Sexuality and Relationships for Teenagers with Autism

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1 Sexuality and Relationships for Teenagers with Autism Sexuality and sexual development Sexuality is more than sex. It s also the way your child feels about her developing body. It s how she understands feelings of intimacy, attraction and affection for others, and how she develops and maintains respectful relationships. Sexuality is essential to healthy overall development. Teenagers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) develop sexually in the same way as other teenagers do, but they might need extra help to build the social skills and maturity that go along with developing sexuality. Sexuality and relationships: what to expect Your child will be more or less interested in sex and sexuality just like other kids his age. He can develop romantic relationships too, which might or might not be sexual. Exploration and experimentation with sexuality is normal and common. For example, for some young people with and without ASD sexual development will include same-sex attraction and experiences. But sexual and romantic experiences and feelings might have extra challenges for your child. Many teenagers with ASD can find it hard to understand feelings of intimacy, attraction and affection in themselves and others. It might also be harder for them to express their feelings. If your child does find these things difficult, she might be more at risk of doing inappropriate or risky things or getting into unhealthy relationships. In every situation, the most important things are consent and safety. Consent means that your child needs to be sure that he feels OK about any kind of sexual experimentation and that the other person is OK with it too. Safety means that your child and the other person are protected against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, and that the experience is respectful and non-violent. The complicated interactions between two people and the mixed messages about what other people are thinking or feeling, or what their intentions are I can see that being a real challenge for him. Peter, parent of a 13-year-old with ASD

2 Early teenage relationships often involve exploring physical intimacy and sexual feelings. You might not feel ready for this, but you have an important role in guiding and supporting your child through this important developmental stage. About teenage relationships Romantic relationships are a major developmental milestone. They come with all the other changes going on during adolescence physical, social and emotional. And they re linked to your child s growing interest in body image and looks, independence and privacy. Romantic relationships can bring lots of emotional ups and downs for your child and sometimes for the whole family. The idea that your child might have these kinds of feelings can sometimes be a bit confronting for you. But these feelings are leading your child towards a deeper capacity to care, share and develop intimate relationships. When teenage relationships start There isn t a right age to start having relationships every child is different, and every family will feel differently about this issue. But here are some averages: From 9-11 years, your child might start to show more independence from the family and more interest in friends. From years, your child might want to spend more time in mixed gender groups, which might eventually end up in a romantic relationship. From years, romantic relationships can become central to social life. Friendships might become deeper and more stable. Many teenagers spend a lot of time thinking and talking about being in a relationship. In these years, teenage relationships might last only a few weeks or months. It s also normal for children to have no interest in romantic relationships until their late teens. Some choose to focus on schoolwork, sport or other interests. First crushes Before your child starts having relationships, he might have one or more crushes. An identity crush is when your child finds someone she admires and wants to be like. A romantic crush is the beginning of romantic feelings. It s about your child imagining another person as perfect or ideal. This can tell you a lot about the things that your child finds attractive in people. Romantic crushes tend not to last very long because ideas of perfection often break down when your child gets to know the other person better. But your child s intense feelings are real, so it s best to take crushes seriously and not make fun of them.

