How to talk to children about sex and HPV Prevention
Proper knowledge at the right time can empower children in many ways.
Knowing about our bodies is our right, and as parents, we are responsible for providing proper knowledge and awareness to our children about their bodies and ways of functioning.
A few months back, my daughter saw something on television which made her ask me a few questions about puberty. I realized it was time for me to explain to her about the female body and how it changes as it grows. But my curious girl didn’t stop there. She had many more questions, including – why does a woman’s belly grow when pregnant? How does the baby get in the tummy? How does the baby come out?
I realized instead of brushing away these questions, I could explain this to her in an age-appropriate manner. Topics primarily related to puberty, menstruation and sex should not be hushed. They should instead be addressed in an age-appropriate and honest manner.
How to talk to children about sex as per their age
It is important to arm our children with the knowledge of themselves and the world around them, including sex and sexuality. As parents, we can approach this topic as an ongoing conversation, starting from childhood. Then, we can provide more in-depth guidance and information as children grow into adolescence.
Here’s an age-wise guide to follow on how to go about discussing these topics with children.
7 to 9 years– Teach children about boundaries. Let them know what private body parts are and what is a good touch and bad touch. For example, explain the bathing suit rule and that the parts under the bathing suit are private. Therefore, no one should touch or see them (except parents and doctors). Also, teach them about proper hygiene habits and how to keep their genitals clean.
At this age, children begin to ask what pregnancy is or how babies are made. Be honest with them and share age-specific details.
This is also the right age to share with them about sexual abuse. Explain to them about consent and that no one should be touching them without their permission.
10 to 13 years – Introduce the concept of puberty and share how bodies change hair, genitals, voices, etc. Explain the mechanics of puberty for both male and female bodies. Also, talk about menstruation for girls and how it’s related to their overall health.
Above 14 years – By this point, children are already aware of their body parts and puberty. Now is the time to go more in-depth and have open conversations about their feelings, bodies, and sexuality. Make them aware of what is a safe choice and what is not. By this age, children need real talk. Normalize such discussions, answer all their questions, and give them the correct information.
Using direct and clear communication when discussing sex with children leads to better understanding and encourages them to ask curious questions. Of course, it’s best to tailor the answers to their age and maturity level. Resources like books, stories, websites, etc., also help facilitate these conversations.
When doing the dreaded ‘sex talk’ with children, do not miss talking about HPV awareness.
HPV (Human papillomavirus) is the most commonly transmitted viral infection of the reproductive tract.1 One can get HPV by having skin-to-skin contact or through vaginal, anal, or oral sex with someone with the virus. Nearly all sexually active people can be infected with HPV within months to a few years of becoming sexually active.
There are over 100 types of HPV. Out of these, HPV can be categorized as a high-risk HPV, i.e., the virus that is cancer-causing and low-risk HPV, i.e. non-cancer-causing. Most HPV infections tend to clear out on their own. However, if it remains in the body, high-risk variants can cause the growth of abnormal cells in the cervix in women. If left undetected and untreated, these cells may develop into cervical cancer.2
Besides cervical cancer, HPV may also cause other cancers, including cancer of the vulva, vagina, anus and throat. In addition, some low risk strains of HPV can also cause genital warts. 3
In fact, a large majority of cervical cancer (more than 95%) is due to the human papillomavirus (HPV). 6
There are a few ways to prevent HPV. It includes regular screening, safe sex and getting a vaccination.
Ensure to get regular health check-ups and Pap Smear tests done for yourself .
Seek an opinion from your doctor on HPV prevention – both vaccination and screening – to help prevent future health risks and safeguard wellbeing.
You can also consult the expert available on the site here
Children who have open and positive discussions with their parents about sexuality are more likely to make safer decisions. We need to protect our children’s freedom to enter adulthood unafraid and with absolute confidence. And this can be done by providing them with the right and timely knowledge. With proper guidance and awareness, they will be able to safeguard their health and well being.
- National Health Portal National Health Portal, https://www.nhp.gov.in/disease/communicabledisease/human-papillomavirus-hpvinfectionandcervical- cancer#:~:text=HPV%20is%20one%20of%20the,is%20due%20to%20cervical%20cancer 2016 accessed on 5 March
2 . Centers for disease control and prevention https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr5912a1.htm 2022
- National Cancer Institute, https://www.cancer.gov/aboutcancer/causesprevention/risk/infectious-agents/hpv-and-cancer OCT 2021
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HPV and cancer. Basic information https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/hpv/basic_info/index.htm Accessed on 7 July 2020.
HPV Center https://hpvcentre.net/statistics/reports/IND_FS.pdf
World Health Organisation. Factsheet. Human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer.
Disclaimer : This post is in collaboration with MSD (for HPV awareness). However the views and opinions expressed here are my own.