Answers to your questions

Answers to your questions
What’s the best way to handle your child’s emerging sexuality? Here are our answers to some FAQs.

What’s the best way to handle your child’s emerging sexuality? Here are our answers to some FAQs.

Why does my baby often get erections?

“It’s not a sexual thing at all,” reassures sex therapist Mélanie Guérard. “It’s simply a natural reaction to touch or to something rubbing at bath time or during diaper changes, for example.” Little boys can also get erections when they need to pee.

Can we have sex in the same room as our baby?

Many parents share their bedroom with their newborn at first. Sex therapist Mélanie Guérard suggests waiting for baby to fall asleep before engaging in intercourse and then doing so discreetly and quietly. You can also quite simply go to another room. However, when your baby reaches about 9 months old, it’s better to stop having sex when in the same room. “Even young babies are aware of their surroundings. They may be troubled by the movements and sounds involved in the sexual act,” adds psychologist Frédérique Saint-Pierre.

My 3-year old is wondering why his sister doesn’t have a penis. What should I tell him?

Here’s what Kelly, mom to 3-year-old Derek, 5-year-old Rafaell and 19-month-old Lexie answered when her son asked her the question: “Your sisters have a vulva and a vagina. When they grow up, they’ll also have breasts like mommy.” According to sex therapist Jocelyne Robert, this is exactly what you should say. She thinks it’s a shame that some adults define women by what they don’t have, i.e. a penis. “Saying girls don’t have a penis is a negative message. It implies that girls are girls because they’re lacking something. Conversely, no one ever thinks of telling boys that they’re boys because they don’t have a vagina!”

When my child is with his friends, they sometimes pull down their underwear when playing doctor. Is this normal?

Sexual games are common between ages 3 and 5. When children play at showing their bums, penis or vulva, they’re not guided by some sexual impulsion. Rather, they want to see the extent to which other children’s bodies look like their own. According to sex therapist Jocelyne Robert, this activity is a way to reassure themselves and to check that they’re normal. It also confirms their identity as either a girl or a boy. She adds that even if a child has already seen his parents naked, he needs to compare himself to other children his age.

How should you react if you catch your child with his pants down among friends? The important thing is to remain calm. You can tell them that their curiosity is normal and add that if they don’t like the game, they need to tell the others. “Also use the opportunity to tell them that they should never play these games with big kids or adults, even members of their own families,” advises Jocelyne Robert.

I want to protect my child from sexual abuse. How can I do that?

You can tell your child that his body is his own and that he can refuse kisses and caresses that he doesn’t want, even if they come from someone he loves. Nobody has the right to touch his body in a way that makes him feel uncomfortable or that bothers him. “You should encourage your child to listen to his feelings,” says Mélanie Guérard. “For example, you can tell him that if he doesn’t feel good in his heart or in his head, he needs to say no.”

You can also teach your child the underwear rule: “No one has the right to touch the parts of your body that are covered by your underwear, except mommy and daddy to help you wash, and the doctor, to examine you.” You can also help him make the difference between good and bad secrets. Good secrets make you happy and are fun to keep to yourself. Bad ones make you sad and hurt in your heart. Those are the ones you need to share with an adult you trust.

Talking about sexual abuse with your child can help make him less vulnerable to it. But remember that he’s still too young to ensure his own safety, and that you are responsible for protecting him. Since most sexual abuse comes from within the child’s close environment, sex therapist Jocelyne Robert thinks it best to avoid saying that sex and love always go together. “The child is then ill-prepared to protect himself or report abuse from a relative or family friend who says they are acting out of love.”

If you yourself were a victim of sexual abuse as a child, it may be difficult for you to warn your child or even to talk to your child about sexuality. In such cases, don’t hesitate to seek professional help from a sex therapist, psychologist or social worker. Your CLSC can help point you to the appropriate resource.

Should I talk about sexual orientation with my toddler?

Your view on homosexuality has a huge influence on your child. If you have gay friends in your entourage, or there’s a child at daycare with two mommies or two daddies, and for you that’s normal, then your child will find it normal as well.

You can also use everyday situations as opportunities to talk about it. “For example, if you see a same-sex couple kissing each other, you can simply say to your child: ‘One day you’ll fall in love too,’” suggests sex therapist Mélanie Guérard. “Or, if your child asks you if two girls or two boys can fall in love with each other, then just answer with a simple yes.” It’s best to talk about it when your child questions you, shows interest in the subject, or simply when the situation requires it.

What should I do if my child catches a sex scene on TV or the computer?

“The best is to tell your child you’re sorry he saw it, since those types of images are only for adults,” suggests psychologist Frédérique Saint-Pierre. “Explain to him that the actions he saw are for big people only: never children.” If your child caught a violent or non-standard sex scene, it’s important to reassure him that it’s not like that in real life. Finally, you should take care not to let it happen again.

My 5-year-old daughter has a sweetheart. What exactly does that mean to her?

Sometimes children say they have a sweetheart to imitate adults. They may also really feel a special bond with another child. In such cases, they are more attached to this friend or “sweetheart” than to their other friends. “It’s a kind of initiation to love, but it’s not sexual in nature,” explains Frédérique Saint-Pierre. “The two children feel good together; they have fun together, and they feel like they mean something special to each other.”

You could ask your child why she thinks this other child is her sweetheart. Listen to her without laughing or minimizing the importance of what she’s feeling. Even if she’s still young, what she feels is real. However, there’s no need to talk about it constantly or to imagine the relationship in the future. It’s even best to avoid using the word “sweetheart” altogether. Since sweetness rarely lasts long among children, this will prevent your toddler from feeling more hurt when the “breakup” takes place.

  • Sexual behaviour is a normal part of a young child’s development.
  • When you talk about sexuality without shame or embarrassment, and you use the correct terms to identify genitalia, you give your child a healthy image of sexuality.
  • Keep your answers to your child’s questions about sexuality short and adapted to his age.

Naître et grandir

Source : Naître et grandir magazine, April 2017
Research and copywriting : Nathalie Vallerand
Scientific review : Geneviève Parent, sex therapist, psychotherapist and parenting consultant

Photo: GettyImages/Evgeniiand