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Discussing Sex and Gender With Your Child

Ms. Dora is a parent, grandparent, and Christian counselor who offers suggestions on raising confident, compassionate, responsible children.

Boy (male) and Girl (female)

Boy (male) and Girl (female)

Sex, Gender, and Identity

The perception of “sex” as an identity word is likely to change the attitude of parents who are afraid to use it in conversation with children. In teaching them to answer identity questions, the parent may ask:

“What is your name?"

" What sex are you?”

There! We said it, and it's okay.

The idea for this article is credited to Lenore Buth who, in How To Talk Confidently with Your Child about Sex (Concordia Publishing House, USA, 2008) writes:

“Sex is more than gender, more than sexual intercourse. Sex is not what we do, but what we are.”

Sometimes "sex" refers to identity.

Sometimes "sex" refers to identity.

Sometimes "Sex" Refers to Identity

It is not unusual for the parent to name the body parts while bathing the toddler. Each part of the body, including the sexual organs, is an integral part of the child. The child takes pride in naming his eyes, his hands, his feet. Why skip the sex organs? If they name all their parts except one, that one part becomes a mystery. Or if they find out later that others call that part by a different term, they will wonder why.

Between ages three to six, children should know and begin to understand the following words in the context of sexuality: male and female, boy and girl, man and woman, penis and vagina. These words refer to natural, biological differences according to the gender of an individual. Identifying and naming the sexual organs makes it easier for the parent to discuss touching (and when it is good or bad). It gives a child an awareness that helps them make sensible decisions about what to allow or not allow.

Teaching Preschoolers About Sex and Gender

Teaching sex first as identity promotes self-worth and self-confidence in preschoolers. It fosters an appreciation of sexual identity and gives them license to learn more. Little boys will compare the shape and size of their sexual organs with their father’s. If they are encouraged to talk about it, they will be less likely to be embarrassed (even if they are frightened) to mention a penile erection. Girls will feel free to ask why their sexual organs do not hang outside their bodies and what’s inside their mother’s breasts. Questions like these deserve straight, simple answers with diagrams as visual aids.

Don't confuse them.  Food is in the stomach; the baby is in the uterus.

Don't confuse them. Food is in the stomach; the baby is in the uterus.

Babies Are In the Uterus, Not the Stomach

Love has to be mentioned in an answer to the beginning of life. “The male and female (in a traditional home, the husband and wife) like to express their love for each other in private, close physical contact. When they are closest, the male sexual organ can fit inside the female sexual organ, and the male helps start a baby inside the mother’s body."

As children get older, add details about the sperm, egg, fertilization, etc. By then, in their healthy perception, there will be nothing dirty or frightening about sex.

The word "uterus" can be a preschool word. Putting the baby in the mother’s stomach (or tummy) will conflict with what the diagram shows. The child is in the uterus. If they can say rhinoceros, they can say uterus.

It's important for children to learn words like "testicles" and "ovaries."

It's important for children to learn words like "testicles" and "ovaries."

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Read More From Wehavekids

Puberty Is Closer Now

In 2011, a twelve-year-old British boy accepted the title of world’s youngest father but was disappointed when DNA tests revealed that the real father was a fourteen-year-old schoolmate. The mother was fifteen. The ages of the entire cast in this drama fit into the puberty bracket. So what does such a puberty dilemma say to parents who are trying to raise sexually healthy kids?

Firstly, it says that as early as possible, we should teach morality and responsibility alongside sexuality. Health statistics from government agencies show that the age of puberty continues to lower. Some girls get their periods as early as age eight. It seems that we have very little time in which to prepare our children for purposeful sexuality.

Puberty is the time when they begin to experience physical attraction. Their sexual urges are part of their identity. Recognize and talk with them about the feelings which come with hormonal changes. Factor in the emotions which come with being liked or being ignored by the object of their attraction. Teach differences, teach attraction, teach respect with references to the sexes.

Keep Talking

Ideally, the talking continues through young adulthood. Discuss with them their roles as men and women. During adolescence, they may have a general interest in certain vocational areas. As they get older, they begin to be more specific. If they intend to gain academic qualifications (which we should encourage them to do), if they want to focus on professional careers, we should discuss how their sexuality will prepare or prevent them.

Their sexuality will be an asset if they understand the role of sex in relationships. By now, they would have already learned how touching sets off the testosterone in the male because that is how he is made; how sensations in the female breast increase her desire to get closer because that is how she is made. Encourage them to allow the totality of who they are to control their sexual conduct, instead of having their sexual conduct determine who they become.

Finally, let’s not present unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases, and other social predicaments as solely general negative outcomes; let’s also show how these are hindrances to their personal goals. Let’s encourage them to be responsible. Empower them to control and enjoy their sexuality—a significant part of who they are—as individuals. The more they appreciate the power of their sexuality as children, adolescents, and young adults, the better.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2012 Dora Weithers


Ahsan MAsoodani from hyderabad pakistan on December 31, 2014:

most wellcome mam, thankx for my wellcome

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on December 31, 2014:

Thanks, Ahsan. Welcome to HubPages!

Ahsan MAsoodani from hyderabad pakistan on December 30, 2014:

nice information mam

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on October 16, 2012:

Travel man, you've said a mouthful! Thanks.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on October 16, 2012:

Donovan, glad you found the article useful. Thanks for your kind comment.

Ireno Alcala from Bicol, Philippines on October 16, 2012:

A very up front approach. And effective, too.

I hope those who prefer other sexual orientation will stop on insisting how they should live their lives.

They should stick to their basic sex orientation and follow God's commandments.

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on May 24, 2012:

Thanks, Mama Kim. Glad it helped. Two books: (1) "How to Talk Confidently with Your Child about Sex" and (2)"How and When to Tell Your Kids About Sex" are super-helpful.

Aloe Kim on May 24, 2012:

Great! This gave me a little more confidence in talking with my children, however it will still be a little bit until I feel completely comfortable with the subject. You are a wonderful writer!

Dora Weithers (author) from The Caribbean on May 20, 2012:

Thanks, Denise. I wished that I had learned all this earlier, too; but now that I know, I am committed to helping and sharing as often as I can.

Denise W Anderson from Bismarck, North Dakota on May 19, 2012:

Thanks for this very straightforward approach to human sexuality in the family. Why leave this matter to chance when it is such a vital part of the human experience? If more families follow this advice, the number of unwed mothers in the world would decrease dramatically!

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