Some families have dads, some don't, some have multiple dads – this article is not suggesting conversations about sex and consent can only happen effectively with a father’s involvement. It’s about encouraging fathers to be involved in these conversations, because sometimes they feel more comfortable leaving the tricky conversations to mum. Or the other dad!
Also, when fathers have the 'sex conversation' with their kids they can tend to talk less about intimacy and respect, and more about the practical ‘dangers of sex’, for example unwanted pregnancies, STDs, etc [#1]. These conversations should not just be about the ‘basics’ of sex education.
It’s absolutely critical your sons and daughters are crystal clear about what consent and free agreement are, and learn the skills to negotiate respectfully, so that they can keep themselves and others as safe as possible. Read our articles on Talking to boys about sex and consent and Talking to girls about sex and consent for more information on this, and send your kids links to our articles for young people on sex and consent.
The conversation should also cover how your children can help others by being an active bystander when they see or hear something that they feel uncomfortable about – check out our article 'Talking to kids about bystander action' for more on this.
There are several reasons that make it important for dad to be involved in conversations about sex...
- You model equality. If both parents are present it shows your kids that difficult social conversations aren’t just left up to women to sort out. You are actively demonstrating that men take just as much responsibility for these issues as women.
- You keep your messages consistent. The topics of sex, consent and relationships can be confusing even if they are explained well. They get much more confusing if mum is sending one message and dad is saying something different. This means that parents need to talk about what you are going to say before each conversation, so that one parent doesn’t inadvertently undermine or contradict the other. Sometimes, opportunities to have these discussions are not planned, such as a when the family sees a high profile rape case in the media. If this happens, try not to send confusing messages to your children. If you disagree, talk about it privately and have another conversation with your kids later to clarify any confusing comments.
- You show that dad is interested in raising his children. Don’t leave these conversations up to schools, the media, pornography or your children’s friends to explain. Good knowledge about sex, consent and relationships is one of the most important gifts you can give your child.
- You will learn more about your children, and they’ll learn more about you. These conversations will really show kids their dad stands for respect and equality and deepen their respect for him.
It’s also important to start having conversations early and have lots of them. It can be hard to cover everything in one talk, and your children will feel like they’re able to ask you questions if you often raise issues about gender, sex, sexuality and respect with them starting age-appropriate conversations with young children is ideal, as if you wait until they become teenagers, the conversations may become more difficult [#1].
Teenagers can become sensitive and embarrassed when talking to parents about sex and relationships, and may try to shut down or avoid these conversations. If parents wait until they see the first signs of their child being in a relationship (e.g. long phone conversations, seeing them kissing someone) before they have this conversation, it can feel as though the talk is about discipline rather than education and support. Again, have a look at Talking to boys about sex and consent and Talking to girls about sex and consent for more information on this.
Ultimately, your family will decide who’s involved in what conversations and when. But remember, there are real benefits for the whole family and your kids’ future partners, when you start the discussions early, consistently, honestly and with both parents on board. For more info on talking to children have a look at our other articles on Talking to kids about…