Healthy sexuality is more than just safe sexual activity. It is a part of our overall sense of wellbeing and being connected to ourselves and others. We experience sexuality throughout our lives. Our sexuality shifts and grows with us.
- Gender identity
- Sexual orientation
- Reproductive health
- Awareness and acceptance of one’s own and other’s bodies
- Close relationships with others
- Understanding the health consequences of sexual activity
- Expressing oneself sexually
It is important that we nurture and communicate with each other about sexuality, and it is especially important that we talk to children about healthy sexuality.
Research tells us that children and youth who have positive feelings about their bodies, accurate information about sexuality, and open communication with parents, may be less likely to be targeted by abusers. Learn more about talking with children about healthy sexuality.
Talking about sexuality early and often is a prevention tool we all can use. Here are some tips for topics to talk about across the ages:
Infants and toddlers
- Use the proper names for all body parts, including genitalia.
- Don’t make children touch adults they don’t want to, even if it is their aunt or grandma or you.
Young elementary school age
- Start talking about asking for permission before you hug or touch someone else.
- Model respect by asking children if it is okay for you hug or hold them.
- Don’t shame or embarrass them if you see them acting out natural curiosity through playing “doctor” with a friend or masturbating.
- Talk to them about differences between male and female genitalia. They may be interested in age-appropriate picture books that show different parts on the body.
- By the age of 9, you should start to introduce information about puberty and the changes their bodies will go through. As they get older, introduce information on what the other sex goes through in puberty too. There are many great books that can help.
- Start talking about safer sex alternatives, like abstinence or using condoms, protecting against sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and preventing pregnancy. Young people will likely get incorrect information from peers or others when they most need accurate information.
- Talk about consent. There should be consent for all kinds of touching, but especially for sexual touch. Without consent, it is sexual assault. For more information on consent, visit the Vermont Consent Campaign.
- Practice both refusing and accepting refusals for engaging in sexual touch. This may feel awkward, but it is better to practice in a safe environment before they are in the “heat of the moment”.
- Talk about how to express their intimate feelings towards others. Discuss ways that are supportive vs. controlling. Learn more about healthy relationships for youth.
- Encourage adolescents to think about their values and boundaries in romantic relationships. Defining these ahead of time will help navigate decisions later on.
- Be open to conversations about gender identity and sexual orientation. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning (LGBTQQ) youth need extra support from the adults in their lives. Visit Outright Vermont or RU12? Community Center for more information.
- Discourage them from speaking negatively about their own or other’s bodies.
- Talk with sexual partners about sexual choices including how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), birth control, and other safe sex options.
- Communicate with each other about touch and talk about your boundaries and values.
- Practice supportive communication.
- Don’t pressure or use guilt to get your partner to engage in sexual activity with you.
- Remember that elders can be just as sexuality active as younger people and may not have as much access to information about sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) or other safety precautions.
- Elders are often vulnerable to sexual assault because they are in need of more intimate care as they age. Talk with the elders in your life about their rights and how to seek help if something doesn’t feel right to them, or if they have been assaulted. Call Adult Protective Services: 800-564-1612 about any concern of elder abuse.