 810 Seventh Avenue, New York NY 10019 Tel: 800-669-1056. Web: www.plannedparenthood.org
The Facts of Life: A Guide for Teens and Their Families. This popular booklet offers parents of pre-teens and teens all the information they'll need to discuss sex and sexuality in a comfortable and accurate way. In addition to basic information, this booklet provides explanations of boys' and girls' sexual feelings and anatomical growth, reproductive systems, masturbation, menstruation, sexual orientation, pregnancy, birth control, and STIs. Also includes information about relationships when they're good for you, when they're not, and how to handle a breakup. Contact: Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc., 810 Seventh Avenue, New York NY 10019 Tel: 800-669-1056. Web: www.plannedparenthood.org
How To Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Available in most bookstores, this book walks parents through a wide range of typical talks with kids, while at the same time encouraging them to listen fully to what their children are saying. Contact: Avon Books, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10019. Tel: 800-669-1056. Web: www.harpercollins.com
Human Sexuality: What Children Should Know and When They Should Know It. This pamphlet takes the mystery out of "What to say?" It aides parents to ensure that children receive sexuality education information that is complete and age-appropriate. Our helpful guide looks at the information needs of children including toddlers, grade school children, younger adolescents, and older teens – and explains what children at each stage need to know about human sexuality and their own sexual development. Contact: Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc., 810 Seventh Avenue, New York NY 10019 Tel: 800-669-1056. Web: www.plannedparenthood.org
Talking About Sex: A Guide for Families. This video and companion kit for families with children ages 10 to 14 contains factual information and discussion guides about topics such as anatomy, puberty, contraception, teen pregnancy, STIs, and HIV/AIDS. Cost: $29.95 (plus shipping and handling). Contact: Planned Parenthood Federation of America Inc., 810 Seventh Avenue, New York NY 10019 Tel: 800-669-1056. Web: www.plannedparenthood.org
Becoming an Askable Parent. This guide instructs parents on what children are experiencing at different ages (from birth to 16) to help them answer questions that both they and their children might have. It also presents typical situations in which parents find themselves as their children become curious about sex. Contact: American Social Health Association, P.O. Box 13827, Research Triangle Park, NC 27709-3827. Tel: 800-783-9877. Web: www.ashastd.org/
First Comes Love: All About The Birds And The Bees – And Alligators, Possums, And People Too, by Jennifer Parmelee. Available at most bookstores, "First Comes Love is a charming book for young children about love, sexuality and relationships, and a wonderful introduction for parents to begin talking with their children about sexuality. The delightful rhymes and illustrations normalize the subject and create a comfortable context for parents and young children to begin this all-important conversation." Michael McGee, Vice Present of Education, Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Contact Workman Publishing, 708 Broadway, New York, NY10003. Tel: 800-722-7202 ext.7593
It's Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, and Sex & Sexual Health, by Robie H. Harris. Available at most bookstores, this wonderfully illustrated book provides accurate, unbiased answers to nearly every conceivable question, for contraception and puberty, to birth control and AIDS. It's Perfectly Normal offers young people the real information they need to know now more than ever to make responsible decisions and to stay healthy. Contact: Candlewick Press, 2067 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02140
Now What Do I Do? How to Give your Pre-Teen your Messages. This booklet helps parents of 10- to 12-year-old children communicate about teen pregnancy, contraception, self-esteem, media influences, unwanted sexual attention, and homosexuality. A sister publication, Oh No! What Do I Do Now? (Also available in Spanish), helps parents communicate their values about sexuality to their children. Contact: Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States, 130 West 42nd Street, Suite 350, New York, NY 10036-7802. Tel: 212-819-9770. Web: www.siecus.org
Open Up, listen Up! Produced by Advocates for Youth for "Let's Talk Month" (every October). This guide covers how to talk about STIs, HIV/AIDS, teen pregnancy, and positive educational television viewing. The guide offers messages about both sexual abstinence and contraception and is available in teen and pre-teen versions. Contact: Advocates For Youth, 1025 Vermont Avenue, NW, Suite 2100, Washington, DC 20005 Tel: 202-347-5700. Web: www.advocatesforyouth.org
Talking With Your Child About Sex, by Mary S. Calderone and James W. Ramey. Available in most bookstores, Talking With Your Child About Sex offers answers to questions children of different ages ask about sex. Contact: Ballantine Books, 201 East 50th Street, New York, NY 10022.
The What's Happening To My Body? Book For Girls, by Lynda Madaras. Available at most bookstores, this book is a growing up guide for parents and daughters. It allows parents to help a young girl handle her transition to womanhood. She also offers The What's Happening To my Body? Book For Boys. It is a newly revised edition that includes information on AIDS, STIs, and birth control appropriate for this age. Contact: Newmarket Press, New York, 18 East 48th Street, New York, NY 10017. Tel: 212-832-3575.