It is also natural for a child, particularly an older child, to feel sexually excited by watching displays of sexual affection (even more subtle ones like open-mouthed kissing or caressing). Children, as small humans, are sexual beings – which is why they have crushes on other kids or adults, play doctor or express curiosity about other children’s bodies, and touch their genitals when young or mastubate when older. It is normal and healthy for children to express curiosity and interest in sex, but being exposed to contact that is too stimulating or intense can be difficult for them. For example, when seeing a parent naked, some toddlers, preschool-age children, or school-age children will become overly focused on a parent’s genitals or breasts, which is a sign that the child is old enough to be stimulated and fascinated by sex and bodies. This is why many parents, particularly opposite sex parents, decide to stop bathing with their children when children grow out of toddlerhood.
If your child (of any age) makes comments about you touching or engaging in expressions of physical affection with a new partner, or if your child has accidentally walked in on you having sexual contact with a new partner, it’s a good time to initiate a conversation about sex. You can tell your child that one way to express love is through touching, which is why you and your new partner touch each other. If your young child asks what sex is or how babies are made, you can give a straightforward response, such as:
“A man has sperm, and a woman has small eggs in her body, and when the sperm and the egg meet, a baby is made. The sperm come out through the man’s penis, and if the man puts his penis in the woman’s vagina, the sperm can reach the eggs in her body. People only have sex when they are older and many people choose to wait until they are in love with someone. Sex is normal and healthy, but parents like to tell their own kids about sex. So, don’t tell any kids at school about sex in case their parents haven’t told them yet.”
This is a good explanation for a school-age child. If a child asks about sex or babies before that, often you can discuss the sperm and eggs without elaborating on how they meet. Note that I am not against telling even a young child about how sex occurs, but if your child repeats what you’ve told him at school, many parents are less liberal and may be upset if your child tell their child about sex. Therefore, I include the clause about not telling the other children, just as you would if your child learned that Santa or the tooth fairy aren’t real before other children his age.
If your child expresses disgust or discomfort around the topic of sex, or when seeing physical affection between you and your new partner, use mirroring, empathy, and validation to ensure that your child feels heard and respected. Then consider whether you are being respectful of your child’s boundaries. Apologize if you realize you have been excessive.
In general, only engage in forms of physical affections in front of your child that would be acceptable in public. A child does not need to hear any sounds of sex or be explicitly or implicity told that you’re going to have sex or that you have an enjoyable sex life. Often children in environments where sex is on display become promiscuous before they are ready, because their curiosity is piqued and they are fitting in with this new household norm. This can lead to a child getting into relationships that he is not emotionally ready for. Therefore, it is best to keep your expressions of physical intimacy moderate and discreet.
Samantha Rodman – How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce p.200