British Columbia

Sex-ed do's for parents, not really any don'ts

While the level of sex education in schools across the province still varies, those who teach the often uncomfortable topic say youth need to have an outlet at home to bring up their questions.

Educators say finding ways to open up conversations about sex is most important

Sex educators say parents and care-givers need to be open and ready to answer their children's questions about sex beginning at least by age five. (Gerry Broome AP Photo)

While the delivery of sex education in schools across B.C. varies, those who teach the often uncomfortable topic say youth need to have an outlet at home to bring up their questions.

"So much about sex is shame,[or] is tied to shame and one of the ways to break that shame association is to have safe conversations," said Kristen Gilbert who runs the education program for Options for Sexual Health of OPT.

"The last thing you want people doing is googling sexual health information," said sex educator Kristen Gilbert. (Options for Sexual Health)

Gilbert, who has a 13-year-old daughter, says the challenge for many parents her age is they themselves rarely, if ever, had any sex education in their schools or even their homes.

As a result Gilbert developed a program called the "askable adult workshop," which is designed to help parents open up conversations about sex with their children.

Parents feel ill-equipped

"They feel ill-equipped," she said. "They've never been part of a conversation between an adult and a youth about sex that was positive and they want to create that relationship and they don't know where to start."

And according to other educators that start should begin early.

Sexual health educator Saleema Noon has developed on her website a check-list that outlines what kids need to know when.

Kindergarten students should learn that their bodies belong to themselves and that reproduction usually happens when a man's sperm joins a woman's ovum by sexual intercourse, but that there are many different ways that families — each unique — are formed.

Further down the list, students in Grade 6 and 7 should be made aware of what sexual consent is, but that most youth at their age are not sexually active. They also should be taught about smart decisions on-line, gender stereotypes, homophobia and taking responsibility for their sexual health such as doing testicular self-examinations.

Talking to children about sex often starts by using the proper names for body parts. (Will House, Flickr cc)

As the list continues for older youth, it adds more complicated ideas to what they are supposed to know already. For example, those in Grade 8 to 12 should be aware of the proper use of contraceptives and their success rates but also effective boundary-setting and assertiveness skills.

Gilbert's overall advice is that no topic should be taboo and that talking about sex as solely a method for reproduction is wrong.

"The reason why talking about pleasure is important for sex is because that's actually is what sex is about," she said.

No topic off limits

Gilbert argues that most of the time people are sexual with each other for connection, intimacy and pleasure, not just reproduction.

The reason why talking about pleasure is important for sex is because that's actually is what sex is about.- Kristen Gilbert, Options for Sexual Health

When it comes to pornography, she says it too should be talked about as something not to be avoided, but not truly representative of sex.

"Let's empower young people with that information so that when they do come into contact with porn, and they will, whether they're seeking it or whether it just falls in their lap during a search that they'll be able to evaluate it with a critical eye," she said.

Both Gilbert and Noon agree that parents need to be the number one reliable source of information on sexual health in their lives, because often youth expect them to be.

On her website, Noon says that no matter how hard or embarrassing a child's question is, it's important not to get mad, but be proud that they are curious about sexual health that they are coming to you for answers, rather than uninformed peers or, at times worse, an internet search engine.

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