3 Early teenage relationships Younger teenagers usually hang out together in groups. They might meet up with someone special among friends, and then gradually spend more time with that person alone. If your child wants to go out alone with someone special, talking about it with him can help you get a sense of whether he s ready. Does he want a boyfriend or girlfriend just because his friends do? Does he think it s the only way to go out and have fun? Or does he want to spend time getting to know someone better? If the person your child is interested in is older or younger, it could be worth mentioning that people of different ages might want different things from relationships. The most influential role models for teenagers are the grown-ups in their lives. You can be a positive role model for respectful relationships and friendships by treating your partner, friends and family with care and respect. Just talking about both men and women respectfully lets your child know you think everyone is equal and valuable. Talking about teenage relationships with your child Your family plays a big part in the way your child thinks about teenage relationships. When you encourage conversations about feelings, friendships and family relationships, it can help your child feel confident to talk about teenage relationships in general. If your child knows what respectful relationships look like in general, she can relate this directly to romantic relationships. These conversations might mean that your child will feel more comfortable sharing his feelings with you as he starts to get romantically interested in others. And the conversations can also bring up other important topics, such as treating other people kindly, breaking up kindly and respecting other people s boundaries. Having conversations with your child about sex and relationships from a young age might mean your child feels more comfortable to ask you questions as she moves into adolescence. In some ways, talking about romantic and/or sexual teenage relationships is like talking about friendships or going to a party. Depending on your values and family rules, you and your child might need to discuss behaviour and ground rules, plus consequences for breaking the rules. For example, you might talk about the amount of time your child spends with his girlfriend versus the amount of time he spends studying, or whether it s OK for his girlfriend to stay over. You might also want to agree on some strategies for what your child should do if she feels unsafe or threatened.

4 Young people might also talk to their friends, which is healthy and normal. They still need your back-up, though, so keeping the lines of communication open is important. These can be tricky conversations (especially if you feel your child isn t ready for a relationship). Check out our Talking to Teens Interactive Guide to see how different approaches to tricky topics can get different results. You can also find more information in our articles on tricky conversations and problem-solving with teenagers. Sex and teenage relationships If your child is in a relationship, it can bring up questions about sex and intimacy. Not all teenage relationships include sex, but most teenagers will experiment with sexual behaviour at some stage. This is why your child needs clear information on contraception, safe sex and sexually transmitted diseases (STIs). This could also be your chance to talk together about dealing with unwanted sexual and peer pressure. If you keep the lines of communication open and let your child know that you re there to listen, he ll be more likely to come to you with questions and concerns. Talking with your child about sex and relationships won t encourage her to start having sex before she s ready. In fact, the opposite is true comfortable, open discussions about sex can actually delay the start of sexual activity and lead to your child having safer sexual activity when she does start. You might like to read more in our article on sexuality and wellbeing in adolescence. Dealing with break-ups in teenage relationships Break-ups and broken hearts are part of teenage relationships. To make things worse, teenage break-ups might be played out in public maybe at school, or online on social networking websites. You might expect your child to be sad and emotional if his relationship ends. It might not seem this way at the time, but this is part of learning how to cope with difficult decisions and disappointments. Your child might need time and space, a shoulder to cry on, and a willing ear to listen. He might also need some distraction. Active listening can help you pick up on your child s needs. But if your child seems sad or even depressed for more than a few weeks after a break-up, it might be worth getting some advice from a health professional, such as your GP.

5 Helping your child with romantic relationships Your child might ask tricky questions, such as, How do I get a girlfriend/boyfriend?, or How do you kiss someone? By answering these questions, and speaking to your child about sex and sexuality, you can help him to understand his feelings and behave appropriately. Recognising feelings You might need to explain attraction to your child. For example, when she s attracted to another person, she might feel a tingly sensation in her body, or she might think about the other person a lot and want to be with them a lot. A Social Story might be helpful. Teenagers with ASD might also find it hard to understand that people can feel embarrassed about expressing deep romantic feelings for somebody. Teenagers don t always show these feelings on the outside. This can make it hard for a child with ASD to work out how someone feels. You can help your child to work out if the other person feels the same way that he does. For example, you could use pictures of how people might behave if they re attracted to your child. The pictures might show a person leaning forward to hear what your child says, touching your child s hair, laughing at her jokes, touching her arm or inviting her to do something together. On the other hand, you might also need to explain that smiling at your child and talking to him doesn t always mean that the other person is romantically interested. The person might just be being friendly. Visual supports, such as photos or drawings showing how people might behave when they re not interested, are a good idea too. The images might include people looking, moving or turning away, folding arms or not answering when your child talks to them. You can also talk to your child about how other people might interpret her behaviour. For example, if she smiles and is very friendly towards someone, that person might think she has romantic feelings. Building up your child s confidence and self-esteem is also a good way to prepare your child for romantic and intimate relationships. Managing sensory issues Sensory issues can have an impact on romantic relationships for young people with ASD. For example, if your child isn t comfortable hugging other people, this affects the ways he can express affection and attraction. You could try desensitising your child. This might involve you sitting near your child, wherever she ll happily tolerate. Then increase your physical contact with her by, for

