Talking to my kids about sex is one thing that has been far easier in reality than I anticipated it would be before becoming a mom (thank goodness for that because just about EVERYTHING else has been harder and sometimes a girl just needs a win, ya feel?). That being said, I know that for many, this remains one of the more difficult and uncomfortable aspects of parenting, so allow me to share a few do’s and don’ts that I’ve collected over the years.
- Don’t make it a talk, make it a conversation – one that begins early and lasts for years. I don’t remember the first time I used the word “sex” with my children, just as I don’t remember the first time I mentioned guns, racism, or ice cream – other frequent topics of conversation in my house.
- Do talk about consent. Also, early and often. Drive home the message that we all own our bodies and we alone decide what happens to them. Teaching children to say “no thank you” to a hug from Uncle Joe empowers them to say no all manner of unwanted touching down the line. Also, do tell your children that consent can be revoked at ANY time. The older my son gets, the more specific I get on this last point.
- Don’t make it weird. I know it might be horribly uncomfortable for you to talk about sex – after all, many of us are bringing a lot of baggage to this conversation – but the more you do it, the easier it will become. A common question I ask at the dinner table is, “Does anyone have any questions about bodies or sex?” I also ask similar questions privately at bed time (“Have you heard anything weird about sex that you want to ask me about?” is a really good question for a middle schooler). I’ve promised my children that they can ask me ANYTHING and I will tell them the truth. My little button-pushers have definitely tested this theory but I won’t back down because there is nothing more important than my children knowing that they can turn to me instead of Google.
- Do use proper terms. Penis, vulva, breasts, testicles, orgasm, ejaculation (yes, even *that*). Also, remind them that there are a lot of slang terms around bodies and sex and if they ever hear something they don’t understand, they can ask you about it.
- Don’t make it heteronormative. Hopefully you’ll be talking to your kids about sex well before they are aware of their sexual orientation. Even if not, everyone should be aware that sex includes a lot more than ‘insert-penis-in-vagina’. The explanation I used when my children were young was that sex was when adults used their sexual (private) parts to make each other feel good, and sometimes it makes a baby. Focusing on more than just intercourse also helps your kid avoid the common tween/teen misconception that oral and anal sex isn’t sex.
- Do talk about masturbation. Ensure that children know its perfectly normal and the boundaries that are appropriate for your family (when? where? how often?).
- Don’t be afraid to share that sex is fun and feels good. Considering sex is used to sell everything from soda to cars, kids are going to pick up on the fact that sex is enticing – the danger is in making it mysterious. And while you are talking about the good stuff, don’t forget to mention the ways in which sex may be used for manipulation and control and how we want no part of that TYVM.
- Do share with your children any moral or ethical guidelines you have about sex, along with the potential negative consequences but…
- Don’t make it about shame or judgment and don’t be tempted to exaggerate the negative to dissuade your kids from having sex (spoiler alert: that doesn’t work).
- Do teach kids about all aspects of sex and development regardless of gender. Boys need to know about menstruation. Girls can know about nocturnal emissions. It’s normal for kids to be curious about their own bodies and how they work, but don’t make the mistake of only teaching boys about boys and girls about girls. Knowledge is power, and also breeds respect – particularly important since many of our boys will be having sex with girls, and vice versa.
- Don’t avoid difficult conversations about sexual assault and harassment. Your children need to hear from YOU on these topics – not talking about it doesn’t protect your kiddo’s innocence…it threatens it.
Sex is a constantly alluded-to undercurrent in our society and yet we are still so uncomfortable having direct conversations about it. I can’t help but wonder if this discomfort has contributed to the current environment where damaging sexual practices have flourished. Let’s do better by the next generation and create safe spaces for open dialogue about something we all think about and most will do. Let’s talk about sex!