A study by the University of Bristol worryingly found that teachers in the UK were too “out of touch” and “embarrassed” when it came to discussing sex with their students.
So if teachers are struggling to conceal their blushes in the classroom, what chance do parents stand with their own kids?
An NSPCC spokesperson told The Huffington Post UK: “Talking about sex can be a very difficult and uncomfortable subject matter for a parent to broach with their child, especially when adults consider conversations they may have had with their own parents.”
But even if parents can’t find the right words, or the right moment, it is essential that they start talking about sex with your children. Before they start talking about it with someone else.
Why is it important to discuss sex at home?
Family Lives explained to HuffPost UK: “The media is full of confusing messages about sex, and it can seem like everyone else is doing it all the time. Parents have a responsibility to support their children during this time.”
Even if you are feeling really awkward, or just can’t bear the thought of getting nervous giggles, it is important that you don’t just leave sex education to your child’s teacher or the web.
How do I first approach the topic?
Instead of trying to approach ‘the chat’ as a one-off, open an informal dialogue with your child so that they feel they can come back to you with more questions in the future (and aren’t completely blindsided by a hugely important talk at the dinner table).
Justine Roberts, Mumsnet CEO, told HuffPost UK: “The consensus [between Mumsnet mums] is to seize the moment to chat about the subject whenever the opportunity arises rather than try to schedule a big talk and think that’s job done.”
“Don't try to schedule a big talk and think that is job done."”
What age should I talk to my child about sex?
The NHS says: “If your child is asking questions about sex, they’re ready for truthful answers. It’s never too early to start talking about it – find out how to go about it.”
Many parents may want to leave ‘the chat’ until their child is a little older, especially if their own parents never broached the topic at home, but the NSPCC says that the world is a different place now.
A spokesperson explained: “The world has changed significantly in recent years with one of the results being children are now exposed to and made aware of sex much earlier in their lives than would have been the case in previous generations, partly this may be due to the easy access many have to the internet.
“There is no set age at which parents should sit down and talk to their child about sex, but the important thing is that when this conversation does happen the content is age appropriate and the child feels that they can ask questions and are free to come back and talk about it again in the future.”
I’m not sure they are ready, should I just leave it till they are teenagers?
Roberts said: “Most of us find the embarrassment quotient rises as children approach their teens, but they do need to know about at least the mechanics of sex by the age of 10 or 11 if you don’t want them picking up outlandish ideas from their resident Year 6 ‘expert’.
“Some Mumsnet users find it’s actually easier to give very basic information when kids are still quite little and too young to share in your discomfort.”
What language should I use to talk about sex?
Official NHS advice says: “You don’t have to go into detail. A short, simple answer might be enough. For example, if your three-year-old asks why she hasn’t got a penis like her brother, you could tell her that boys have penises on the outside and girls have vaginas on the inside. This could be enough to satisfy her curiosity.
“Work out exactly what your child wants to know. For example, if they ask a question, such as ‘Where do babies come from?’, identify what they’re asking. Don’t make it more complicated than it needs to be.
“You could answer by saying: ‘Babies grow in a woman’s tummy, and when they’re ready they come out into the world’. This might be enough.”
What about contraception and sex?
Children need to know about contraception long before they are actually considering having sex, according to a spokesperson from Family Lives says: “It is a good idea to start talking about contraception before your children become teenagers if possible.
“Both boys and girls have to understand that they must share the responsibility if they decide to have sex, and make sure they are protected from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections.”
Should I mention porn?
Roberts, from Mumsnet, told HuffPost UK: “There’s no escaping from the fact that teens are likely to be encountering difficult themes around porn, consent, bullying, STDs and the sharing of sexual images - and parental guidance is a crucial way to keep them safe and grounded.”
Is there anything I should consider before starting the conversation?
A spokesperson from Family Lives says that parents should always keep an open mind during these conversations: “Your teenager may be confused about their sexuality and feelings. They may worry that no-one will be interested in them, or that they don’t seem to be interested in sex.
“They may know or think that they are bisexual, lesbian or gay. You may feel shocked, upset or even angry - but they deserve your respect and support whatever your opinion about their sexuality.”