6 example, touching her arm for a small amount of time. You could keep this going over months or even years until she can handle a hug from you. You know your child well, so you ll know how much to realistically expect. For example, your child might never feel comfortable having a hug from you or anyone, or he might be able to hug you, but not anyone else. Healthy relationships Explaining good and bad signs in a relationship can help your child develop healthy and safe romantic relationships. Here are some good signs to talk about with your child: The other person only asks you to do things that you feel safe and comfortable with. The person is honest and doesn t tell made-up stories to you about family members or peers. The person listens to you as much as you listen. The person doesn t expect you to do everything that the person wants. For example, the person is happy if you want to do something different or go out by yourself or with other people. The person supports you. For example, they say nice words to you and help you when you re upset. The person doesn t tease or bully you or say things that make you feel bad. Here are some bad signs: The person doesn t give you much attention or affection in return for your feelings. The person says mean things that make you feel stupid or bad. The person hurts your body, your private parts or your feelings about your body and private parts. For example, the person makes you do something that makes you feel uncomfortable. The person doesn t want you to meet friends and family. The person bullies you.

7 End of a relationship Teenage romantic relationships don t always last forever. Your child might need to know that sometimes they go for a long time, and sometimes they end quickly. Sometimes both people in a relationship agree to end it. Other times only one person decides to end the relationship. If your child didn t want a relationship to end, she might feel confused, sad, lonely or angry. She might also feel like this if she wanted a romantic relationship with someone but the other person didn t want one. These feelings are normal. You can support your child by encouraging him to: spend time with other friends and family do things he enjoys talk about what happened and how he s feeling express how he s feeling using writing, Social Story, art or sport. You could also talk about things your child shouldn t do, such as shout at the other person, send angry s or text messages, or post rude things on social networking sites. Intimate relationships and sexual health As your child goes through puberty, you might want to talk to her about sexual relationships. Your child might already have a biological understanding of sexual development from lessons at school or what you ve already taught him. But he also needs to develop a healthy attitude to intimate relationships. For example, you could explain that sexual relationships are a normal part of life, and teach your child not to use sex for popularity or to believe everything she hears from peers about their sexual experiences. Good touch and bad touch People with ASD can be vulnerable to abuse because they don t always recognise when something s not right. So you might need to teach your child explicitly the difference between good touch and bad touch. For example, good touch is something that friends and family might do to show they care for each other. These touches might include a handshake to say hello, a hug or a kiss. A bad touch is something that feels wrong or uncomfortable, such as a stranger asking for a kiss. You might also need to explain that a touch might be a good touch for one person, but the same touch might be a bad touch for someone else. For example, one person might like to be tickled (this is a good touch), whereas someone else might not enjoy being tickled (this is a bad touch). Or it s OK to kiss a close friend or family member hello if you see them in the street, but it s not OK to kiss a stranger hello.

