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Talking With Your Child About Sexual Health

The growing up years

There are many sexual behaviours that are common among children. Not all children do these things. It is normal if they do and normal if they don't. Some responses may be linked to sexual feelings and many are spontaneous reactions to other things.

Boys may have erections while still in their mother’s uterus and girls produce vaginal lubrication shortly after birth.

You might feel anxious if your child enjoys touching his or her genitals. Some children in their first year of life even seem to have orgasms. Relax! This simply means your child's body is working well. Children have feelings about their bodies long before they can talk. As you cuddle, feed, change and talk to your child, good feelings about their bodies grow. It is easier for infants who receive loving touch to be close to other people when they become adults.

It is important to give your child words for all parts of the body. Teach them socially acceptable and commonly understood words - penis, testicles, vulva and vagina. These are words they will keep using as they go to childcare or school.

Children are curious about themselves and others. This may lead to sex play with other children. They are learning the differences between boys and girls - and what's the same. Most sex play is normal. However, some types might indicate sexual abuse. For example, a child may force or bribe another or there may be a big age difference between the children. If you are concerned about sex play, call Children's Aid for advice or talk to your child's childcare staff, public health staff or school principal.

As your child learns to read and becomes more independent, you have less control over what they hear and see. It is important to find out what your child is learning. Discuss your values and feelings about the sexual messages they get from the world around them. Teach your child what is appropriate and acceptable behaviour for their age.

As your child realizes that their body is starting to change, they may be confused, anxious, excited- or have all of these feelings. You can help your child learn about the changes ahead by talking with them. Find a book about puberty at the library or bookstore and read it together. Talking about how you felt when you were young can make your child feel more normal and bring you closer together. Puberty education is part of the Ontario school curriculum. Find out when it will be taught at school so that you can talk to your child about what they are learning.