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Conversations Between Grandparents and Grandchildren: Love, Relationships, and Human Sexuality

Generation to generation, we can all learn from each other’s stories and experiences

Caricature of Deborah Chilcoat

By Deborah Chilcoat, MEd

January 13, 2023

I Googled “grandparents as sex educators” today. I wanted to write about the role grandparents play in educating their grandchildren about love, relationships, sexuality, gender identity, and all the amazing things that make us sexual beings. The browser declared “About 96,700,000 results (0.52 seconds).”

Really?

Now, I cannot vouch for the quality or content of all 96 million hits, but I read the top three, and these are the takeaways and my thoughts about them.

“Grandparents As Sexuality Educators: Having Our Say” (2001), available as a preview from ProQuest, is easily found as the full article from SIECUS. First, the authors write, “Even though most of us who are currently grandparents experienced woefully inadequate education about sexuality, we wish to improve this process for our grandchildren.” Isn’t that amazing?!

The trouble is, though, not all grandparents are, like one of the authors, a sexuality educator who is comfortable talking with their grandchildren about these topics. The authors provide a couple suggestions of what grandparents can do, but their experience at the time the article was published applied to younger children. Twenty-one years later, it would be great to ask the authors how well their conversations went as their grandchildren went through adolescents and early adulthood. Their oldest grandchild would be around 27 years old now and the youngest would be around 22 years old.

The next article, “A Grandparent’s Guide to Sex Ed” (2020, November 28) by Jennifer Gibson, MA, includes more contemporary and essential topics such as consent. I appreciate that she advises grandparents “to understand the approaches and philosophies their [grandchildren’s] parents are using” and recommends Amaze.org as a resource.

Parents and grandparents have to be aligned in lots of ways including bedtimes, food choices, safety, and what and how to discuss sexuality! So, for all you Grams, Gramps, Pops, or Mom-Moms out there, grab some popcorn and your laptop! You WILL most definitely learn some new stuff from Amaze and be better prepared talking with your grandchildren about human sexuality. (Hmmm, maybe invite YOUR kids over for a viewing party! That could be a great way to start some overdue conversations with them about sex and sexuality. Am I right?)

Dr. Karen Rayne shares the experience of finding “that both adults and youth want deeper intergenerational conversations about sexuality, but no one want to be the first one out of the gate to start those talks.” Well, now, that’s a bit of a pickle, isn’t it?

The last result comes from the Center for Sex Education. I mean, how can anyone resist the title, “Getting Grandparents to Talk Gonads (and Other Important Topics Related to Sexuality)”? Published in October 2014, Dr. Karen Rayne shares the experience of finding “that both adults and youth want deeper intergenerational conversations about sexuality, but no one want to be the first one out of the gate to start those talks.”  Well, now, that’s a bit of a pickle, isn’t it? The need and desire are there, but everyone is like, “You go first.” “No, you go first.” Around and around they go!

Fortunately, Dr. Rayne includes a lesson plan that can be used to get the conversation going. (Notice, I did not say “that grandparents can use.” Young people could easily adapt this to be an activity THEY facilitate with their grandparents.) “Grandparents: Sexuality Educators Par Excellence” includes an exploration about becoming a sexual person when the grandparent was a young person compared to their grandchild’s experience. Grandparents usually like to share stories, so this may be the way to get “out of the gate” and into the conversation. The lesson also reminds the grandparent and their grandchild that “grandparents can be a positive influence in the sexual learning of their grandchildren.” (This could definitely go the other way, too: the grandparent could learn some things from their grandchild.) This is a very practical article that holds up over time.

There are many, many more resources available for grandparents. And, if you like any of the 96,699,997 remaining online articles from my Google search and they are fairly current, useful, and practical, let me know!

PHOTO CREDIT: Kiattisak on Adobe Stock

Deborah Chilcoat, MEd, is a Senior Manager for our Capacity Building and Evaluation Department at Healthy Teen Network and is nationally recognized as a seasoned trainer and adolescent sexual and reproductive health expert. When home, she is savoring every moment with her incredibly fun family and their lovable dogs. Read more about Deb