8 Visual supports showing appropriate and inappropriate touching can help. Social Stories might also be useful. Here s an example of a Social Story. A Social Story about bad touching Bad touch is something that makes me feel confused and uncomfortable. Here are some examples of bad touch: Someone who is not my boyfriend or girlfriend touches me in my private areas. Someone hits me. Someone touches me and makes me feel unsafe or uncomfortable. Someone kisses me when I don t want them to. It makes a difference who is giving me the touch: Hugs, kisses and touches from people I know and love can be good touches. The same touches from people I don t know and love can be bad touches. Appropriate behaviour Because teenagers with ASD might have trouble understanding social rules or people s words or body language, they can end up responding inappropriately. So they often need clear explanations of what is appropriate and what isn t. For example, your child might call someone a lot when that person doesn t want to be called, or keep asking someone on a date when the person has already said no a few times. This might be because the other person has made an excuse, rather than saying, No I don t want to. You could explain that if someone makes an excuse or says no three times, you don t ask again. You could turn this into a visual reminder sheet. Personal boundaries Teaching your child about personal boundaries will help him avoid embarrassing situations and will help prevent him from getting into risky situations. A circle of friends activity can help. Your child is in the centre with circles around her. Family are closest and strangers furthest away. For example: Family these are the people who live at home with me. Extended family these are the people who are my family but don t live in my home with me. For example, my grandmother, grandfather, aunt, uncle and cousins. Friends a friend is someone I know very well. My friends care about me and I care about them too. I trust my friends and they trust me. Acquaintances there s a difference between being an acquaintance and a friend. An acquaintance is someone whose name I know and who I see

9 every now and then. I might have something in common with acquaintances, and I feel comfortable around them. For example, this might be a friend of a family member. Teachers these are the people who stand in front of the class at school and teach me things. Helpers these are the people who help with things that I find difficult. Servers these are the people who work in shops, cafes, restaurants or clothing stores. It is their job to serve customers like me. Strangers a stranger is someone I don t know. I don t know a stranger s name. Talk with your child about who falls into each circle and discuss what sort of behaviour might be appropriate with each circle. For example, which people would it be OK to kiss or hug? You could create an Is it all right to? table. Use ticks and crosses to show what it s OK to do with different categories of people. Your child could have this in his room to look at whenever he wants to remind himself. Masturbation and private places Masturbation is a natural activity for a child going through puberty. You can let your child know that it s normal but encourage her to masturbate only in a private place when she s alone. It might help to compare masturbating to other activities that your child does by herself in private, such as having a shower or going to the toilet. You might need to help your child recognise private places. A private place is where other people can t see you. You might also need to make a list of private places with pictures or photos. Here s an example of a list of private places for your child: My bedroom with the door and the curtains closed. The toilet with the door closed. The shower with the bathroom door closed. You could also put a private sign on the door of your child s private place in the house for example, his bedroom. But do make sure that your child understands that if another room for example, at school says private on it, it doesn t mean that it s a suitable place to masturbate. You might also want to make a rule that people should knock on all bedroom doors before going in. Make sure that everyone who visits your home knows the rule. You will probably need to go over these messages many times with your child. Try to be patient with your child and yourself. You might find it helpful to share experiences and get support from other parents in our forum for parents of children with ASD.

10 Children and teenagers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) might need longer to understand that their bodies will change in puberty. You can help your child get used to the idea by starting preparations early. Preparing for puberty: when to start Most parents wonder when to start talking about puberty with their child. You might be worried that you ll confuse your child with information that she doesn t need yet. Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often need longer to adjust to and understand changes in their lives than typically developing children. If your child isn t prepared for the body changes that happen in puberty, he might feel confused, or frightened that there s something wrong with him. You know your child best, so you re the best person to decide how much preparation time she needs. There might also be other things that influence your decision. If your child has a behaviour or habit that would be best changed before puberty starts for example, taking her clothes off you might start a bit earlier. She ll need extra help to understand why she can t take her top off any more. As a guide, puberty usually begins around: years for girls years for boys. But it s normal for the start of puberty to range from 8-13 years in girls and 9-14 years in boys. Every child is different. Genetics, nutrition and social factors all play a role in the onset of puberty. There s no way of knowing exactly when your child will start puberty. What to say about puberty Perhaps your child has noticed how older people are physically different from him. This is a great starting point for discussion. Young children can link having a beard, breasts or underarm hair with having an adult body. For older primary-age children, you can use the word puberty. You might say, Puberty is when a child s body changes into an adult body. Then when your child notices physical differences in other people, you can talk about them in relation to puberty. This can help your child understand the change from child to adult. Children with ASD might understand what happens to other people, but find it hard to apply this understanding to themselves. It can help to make clear statements like, As you change into an adult, you ll also have underarm hair. An All about me book can help your child see how she changes over time. It could include pictures of your child now and when she was younger.

