Talking to your Children About Sex

Almost every parent dreads the question, “Where do baby’s come from?” and “What is sex?”

When that happens, remember this: our children are bombarded with sexual images every day. From music to commercials on television to even the ads on buses and billboards around town -- sex  is everywhere. And let’s not forget all the misinformation they get from their friends.

Isn’t it about time you started providing the accurate information?

By talking to your children about sex, you can provide them with your values, your hopes for their future, your wishes that they wait until a certain age before being sexual or wait until marriage. Then again, you might decide to set limits for them and age constraints.

For example, kissing and touching are all right, but nothing more until they're at least 17 or 18 years old -- when they can make more appropriate decisions for themselves. 

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Studies show that adolescents who are taught the truth about sex, its consequences, and ways to prevent sexually transmitted diseases, wait longer to engage in sexual activities and have fewer teen pregnancies than adolescents who were taught abstinence-only education. The old belief that if you talk to adolescents about sex they’ll run out and do it is false. If children ran out to do everything you talk to them about, their rooms would never be dirty.

By talking to your teenagers about sex, you’re sharing your values and your boundaries with them, nothing more. Lies and treats aren’t necessary and in fact are detrimental to their health.

Remind them that if they want to make adult decisions (have sex) they should behave like responsible adults and protect themselves against possible consequences such as pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections by using condoms and birth-control medication. This is not a one-time discussion. You should be discussing these issues weekly if not bimonthly.

Warning Signs

There are several warning signs that you can notice in children who have experienced sexual abuse. These include: abrupt changes in behavior or personality, aggressive behavior, temper tantrums, excessive crying, depression, over compliance, school adjustment problems, a sudden drop in school performance, self-mutilation, suicidal ideation/gestures/attempts, flashbacks, nightmares, hyper-vigilance, lack of trust, isolation, and lack of friendships. Even promiscuity is a  warning sign that the individual is trying to reclaim what was stolen from them.

Overcoming Past Trauma 

Children don’t stay children. Thus, many adults still suffer from the aftereffects of shock, depression, and anxiety. The most common effect is PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). PTSD can become a chronic debilitating illness that stretches far into adulthood.

Other emotional and development problems due to sexual abuse as a child are alcohol and substance abuse, sexual dysfunction, depression and anxiety, poor self-esteem (which can also lead to abusive relationships), promiscuity, self-mutilation, self-sabotage and feelings of worthlessness, lack of trust issues, suicide attempts, and other emotional health issues.

Though there is nothing we can do to make past events disappear, there are ways to help pick up the pieces and help our children (girls and boys) develop into healthy adults. The same is true of assisting men and women who’ve experienced sexual trauma in the past to reclaim their right to a healthy sexual life.

Treatment Options and Alternatives 

A few of the options available for children are: enlisting the services of a therapist who specialists in child trauma. If the youngster is adamant about pressing charges, support their decision. If you do not, this may feel like a betrayal on your part. Remember children feel the need to talk about their hardships.

Remember all the times they talked about how they scraped their knee. You can help them tailor to whom they reveal their experience by reassuring them that it’s not bad to talk about it. In some instances, children are more traumatized by the reaction of the person they're telling.

So watch your response. Reassure them it wasn’t their fault, that you still love them, and that you’ll protect them from the perpetrator. Most of all, remind them that you still love them and want them in your life.

A few of the options for adults: finding a psychotherapist or sex therapist that can help you reclaim your divine sexuality is paramount. If you are having flashbacks (recurrent fears or thoughts/images of the abuse) while you’re with your partner, stop what you’re doing and reorient yourself to the here and now.

Find five things in the room that are blue. Say your partner’s name out loud. Say your age and today’s date out loud repeatedly. Have your partner hold onto you and whisper a few words you may have previously discussed that will remind you that you are safe. Choose sexual positions that allow you to feel safe or be able to see your partner’s face.

Use mirrors in your bedroom, which allow you to see yourself on the bed so when you feel anxious you can look into the mirror and see whom you are with and that you’re safe and it is not the abuser from your nightmares. There are several books on the market that deal with childhood trauma, including The Courage to Heal and my own book Para La Mujer Sensual (The W.I.S.E. Journal for the Sensual Woman), which has an entire chapter dedicated to overcoming past sexual trauma.

And of course, there is the use of crisis hotlines and trusted friends.

Whatever works best for you is what I always recommend. If you’re not sure, keep exploring.

Remember not every therapist specializes in sexual trauma or is comfortable speaking on such matters. When looking for a therapist, find the one you feel most comfortable with. If after four sessions you cannot bring yourself to open up, consider another.

If  you’ve already been to three or four therapists, consider the fact that perhaps you’re not comfortable enough to feel vulnerable again and need to have faith that the therapist will not judge you. Or continue looking if you feel you just haven’t found the right person to be that open with.

Regardless of what you decide, remember you have the right to sexual freedom and a healthy sexual lifestyle. You are now in control of your life. You are no longer the defenseless child but the mature adult who can protect themselves and/or contact others, such as the police, to help keep you safe.

Dr. Charley Ferrer is a world-renowned Clinical Sexologist and the only Latina Doctor of Human Sexuality in the United States. She is the award winning author of The Latina Kama Sutra, The W.I.S.E. Journal for the Sensual Woman, and The Passionate Latina: In our own words. She is the founder and Executive Director of the Institute of Pleasure whose primary mission is to provide education on relationships, mental health services to women and men, and conduct research on sexuality. She can be reached at more on Dr. Charley, go to

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