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How to Talk to Your Child About Sex

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Parenting can be a source of great joy and fulfillment, but it can also lead to some really interesting conversations. Kids have a knack for asking questions in a blunt way that can sometimes take us aback as adults. This is especially true when the topic is something that we feel like kids shouldn’t be talking about — like sex. We all want our children to be well-adjusted and prepared for adulthood. However, when we avoid the topic of sex until they’re older, we do our kids a disservice.

Sex-positivity is the belief that sex is nothing to be embarrassed about. It’s possible to raise your children in a sex-positive household that takes into consideration their developmental needs and their curious brains. But how do you go about doing that?

It’s important to provide sex education for children at all ages. There are ways to help build sex-positivity into your parenting style from birth. Once you understand what’s appropriate for each developmental stage, you can make a plan for how you’ll approach the sex talk. (In reality, it will probably be lots of talks, not just one!)

If you’re looking for more details on how to talk to your child about sex, here are some of our suggestions:

1. Bring sex up early and regularly

Brushing the sex talk under the rug just makes it loom even larger. Demonstrate to your child that it’s OK to talk about sex. When kids are afraid to talk to you about something, they’ll go somewhere else for that information. It’s helpful to show your child that it’s OK to talk about subjects like sex without shame. If they ask you something you aren’t sure about, don’t lie to them. Explain that you don’t know and you’ll find out and tell them. Lead by example to show them that talking about sex is OK and even encouraged.

2. Educate yourself

Many of us didn’t get quality sex education from our schools or parents. It’s hard to know what you don’t know! That’s why it’s important to do your own research and educate yourself to fill in those gaps. Learn about anatomy, the importance of consent, the orgasm gap, compulsory heterosexuality, and LGBTQ sex. Prepare yourself to answer questions. Make sure to seek out reliable sources of information on these topics!

3. Talk about what you see in media

The way sex is depicted in media is not the way sex tends to go in real life. However, our kids’ brains are just developing and they can’t make that distinction on their own. They will only know this if someone tells them, and that person can be you. You can help them set up their expectations for sex and relationships so they don’t feel pressured to do things that they see on TV.

It’s also important to talk about porn with your kids, probably before you want to have that conversation. Digital access is everywhere, and our kids have unprecedented access to the internet. Sometimes they see stuff they don’t understand but are curious about. Talk to them about how porn isn’t always realistic. It can be confusing to see sex depicted one way and then to experience it later and see it’s completely different.

4. Help them feel empowered

Use information to empower your child, not instill a sense of fear about the topic of sex. Intimacy is an intense topic, and they’re already going to be hearing the worst case scenarios — health teachers, folks in the media, misinformation, etc. Let them know that sex is a normal part of life and that it’s OK to have questions about it or be curious about it. If they ask you questions about sex, don’t react in a shocked way. Take them seriously and talk to them in a developmentally appropriate way. It’s hard to feel empowered about sex when you’re afraid to bring it up.

5. Bring up boundaries

Talking about sex with kids can also be a good way to talk about boundaries and consent. Let them know that it’s OK to have boundaries about their body and that they are in charge of it. If they don’t want someone to hug them, tell them it’s OK to say so. Never force them into a physical interaction with someone against their will.

It’s also important to teach your kids about societal boundaries. For example, some young children find that touching themselves is pleasurable, and they start doing it everywhere. You can use this as a moment to explain to your child the importance of privacy and location. Tell them that touching their private parts is something that is OK when they’re in their room, but it’s not OK at school.

Getty image by MoMo Productions

Originally published: December 12, 2022
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