Just as parents teach children letters, numbers, manners and rules, Amy Lang thinks they should regularly be talking about sex.
According to Lang, a certified sexual health educator and counselor, this assertion applies to children of all ages and at every stage of development.
“Sexuality is a core part of being human, but we don’t talk about it,” Lang said recently by phone from Seattle, where she is based. “It starts with using the correct names for body parts, when you’re changing their diapers. It’s just another part of their body, and they have a right to know.”
Lang built a career working with women and teens on issues related to sexuality, but when she became a mother 16 years ago and discovered that even she was uncomfortable talking with her son about his anatomy and its development, she realized other parents probably needed help, too.
She has spent the past 12 years providing assistance in the form of presentations, books and online classes.
In a culture where children can easily access sexualized images in media and where sexual abuse is prevalent, Lang says, discussing sex with youths is not a “should be doing,” but a “must be doing.”
She thinks the United States should model the Netherlands, which begins teaching sex ed in kindergarten and has historically low rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
“Starting at age 5, you can take the shock out of it by talking about it from a logical standpoint,” she said. “When kids have these conversations from an early age, they see it as normal conversation. It’s safer for them to learn this stuff from you.”
Lang recommends that parents read age-appropriate books on this topic with their younger children, and read independently to discuss later with their older children.
In addition to the book she has penned, “Birds + Bees + YOUR Kids,” she suggests several other noted options on her website, birdsandbeesandkids.com.
Lang’s own teen cringes when she brings up the subject, she said, “but I don’t care if he’s uncomfortable, because he needs to know our values. We talk about everything. You want your child to be the smartest kid on the block. That keeps them safer from sexual abuse and helps them make better decisions regarding relationships.”
Besides directing readers to her website to find resources, Lang provided these suggestions to parents:
For elementary-age children: “Do it sooner rather than later. This makes it easier on everybody. Don’t wait for your kids to ask questions; it’s your job to inform them.”
For middle school-age children: “Be open and keep talking. Kids know everything by the time they start middle school — from different ways of having sex to STDs to puberty. If they’re on the school bus and some kid with a smartphone is looking up porn, when a kid knows this is not good, (he or she) can say no and feel empowered.”
For teens: “Don’t believe it when they tell you they know it all, because they don’t. They didn’t learn it all at school, and they don’t have enough of the right information. You should be having a few conversations a week about sex, relationships and dating.”
For all parents, Lang says it’s important that your children hear it from you.
“Worried parents ask if this is OK,” she said. “But kids don’t interpret being given information as being given permission. The natural progression from talking about sex is talking about healthy relationships.”