11 It will also help to explain that boys and girls develop differently for example, a boy won t grow breasts. Your child might also have the wrong idea about some issues, so you need to watch out for things that need more explanation. For example, extra hair just grows on the underarms and pubic area in women, and also on the chest and chin of a man but not all over the body. Language and terminology You might need to be careful about your use of language, particularly if your child takes things literally. For example, if you describe your son s voice as breaking, your child might find this worrying. Instead you could say something like, Your voice is changing and will get deeper. You could also explain that men s voices are usually deeper than women s. Your child s father s voice, or his older brother s, could be good examples. Giving your child both the formal terms and the everyday words for body parts might be useful for example, boobs refer to breasts. Or people talk about a voice breaking when they mean a voice getting deeper. Tricky questions If your child asks awkward or tricky questions, try to be patient and honest. It s OK to say, I don't really know let s work it out or look it up together. If your child asks questions at inappropriate moments, it might help to have a standard response that everyone in the family can use for example, That s a good question, but let s talk about it once we get home. Your child needs to know, though, so remember to deal with the question when you get home. You can also help your child feel good about himself and develop a positive selfimage by reassuring him that physical and sexual changes are a natural part of growing up. Visual supports Showing your child pictures of yourself at different ages to see how you looked different can help your child understand when puberty occurs. You could also use drawings of a body to show how it looks at different ages. Label the body parts and highlight the changes that will happen from getting taller to growing pubic hair. Social Stories You can create Social Stories for all sorts of topics to do with puberty. If you have a daughter, Social Stories might cover developing breasts and widening hips, starting periods and so on. For example: The shape of my body will change.

12 I will start to have periods. If you have a son, Social Stories might cover penis and testicle growth, erections, wet dreams and voice changes: My body will look different. My body will do new things. My voice will sound different. Here s an example of a Social Story specifically on wet dreams: When I am sleeping, I might have a dream. When I wake up, my sheets might be sticky and wet. This is called a wet dream. When I have a wet dream, I should always wash my testicles (balls) and penis when I wake up. Wet dreams happen to lots of boys. Boys can be unsettled when they see semen for the first time, so it s a good idea to explain about erections and wet dreams before they happen. Let your boy know it s normal and will stop. Relating wet dreams and erections to the other changes he s noticing, such as growing hair, can help him understand that it s a normal part of growing up. Books and resources You can get some great books and resources to help your child before and during puberty. Some of these are available as a puberty kit from Amaze. If you can t get them from Amaze, they are available separately Sexuality is essential to your child s healthy development. It s normal to feel a bit uncomfortable talking about teenage sexuality with your child, but if you re prepared, honest and open, it can be easier for both of you. Teenage sexuality: the basics Sexuality is essential to healthy development. Sexuality isn t just about sex. It s about the way your child feels about her developing body. It s also about how she understands feelings of intimacy, attraction and affection for others, and how she develops and maintains respectful relationships. Your child s ability to express affection, love and intimacy is important, too and so is her ability to make healthy decisions and choices about her own body. Sexuality doesn t start at puberty and stop in adolescence. Sexual wellbeing continues to develop throughout life. Open communication between parents and their children has a positive influence on adolescent sexual behaviour. For example, young people who talk openly about

