Author: Dr. Trina Read (Trina Read)
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I was absolutely flabbergasted after reading a story in Macleans magazine entitled “Preteen Temptress” (March 2004). Patricia Pearson writes how the half-naked vixen look (a la Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears) is out and a more demure look of buttoned-up sweaters and skirts past the knees is in style. Great. I was never really crazy about that look.

However, at the end of her piece, Pearson makes a connection between the “casualness of sexual innuendo, so innocently adopted by these children” and newspaper headlines proclaiming children casually performing oral sex and consequently sometimes contracting Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs). Huh?

I wrote Pearson an admittedly perturbed email to say that dress has nothing to do with a child’s promiscuity. I also suggested perhaps some research on childhood sexuality should be done before she puts this kind of article in front of thousands of parents who want to do the best for their children. She wrote me a not-so-happy response.

Sometimes it is better just to keep my mouth shut. Especially when it comes to the murky realm of childhood sexuality. Really, whose side is the average parent going to take when it comes to their child? Probably the side of buttoned-up sweaters and knee-length skirts.

Why, then, are so many parents desperate to get advice on talking to their children about sexuality? I even have teenagers emailing asking for advice. I never answer these teenagers for fear that speaking to a person under 18 about their sexuality will get me into a whole lot of trouble. Instead, I refer them to teen appropriate educational websites.

The thing that scares me about the Macleans article is it points the finger of blame at the wrong source. In my opinion, it is not the lack of clothing that is propelling children to do things before they are ready: it is a lack of sexual knowledge. If parents (yes, that is parents, not schools or other educational venues) do not supply children with appropriate sex-positive information, those children will naturally go and figure it out on their own.

How many generations of kids figured out sex in the backseat of a Chevy? The only difference today is that a trip to the doctor and a shot of penicillin to treat an uninformed sexual mistake will not get rid of HIV/AIDS.

In fact, study after study has proven that a child who is educated and comfortable with their body and their sexuality will abstain from inappropriate sexual acts. I call it being sexually self-confident. As well, I believe it is just plain smart to have kids well versed in sexuality before they go off into their MTV world.
Educating a child about sexuality starts at age zero and is a continuous dialog that runs through to when they leave the parent’s care. The best ages to talk to kids about serious sexual matters is pre-teen, from 10 to 12. At this age, they are curious enough to want to know and still look to their parents as the best source of education. After the age of 13, most kids refer to their friends’ opinions and not their parents’.
When speaking to kids about their sexuality, remember that it is so much more than biology. Please do not misinterpret. A lot of much-needed sexual self confidence comes when a child can name all their body parts and not have to use wee-wee to refer to their genitals. It is also a great help that they know exactly how a baby is created, how to use a condom to ward off pregnancy and nasty STDs, and how to use all the birth control methods available to them.

However, a good portion of the parent/child sexuality discussions should center around the awkward and absolutely critical questions. For example, common email questions to me from teenagers are: “When will I know I am ready to have sex?” or “How can I talk to my partner about using a condom?” or “I don’t want to, but I don’t know how to say no.”

I get that, as a parent, these are tough conversations to have with a person who has a young mind, an adult body and a whole lot of hormones speeding along in overdrive. Yet, an honest discussion and appraisal of a child’s sexual maturity is so much better than the possible ill advice of the child’s best friend.

In the end I am glad that parents and teenagers are asking questions. Luckily, there are many books and websites that give solid information to help everyone along that zany sexual journey into adulthood. It also helps parents filter out misinformed articles that can only cause them unnecessary worry.