Experts offer tips on navigating the ‘sex talk’Mrs. Kim was at a loss for words when her son, in his first year in middle school, abruptly asked her: “When did you and Dad first do it?”
Surprised, she turned a bright shade of red, only able to eke out the word “late.”
Talking with children about sex and sexuality has long been an awkward subject matter for parents, particularly in a country like Korea where both are seldom openly or freely discussed despite the reality. Traditionally, parents have entrusted their children’s sexual education to the schools.
However, local experts argue that sex education should largely take place in the household.
“The household should be the center of sex education,” said Lee Myeong-hwa, the director of the Aha Sexuality Education & Counseling Center for Youth. “If you try to ignore it because it’s embarrassing, [children] will satisfy their curiosity through pornography and other dangerous ways and make perverted realizations.”
According to many experts here, simply answering questions about sex candidly can have the same impact as formal sex education.
The JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, recently sought out sexual health experts, specifically those specializing in sex education for children and teens, to share some tips on how parents can go about talking with their children about it.
They argued that the most important point to instill in children when teaching them about sex and sexuality was that sex is a natural part of life and not something to be embarrassed about. Parents should not be intimidated by questions pertaining to sex or try to avoid the subject.
“When we shut down questions about sex, or give evasive answers, we turn something that’s very natural into something that should be hidden away,” said Shin Dong-min, a lecturer for Aoosung, an online sex education portal.
In cases where parents are unprepared to answer a question, turning the question back to their children is an effective response, specialists say, as that can naturally turn it into a healthy dialogue.
They also provided several stock responses to common questions about sex that come up regularly.
When children from three to six ask how babies are made, parents should tell them that they come about when “both parents love each other very much” or when the “seed from one parent takes root and grows in the mother’s stomach.”
Slightly older children in elementary school and lower grades should be given more specific answers to satisfy their curiosity. Parents should run through a simplified version of the physical process in which a baby is conceived, with the help of a visual aide like a comic book.
This procedural explanation should also be accompanied with a talk regarding the emotional component in reproduction, including how much the parents love each other and how happy they were when their baby was born. Focusing on the emotional and sentimental aspects instills healthy relationship values in children.
When it comes to more mature children in middle and high school, experts say that parents should not feel pressured to answer every question their child has about sex.
“Parents should ask children in middle and high school for their thoughts on such questions, which can lead to a very natural exchange of ideas,” said Im Jeong-hyuk, who heads the Hansin Education Institute. “This will help children establish a healthy sexual consciousness on their own.”
“Don’t think that you have to answer all [your children’s] questions, because letting them know that there are also personal details to respect is a part of sex education,” Lee added.
There are some general rules for these conversations. One is that parents should refrain from addressing sexual organs crudely or indirectly, and address them by their proper terms.
“Using the exact terms lets children know that sex is a natural and positive part of life, and not something to be taken lightly,” said Jin Ran-yeong, the director of Tacteen Naeil, an organization for children, youth and women.
As children mature, parents must also be able to deal with their children possibly exploring pornography or masturbating. Experts encourage parents to accept both as rites of passage in the process of growing up, and should definitely not get angry with their children for these activities or try to force them to stop.
“When you know your child has been looking at lewd videos, give it some time and then start a conversation about it by asking your son or daughter if their friends watch lewd videos or peruse similar materials,” Lee said.
“Then talk about how those portrayals of sex differ from reality and explain your concerns.”
“If you walk in on your child masturbating, tell them that you’re sorry for forgetting to knock and leave them alone,” Im suggested. “Later on, teach your child about healthy ways to masturbate and the side effects of masturbating too frequently.”
But if parents are still uncomfortable with imparting sex education to their children, alternatives exist.
“Another way to help your children develop a healthy sexual attitude is to direct them to books and other educational materials,” Lee said.
BY NOH JIN-HO, BAEK MIN-KYUNG [firstname.lastname@example.org]