13 sexuality with their parents are less likely to become pregnant before the age of 18. They re also more likely to use contraception the first time they have sex. Promoting open communication about teenage sexuality Talking about sexuality with your child might not come easily. But you can make it easier by: using everyday opportunities to talk about sexuality showing and telling your child that you re interested in his beliefs, opinions and point of view being available to your child to discuss any issues or concerns assuring your child that he doesn t need to feel embarrassed trying to see things from your child s perspective being honest if you don t know the answer to a question and even suggesting that you look for the answer together asking your child what he already knows, then adding new information and clearing up any misconceptions using active listening skills. It s normal for you and your child to feel awkward when talking about sex and sexuality. For some ideas on managing those uncomfortable moments, you can read our article on handling tricky conversations. Talking to your child about sexuality Here are some ideas and strategies to make it easier to talk to your child about sexuality. Start conversations early There s no perfect time to start talking about sexuality, but conversations from a young age can help your child understand that sex and sexuality are a normal, healthy part of life. Early conversations can help make later ones easier. Be prepared Your child might ask you all sorts of questions, so it s good to be prepared. Young people are more likely to ask you questions about puberty, periods and contraception than they are about wet dreams or masturbation. It might also help to think in advance about your values and beliefs around sexuality so you can be clear and consistent with your child. For example, she might ask you about same-sex attraction, and a positive response from you is vital sorting out your own feelings about this issue in advance is a good idea. Talk about the really important stuff There are some things it s really important for every young person to understand. For example, your child needs to know:

14 that he has a right to say no. All young people have the right to control what happens to their bodies, and your child should never feel pressured into doing anything that doesn t feel right. Talk with your child about recognising what feels comfortable and safe, rather than doing what his friends are doing what safe sex means, and how to protect against pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections about the laws that apply to sex and sexual touching that if he s sexually active, it s important to be tested for chlamydia this condition is usually symptomless and is very common in young people of both sexes how, when and where to get advice on any issue related to sexuality. Think about what you don t know When you work out what you don t know, you can also work out how to get the information you need. There are many reliable sources, including: a GP or sexual health professional your child s school counsellor community health services and organisations, such as the Family Planning organisation or the sexual health clinic (generally free and confidential) in your state or territory books and pamphlets the parenting hotline in your state or territory. Create and recognise opportunities to talk about sexuality Sometimes your child will ask you directly about sex and sexuality, or an opportunity might come up naturally. Other times you might need to pick up on teachable moments. These are everyday times when you can easily talk about important issues with your child for example, when you hear something on the radio in the car together, when your child reads a story about relationships in the paper, or when you see something relevant on TV. These moments are often more comfortable for you both, and can help your child feel OK about raising more issues with you in the future. Choose your words carefully It s important to pitch your language and terminology at a level that s right for your child. Read your child s signals Look out for signs that show that now isn t the right time for a big talk, such as when your child is busy, tired or distracted. You can always try again later. Remind yourself about why discussing sexuality is important When you keep the communication channels open, you help your child make positive, safe and informed choices, now and in the future.

15 Over half of Year 10 students have experienced sexual touching, and over onequarter have had sexual intercourse. By 16 years of age, the majority of teenagers will have had some sexual contact. Many teenagers also engage in sexting. By delaying communication about sexual health with your child, you might be missing an opportunity to help your child make positive decisions. Talking about sexuality is particularly important if you want your views to help guide your child s own sexual decision-making process. Teenage sexuality: your role as a parent You are your child s most important role model. You can help your child by modelling and reinforcing values and beliefs about safety, responsibility and respect in relationships. Young people often adopt their parent s attitudes and beliefs about sex. Clearly and consistently communicating your values, and encouraging your child to explore these values on her own, rather than insisting she automatically adopts them, is important. Beliefs and expectations about sex and sexuality are influenced by your cultural background. Whatever your feelings about sexual issues, your child s sexuality is an important part of who your child is and who he ll become. You can show your child you re interested in finding out the views he hears from friends and peers by talking about different people s opinions on sexuality. Your child will learn about sexuality at school, talk about it with her friends, and get information on the internet and through social media. But young people do trust the information they get from their parents, so get informed by looking at reliable and evidence-based websites and information this way, you ll be ready to help your child sort through the many messages she gets about sexuality. It s a good idea to make your ground rules or non-negotiables clear to your child from very early on that way, he ll understand your values and expectations. But on other, less important issues, you might choose to negotiate with your child and set the boundaries together, so he feels involved and listened to. Young people with special needs Talking about sexuality is just as important for children with special needs. It s vital to give your child information that s relevant to her in a way she can understand. When talking about sexuality with your child with special needs, consider her: decision-making skills ability to think through the outcomes of actions knowledge of boundaries, privacy and intimate relationships this will help you fill in any gaps, and clarify misunderstandings

