Talking to your children about sex can help prevent sexual abuse because they will be better equipped to understand setting boundaries and respecting those boundaries in themselves and others. Researchers say that conversations about sexuality also lead to less risky sexual behavior, should teenagers choose to engage in sex. Now that you’re prepared to talk with your kids, take action by making sure you know how you’ll approach the conversations as you guide them into the topics.
In order to have honest and insightful conversations with your children about healthy sexuality, first educate yourself so you can answer appropriately the inevitable string of questions they will have.
- Learn about the various methods for pregnancy prevention and their respective rate of effectiveness
- Learn how STDs are transmitted, how to detect them, and how to prevent them
- Learn more about how to have a healthy relationship with one’s own body and sexuality in a way that reflects your values.
It’s worth it to take the time to learn about the different aspects of healthy sexuality so that your children do not walk away with myths or misinformation. See this page for resources on how to further your personal education.
Share your knowledge
Think about ways to impart your knowledge, formally or informally. Prepare yourself to recognize seemingly innocuous moments that open the door to educate your children about healthy sexuality. For example, if your child comes home from school and tells you that school officials made some classmates change their clothes because their attires were inappropriate, you can ask for your child’s thoughts about the school officials’ actions, and how those actions tie to a person’s sexuality.
Alternatively, you can talk with your children about healthy sexuality through “formal” time set aside to sit down and discuss it. Some parents find it easier to go into the conversation when both they and their children are expecting what the conversation will entail.
Take a step
If you were to consider running a marathon, you would first think about what you need to do – what kind of training schedule you will follow, what type of shoes will maximize your speed, how you will track progress, and how you will hold yourself accountable to accomplish your goal. The same concept applies when you prepare to talk with your children about healthy sexuality. For example, before you explain to your daughter the importance of scheduling an appointment each year with a gynecologist, you should first talk with her about her vagina. Taking the first step in conversations about healthy sexuality may mean practicing in the mirror or talking to your partner about it. The point is simply taking that first step.
Take the first step: Be prepared to answer these questions in the following bystander scenarios, developed by NO MORE.
You think someone in your family is in an abusive or unhealthy relationship. What do you do?
Once you recognize the warning signs that a situation might be abusive, you can then identify how to respond in a way that feels appropriate and comfortable.
Talk privately with the victim, and express concern by saying you’ve been worried about them. Listen without judgment and if they don’t want to talk, then let them know that you’ll be there for them if they ever do want to talk.
TIP: Allow the victim/survivor to make their own decision. Personal style, culture, and context of the survivor’s life may affect their reactions. A victim/survivor may not be comfortable identifying as a victim or with naming their experience as abuse or assault, and it is important to respect each person’s choices and style of coping with this traumatic event.
Listening without judgment may make them feel comfortable opening up, and if they do disclose abuse, let them know you believe them. You can reassure them that they are not alone, this is not their fault and that you are here to help. Some useful things to say might be, “No one deserves to be treated this way,” “You are not to blame,” or simply, “What’s happening is not your fault.”
TIP: Remember that although you may be having a strong reaction to what happened, it’s important to focus on the feelings and reactions of the survivor rather than your own. Try not to outwardly judge or confront the abuser as it may make the situation worse or more dangerous for the victim, and could put you in danger, too.
Offer options by letting them know free, confidential resources are available and that you are here to support them in whatever choices they make. National hotline services include the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1.800.799.7233 (www.thehotline.org) and loveisrespect 1.866.331.9474 (www.loveisrespect.org or text ‘loveis’ to 22522) – both can offer you guidance and point you to local resources in your area that will help keep them (and any children that may be present in the home) safe.
Tip : Offer to let them use your phone or computer to look up local resources or contact someone that can help them and any children involved.
Your friend tells you that he/she thinks they were raped. What do you do?
The support survivors of sexual assault receive from the people they love and trust can be invaluable to their ability to cope with and heal from sexual assault. Following are some helpful suggestions (via The Rape Crisis Center).
Allow your friend to talk about what happened and control the direction of the conversation. Do not ask a lot of questions or focus on the attack itself, but rather on how he or she is handling the trauma.
Listen Without Giving Advice or Trying to “Fix” Things
When we care for someone, we often try to give advice, solve their problems or fix things for them. While it comes from a place of caring, our instinct to try to problem-solve or give advice can sometimes leave a survivor feeling as though their emotions are being dismissed. Sometimes, the issues a survivor is having will not feel fixable to them or to you, and it’s much more helpful to just be there to listen to whatever a survivor wants to share with you.
Let the Survivor Have Control
Allow survivors to make decisions for themselves and assure them that their decisions are supported. You don’t have to agree with their decisions but it is important to give them the authority to decide how they will handle things.
It is important that the survivor knows you believe what happened.
