How do I talk to my kids about sex? At what age should I talk to my kids about sex? Are there any resources to help me? Can you talk to my teenager for me?
– Multiple Parents (if you’ve asked me this, you are NOT the only one)
While most of the sex ed I provide is intended for adults, they typically haven’t had good sex ed in their youth. I am an advocate for comprehensive sexuality education in schools and at home. Studies show kids who receive comprehensive sex ed wait longer to engage in first sexual activity, use protection more often, use contraception more often, have fewer unplanned pregnancies, and form healthier relationships with their partners. How do we get there, and what are some tips for you as a parent right now?
Little Talks – NOT “The Talk”
If you thought talking to your kids about sex was one talk that’s over & done, consider your bubble burst. Studies show most parents who think of having “the” talk with their kids tend to wait too long, and shut the door on any further questions their kids have. You need an open line of communication for ebbs and flows.
You can’t expect to have all the answers, but you can’t rely on the school system (or someone like me, books, or the Internet) to do it for you entirely. Sex ed is a team effort. Sex is a science. You can get a PhD in Sexology. You could spend your entire educational career from kindergarten through grad school learning a new and different aspect of the sexuality discipline each year. So, some formal resources are necessary. Sexuality is a psychosocial phenomenon, though, and a part of one’s identity as deeply ingrained as our sleep patterns, our laugh, our food preferences. It takes a village. You are their primary sex educator, and you will model messages to them regardless.
Dealing with Awkwardness
It’s normal to feel awkward or unprepared talking to your kids about sex. Even as Sex Ed Mom™, I’ve made tons of mistakes. Allow yourself the freedom to make mistakes or not know all the answers. But don’t let awkwardness keep you from engaging on this.
I acknowledge to my kids that talking to them about sex is uncomfortable for both of us. It’s supposed to be. It means there is a healthy boundary there. That psychological boundary is there to prevent incest. That awkwardness also sometimes points to our own sense of shame. It’s a sign that we are vulnerable. Being vulnerable with one another always opens the door to trust. Acknowledge the awkward. Calling something out into the light prevents darkness from consuming it.
NEWSFLASH! Humans have sex for pleasure! It is okay to admit that genitals have pleasure nerve endings. Fetuses masturbate in the womb. Asexual individuals sometimes masturbate. It is time to stop making assumptions based on our own shame. Take the shame out of pleasure and put it in perspective. If your kids feel like you’re lying to them about this, they’ll want to go out and see what the big deal is.
Don’t Wait, but Let Them Lead
You want to bring up the topic in little talks over time, but you want to watch for signs they are uncomfortable or bored with the subject matter. Answer their questions frankly, but only the questions they ask. If something is not clear, they will ask follow-up questions. Occasionally bring up media representations (for example, they hear euphemisms in music constantly). When they change the subject, let them. If they don’t want to talk about it, let them know you’re there if they have questions. If they come to you with a question at an inopportune time, put them first. This is important!
How Old? How Young?
Sex ed starts early, whether we know it or not. Kids learn from how we model behaviors or respond to media messages. It’s essential that very young children learn the full names of their genitalia. If you wouldn’t let your child run naked down the street or plan to tell them not to get in a stranger’s car, please teach them penis, testicles, and vulva (and clitoris, urethra, and vagina for good measure). Teach them body autonomy, healthy family structures, and basic consent. Basic consent can be framed around asking before hugging people, and keeping their hands to themselves even if they’re angry (there are more applications to consent than sex).
Why are these so critical? Sadly, child predators prey on children who don’t know these concepts. They get away with it when children can’t name genitals correctly. Besides that, it builds a good foundation and practice you don’t have to teach later.
If you think you’ve waited too long, don’t wait any longer. Ask them what they know. Ask if they have questions. I’ve posted some resources below to help you get the conversation started. Most teens and young adults view porn for a sex ed purpose, and the average age kids view porn online for the first time is 11.
Ask Them Questions
As they get older, ask what they know, what they think about stuff. Ask what they’ve heard from friends. They are their own person. They grow up faster than you think. You can’t shelter them forever. Chances are, they have already asked friends.
- Scarleteen (website)
- StayTeen (website)
- Sex, Etc. (website)
- Sex, Etc. (magazine subscription)
- S.E.X.: The All-You-Need-To-Know Progressive Sexuality Guide to Get You Through High School and College (book)
- That’s What He Said (downloadable booklet for boys)
- H.U.S.H. (website for high school boys)
- Sex Is a Funny Word (for younger children)
- Our Whole Lives (curriculum)
- Scarleteen Confidential
- The Sex Positive Parent – make sure to follow her on Facebook, too!
- Sexuality Resource Center for Parents
- The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy
- Advocates for Youth
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Sexual Health
- Kinsey Confidential (also appropriate for older teens/college-age kids)
If you have any other resources that you think belong on this list, send them to me!
Finally, I can talk to your kids if you really want me to, for my standard coaching fee. I will still need you to make sure you follow up at home by continuing to ask questions and keep that dialogue going. I’ll only give you a jumping off point.