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Dilys Morgan, counsellor and journalist, asks why the British are so bad when it comes to telling our children about sex?

What is it about the British that makes us so unwilling, or unable, to talk about sex with our own children? It’s always struck me as odd that when faced with the fruits of our own unions, we’re dumbstruck when it comes to telling them how and why they entered this world. It’s as if we’d prefer not to acknowledge that love and sex and having babies go hand in hand.

Could this have something to do with our old British hang-ups about sex being something so private and personal that it needs to be swept under the carpet? Is it that there’s some deep-seated shame involved in the subject that leads us to feel we shouldn’t be deriving any pleasure from it, so it’s best to pretend it doesn’t happen? Or is it that we have a lower tolerance for embarrassment than our European neighbours? Are they better at accepting that sex can be fun, have a good impact on a relationship, and that being open about it leads to fewer inhibitions, hang-ups and an all-round healthier attitude?

Shouldn’t we be paying more attention to how, when and what to tell our children about this most important area of human relations?

Whatever, we always manage to come bottom of the league for talking about sex with our kids . . . and top of the league for teenage pregnancies. So if there’s a link here, shouldn’t we be paying more attention to how, when and what to tell our children about this most important area of human relations?

Working with teenagers on an internet counselling site, I am regularly staggered by the amount of ignorance I encounter. Young people still believe they can’t get pregnant when having sex for the first time, or even if they ‘do it’ standing up! Many have concerns about what happens if a condom splits while they’re having sex and don’t have a clue where to turn for advice.

Perhaps most worrying of all is the amount of ignorance about the physical act of making love. Young boys are paralysed with fear about what would happen if they can’t ‘perform’ at the vital moment and about premature ejaculation; they worry about condoms and ask who ‘should’ put them on.

Certainly most young people don’t feel they can confide in their parents. If they fear they’re pregnant, home is the last place they turn. Indeed I’ve heard the phrase ‘My Mum will kill me’, so often it’s etched into my brain.

Perhaps we should ask ourselves what kind of information we’d have appreciated when young - and then make sure we pass that on to our own kids

What this leads to, in effect, is a whole load of unnecessary angst and concern for each new generation. Perhaps we should ask ourselves what kind of information we’d have appreciated when young - and then make sure we pass that on to our own kids. My mother taught me about periods but her instruction stopped there. My children’s generation had ‘sex education films’ at school but they mostly involved talk about bodies and body parts. Love and longing and romance and the excitement of what happens between two people who really care for each other is often totally missing.

In my role as online counsellor, I spell out in a forthright way exactly what to expect at each stage, naming body parts, describing what happens to the male and female organs, and how helpful our bodies can be in helping us along. But I make sure to emphasise that sex is always best if it’s part of a loving relationship - so I also pass on tips about taking care of their partners and respecting feelings.

I hope to help them see that this mutual learning curve can bring them closer: that intimacy is something to be valued, not squandered. And I make sure each knows that the other will be equally nervous. I hasten to add that none of this means that I condone underage sex. I spell out in detail what the law implies so they know exactly where they stand. And I encourage them to see that a lot of fun can be had without going the ‘whole way’.

Indeed it seems to me that only with all this information are they likely to learn to respect themselves, their bodies and their virginity. They’re surely far more likely to value themselves and therefore be less inclined to engage in casual sexual relationships if they know what’s what? And if they know what to expect they can decide what they want for themselves; know how to say ‘no’ and call a halt to anything that feels wrong, a step too far, or uncomfortable.

I feel it is so important that we talk to our children when they’re young enough: while they’re still innocent and haven’t been spoiled by innuendo and gossip; before older brothers and sisters have ‘got at them’ with ghastly rumours and fantastic tales.

If we don’t tackle the task, we’re effectively leaving them in the hands of often inadequate sex education at school, at the mercy of rumour and gossip and whatever information they can lay their hands on in teenage magazines.

Children are innately curious. They have a habit of asking straightforward, blunt questions

One thing’s for sure, this is a complex area and most of us won’t get it absolutely right. And there’s surely a debate to be had about the ‘right time’. Each child is different, of course, and surely we, as parents are the best judge of when our particular child is ready? But children are innately curious. They have a habit of asking straight-forward, blunt questions. If we can only be on the lookout for those, spotting the moments when they’re asking for information, we can at least ensure that they learn these oh so important facts of life from us. The truth from us arms them against all the mis-information they’re likely to come up against as they grow. And who better than parents, to help inculcate the idea that sex and sexual relationships are best within a loving and enduring relationship? If we introduce that idea early enough, perhaps we can help avoid some of those soaring teenage pregnancy statistics?


Dilys Morgan offers an online counselling service at

The Better Health Channel, Victoria, Australia gives a comprehensive factsheet on sex education for primary school children, for example:

  • Keep in mind that it’s usually harder to talk to a teenager about sex than it is to a preteen.  Don’t be afraid to have a few laughs.
  • Try to be open and relaxed when talking about sex. If you act embarrassed, your child will get the message that sexual issues are taboo topics or turn to other sources of information that may not be reliable, such as friends.
  • Be honest and truthful. If your child asks ‘Why do men and women have sex?’, don’t just say ‘To make babies’.
  • Explain that people also have sex because they enjoy it and it feels good.
  • Children need to be aware that sex can transmit diseases. Discuss safer sex issues, like the importance of always using a condom.
  • Teach both girls and boys that sex should be something both people want, and that everyone has the right to say ‘no’. 
  • Talk about unwanted sexual touching. Stress that no one has the right to touch their genitals, and that they should tell you straightaway if it occurs.
The book “Who Made Me” by Malcolm and Meryl Doney - the facts of life for young children