16 understanding of the risks associated with some behaviour. Here are some tips for talking with your children about sex and sexuality in a healthy and positive way. How to talk about sexuality 1. Reward your child s questions. It can sometimes be a little surprising when your child asks you a question about sexuality. But instead of asking, Why are you asking? or brushing off the subject by saying, We ll talk about this when you re older, try saying, I m so glad you asked me that. Be happy that your child feels comfortable enough to talk to you about sexuality issues. 2. Introduce the topic. Don t wait for your child to start the conversation. Many parents put off talking to their children about sexuality, assuming that a child will ask when he wants to know something. But some children are reluctant to begin these talks, and others simply aren t the type who ask a lot of questions. Do you wait for your child to ask about your religious faith, personal safety and other important topics before discussing them? The answer, more than likely, is no and sexuality should be no different. It s a parent s responsibility to introduce the topic, little by little. Your child might never ask, but he still needs to know. 3. Be honest. It s OK if you don t have an answer to your child s question. If you don t know the answer, say so and explain that you ll find out and get back to her. If your child is school age or older, you can look it up together. If you find you ve given your child misinformation, don t hesitate to go back and tell her you d like to try to give her a better answer now you ve had time to think over your discussion. 4. Talk about your feelings. It s OK to feel uncomfortable. Many parents feel awkward talking to their children about sexuality because their parents didn t talk to them about these issues. There s no reason why you can t or shouldn t explain this to your child. You can say, I m not used to talking about sex because Grandma didn t talk to me about it, but I think it s important and want us to. It will get easier as we go along. 5. Look for teaching opportunities. Teaching opportunities arise naturally and provide a good venue to talk about some aspects of sexuality or other important topics. They might be a scene in a TV show or movie, the actions of a character in a book you ve both read, or your teenager getting ready for a school dance. Teaching opportunities like these give you the opportunity to provide little bits of information, and to share your own family values without having to sit your child down for an uncomfortable series of formal talks. 6. Listen to your child. Try hard to really hear your child s concerns. Find out what he already knows about the topic you re discussing. Although your fifth-

17 grade son s crush might seem silly to you, it s very important to him. Your willingness to listen during the primary school years sets the stage for when your child is an adolescent and has to make decisions about dating and sexual relationships. 7. Explain your family values. Facts aren t enough. Yes, your child needs to be educated about reproduction and puberty, but she also needs to hear your family values. She can learn facts from school and books, but only you can teach her your values. Think through the messages you want to convey to your child about sexuality. 8. Talk about both men and women. Educate your sons as well as your daughters. In many homes, parents educate their daughters about puberty and menstruation, but assume that boys will pick up what they need from their friends. Your son needs sexuality education from his parents, too. It s the job of both parents to teach children about sexuality. In many homes, it s mum s job to talk about sexuality. In other homes, the mother talks to the daughters, while the father talks to his sons. But children need to hear the adult viewpoint of both genders. It teaches your children that men and women can talk about sexuality together, an important skill in adulthood. 9. Be positive. Talk about the joys of sexuality. It is so easy, when talking about sexuality with children, to focus on the negative consequences of unprotected sexual activity. This is especially true when they re teenagers. But your child also deserves to know that his sexuality is a wonderful gift, and that expressing sexual feelings in a responsible manner can be a vital and rewarding part of an adult relationship. Be sure to share your own family values about responsible healthy sexuality. In single-parent homes or homes with gay or lesbian parents, it s a good idea to ask for help from close relatives or friends of the other gender when talking about sexuality. This will help your child learn how to talk about the subject with both women and men.

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