Normalize A Survivor’s Feelings
Every survivor will react to their experience differently. Survivors may experience many upsetting, conflicting, confusing feelings after an assault. Survivors often re-experience the event through flashbacks, may feel on-edge all the time, or may be prone to sudden outbursts, which can feel especially upsetting and leave a survivor feeling even more disempowered. Some survivors may blame themselves for and feel frustrated by these intense feelings, and it’s important to remind a survivor these feelings and responses are out of their control and are the body’s way of responding to a traumatic event. Something helpful you could say would be, “You are having a normal response to an abnormal situation.”
Provide Unconditional Support
It will help your friend to hear that they are not to blame for the assault. Regardless of an individual’s choices prior to the attack, no one ever asks to be or deserves to be raped or sexually assaulted.
Healing takes time, and every survivor copes with trauma differently. Don’t pressure or rush your friend to be “normal” or to “just move on.” Instead, reassure your friend that support will be available throughout the healing process, however long it may take.
Let The Survivor Know that Help is Available
If they are interested and open to receiving assistance, tell them about the National Sexual Assault Hotline, or offer to help find local services for them.
Some helpful statements include:
- I believe you.
- This is not your fault.
- I am so sorry that this happened.
- You did not deserve this.
- I am happy that you are safe and that you are here to talk with me.
- Thank you for being brave/comfortable enough to talk with me.
- How can I help you right now?
Supporting A Survivor
Supporting a survivor can feel challenging for a number of reasons: you may be worried about upsetting the survivor, you may have other personal experience with this issue, or you may feel you don’t know what to say at all. The most important things you can do for a survivor are to listen, validate, ask how you can help, know where to refer a survivor for further help, listen without judgment, and care for yourself.
Make Sure You Are Getting the Support You Need
Watching a friend or loved one work through the aftermath of a sexual assault can be an extremely difficult and painful experience. Common feelings of those supporting someone who has been assaulted include helplessness, frustration, anger and guilt. It can be helpful to talk with someone other than the survivor about these feelings.
You understandably may be experiencing discomfort, shock or uncertainty, and have a lot of questions. To respect the survivor’s discomfort and give yourself the space you need to process your own feelings, wait until you’re away from the survivor and call the National Sexual Assault Hotline for free, confidential support.
Your male friend tells you that he had an unwanted sexual experience when he was younger with someone he looked up to. He questions if it was sexual assault because he was sexually aroused during the interaction. What do you do?
Some possible options (depending on your comfort and his openness to further discussion) include:
- Offer encouragement for his willingness to consider a challenging question.
- Listen neutrally. Ask him what factors make him think it might have been abusive. Avoid defining what happened for him.
- Explore whether he feels there was a power imbalance in the relationship.
- Offer to help him find resources to learn more about unwanted and abusive sexual experiences for males and why it might be difficult, but important for a man to address it.
- Do a safety check. See if he has healthy strategies to manage negative feelings when he starts thinking about this question. If not, help him find a hotline or local crisis service should he start to feel overwhelmed.
You are in the lunchroom with your friends and a group of students nearby start making sexual gestures and comments to one of your friends that’s sitting with you. Though trying to ignore the comments, you see that your friend is upset. What do you do?
- You can tell the group making the comments to stop their sexually harassing behavior, or ask them to imagine how they’d feel if someone made that comment about one of their family members or someone else they cared about.
- You could ask your friend if they want to leave and talk to a teacher or counselor.
Whatever you choose in the moment, you should tell an authority figure about the harassment and ask them to intervene. While it’s not physical violence, these types of harassing behaviors help foster an environment that condones domestic and sexual violence in our society.
A co-worker starts talking about a recent high-profile rape or domestic violence case and blames the victim for what happened. What do you do?
- Tell them that regardless of what they think happened that it’s never the victim’s fault.
- Give them resources that explain the realities of domestic and sexual violence.
- Contact your human resources representative or immediate supervisor and ask that the staff receive training on these issues.
A teen in your life tells you their boy/girlfriend is hurting them, harassing them and/or forcing them into sexual situations. What do you do?
- Assure the person that what is happening to them is not right, it’s not their fault and everyone deserves a healthy, respectful relationship.
- Offer to help them look for local resources to keep them safe.
- Ask them if there is an adult at their school, like a teacher, counselor or principal or a parent they can talk with to help them stay safe.
- Check in with them to see if they are safe and offer to help them involve individuals or resources to help make the abuse stop.
The guys on your team are constantly making lewd, rude or degrading comments about women and girls or calling each other names that imply they are “weak like girls.” What do you do?
- Speak up that their comments are degrading to their teammates and to women in general and it’s not cool with you.
- Talk to teammates individually about the situation and ask that they not join in those behaviors.
- Ask the coach to talk to the team, or individual, about how harassment and the degradation of women and girls is not okay.