Talking About SRH: It’s Not Just One Conversation

Talking About SRH: It’s Not Just One Conversation


If you read our previous post on the ‘DO’s and DON’T’s’ of talking to a child about sexual and reproductive health (SRH), you know that SRH education is not just one “big talk”. Incorporating relevant and age-appropriate details over time is essential, for as a child matures, this allows them to understand SRH at their own pace and make informed decisions.

SRH isn’t just about reproduction its knowledge is essential for overall physical as well as psychological functioning. If anything, the details of reproduction are to be discussed during early-teen years. Don’t wait until your child reaches a certain age or approaches you – there are an array of topics within SRH education to be discussed way before the reproductive process. We’ve listed some below.

Note: there is no one-conversation-fits-all approach for SRH. Discussions vary according to your child’s needs, what is age-appropriate and their current comprehension level.

  1. Anatomically Correct Terms. The words penis and vagina are usually treated as ‘dirty’ and swapped for more ‘palatable’,’ cute’ words, or ignored altogether. They are parts of your child’s body, the same way their arm or nose is. Teaching correct terms ensures that if anything is wrong in those areas, children can effectively communicate it.
  • Body Autonomy. Teach boundaries – “you need permission to touch others and give permission to be touched”. This sets the groundwork for consent. Highlight that no one should be touching their genitals and to approach you (parent) regarding such inappropriate actions. Over time, you can add what is an appropriate (good)  and bad touch..
  • Inclusive Language. Instead of ‘all boys have penises’ and ‘all girls have vaginas’, say “people with penises” and “people with vaginas”. Though these shifts in language seem subtle, they set the groundwork for future conversations about gender expression and roles.
  • Birth Stories. Telling your child their birth story can help in teaching “where babies come from”. Emphasize that not every birth story is the same, and there are lots of ways to have a child. Introducing the idea of various relationships and families, paves the way for more detailed conversations in the future.
  • Digital Safety. Regardless of whether internet use is supervised, rules on speaking to strangers online need to be established. It needs to be made clear that if at any point, your child is unsure or uncomfortable about what’s going on online, they should approach you. You don’t need to explicitly explain pornography, but highlighting that they may stumble upon these “grown-up” websites, is important. With teens, you can be more clear cut about sharing of explicit photos. Make the consequences of such actions clear – legal as well as social. Discuss what it means to be responsible and respectful online and how to tackle situations.
  • Puberty. Detailed puberty talks are to be saved for when your child, or their peers start experiencing it. When talking on puberty, highlight the physical and hormonal changes, while simultaneously assuring them that such changes are a normal part of growing up.
  • Consent & Sexual Abuse and Harassment. Although upsetting and a sensitive matter, it is important for children to learn about consent and sexual abuse, in order to protect themselves and others. It is important to note that many cases of sexual abuse often occur at home, by trusted family members and adults. Informing your child of this, in language that they would understand is key. Tell your child that if they ever find themselves in such a situation, they should immediately inform you. Abusers manipulate vulnerable children into thinking that if they tell others about their “secret touch”, their parents will become angry or will get hurt. It is important to emphasize that by telling you, no harm will come to your child or your family. If you feel this conversation becomes overwhelming, take a step back and revisit the topic later gently. With teenagers, be sure to highlight the role drugs and alcohol can play in these situations; discuss healthy relationships and how to protect themselves against violence. If your teen opens up to you, remain calm and gentle, so as to encourage them to trust in you. Make yourself available and reassure your child that you are here, to protect, guide and help them.
  • Gender Expression & Sexual Identity.  Discussing positive examples can empower your child and help them overcome stereotypes. By the time you approach this conversation with your child, they’ve likely already begun exploring and understanding their gender identity and “role” – having this conversation can help dispel any confusion and reassure them that you are available for support.  
  • Body Image & Peer Pressure. Pre-teens and teenagers may find navigating the social changes they are experiencing particularly difficult. Regularly checking in (without interrogating and snooping) is important – ask your child how they are feeling about these changes and how it affects them socially. At this stage, children are vulnerable to feeling pressured to look and present themselves a certain way. Tackling these issues, by discussing possible scenarios and the emotions they may provoke, can help in making your child feel more comfortable in their skin and their social decisions. Talking about your own personal experiences at their age can be reassuring as well.
  1. Safe Sexual Practices. Teenagers are likely to make better decisions when they are well-informed of the consequences and risks involved. Talk about the different types of birth control; maintaining hygiene and consent. Be frank – let your child know what your intentions are and that you would want them to speak with you openly about any decisions they make.
  1. Mechanics of Reproduction. The actual physical bit. Introduce this information as you see fit according to your child’s needs and comprehension. Be prepared for any and all types of reactions – remain calm and let your child express themselves. If they see you turning red in the face and getting embarrassed, they may be inclined to do the same.

Keep an eye out for future articles where we dive deeper into some of these topics.