September 22, 2004
As your daughter develops into a young adult, she may start asking questions like “What’s a period?” “Where do babies come from?” and “What’s a condom?” Before she is misinformed by her peers, she needs to be given accurate information about sex from her parents, especially by her mother.
If having “the big talk” with your child makes you nervous, Dr. Phil offers the following advice:
It’s OK to feel embarrassed.
The hardest part in talking to your child about sex is getting started. “What you need to do first is get straight in your mind that ‘This is something I have to do,'” Dr. Phil says. It’s natural to feel embarrassed at first. Just work through the fear. If need be, have a sense of humor about it. “You can laugh about being nervous and say, ‘My mom never talked to me about this,'” Dr. Phil explains. Letting your daughter know that you’re a bit shy about the subject matter may help to let down her guard.
Start with the mechanics and be anatomically correct.
As your daughter develops secondary sexual characteristics, she may ask questions like “Why do I need a bra?” or “When will I get my period?” Dr. Phil says it’s a great idea to find a book that has anatomically correct drawings of the reproductive systems to illustrate what’s going on in her body. “Explain what happens when she has a period so she’s not freaked out when it happens,” Dr. Phil advises. “Let her know what to expect. Tell her how to be prepared for it, go through all of those things with her.” Use pictures to back up your facts.
Discuss sex in the context of a loving, mature relationship.
After you’ve discussed the mechanics with your child, hopefully in the same conversation, you need to talk about sex. “The important thing when you talk about sex is that you don’t say that this is anything other than healthy and normal,” Dr. Phil says. “But you need to explain that this is something that has to be framed in a relationship after you’ve grown up and there’s love and commitment and a history and an understanding that you have to be responsible with your body.” The main thing you want is for your daughter to come away from your discussion saying, ‘I now have some accurate information, and my mother has told me that I need to really respect and protect my body.'”
Discuss age-appropriate topics.
How much information is too much for your daughter to handle? If you’re unsure, use her questions as a barometer of what to talk about. “It would be very unusual for a 9-year-old to ask a question about orgasm,” Dr. Phil says. “So don’t go there at this point. You don’t want to give her information that she doesn’t have the constructs or the concepts to deal with. You can be very global and you can be very abstract about it at this point.” Ask for her questions, then come back and discuss it in a week. Remember to keep the lines of communication open.
Change the context of your talk.
If you sit your daughter down on the couch, look her squarely in the eye and say, “We need to talk about sex,” she may hit the floor. Try changing the context of your talk so it doesn’t seem so ominous. “Sometimes it’s easier if you’re driving down the street, where they can kind of look out the window,” Dr. Phil suggests. If you make the environment of your chat disarming, your daughter won’t feel quite put on the spot and so conspicuous.
The same-sex parent should have the discussion.
Although dads can be supportive of their daughters as they go through puberty and may want to be involved in the big talk, Dr. Phil says this is something that mothers should be primarily responsible for. “At this point, she is noticing the differences between guys and girls,” Dr. Phil explains, “and so she’s going to feel uncomfortable with [Dad] being there.” Your mate can be available for moral support, but moms should do the heavy lifting.