For most of us, our sex education — from school, our parents, friends, our religion — left much to be desired. But we can do better for our children.
In this stream, sex educator and early childhood educator Lydia M. Bowers, talks about how we can talk to our children about sex.
So many schools either don’t teach sex ed at all, or teach a sex-negative, abstinence-only curriculum that shames kids for having desires. It’s our job to ensure our kids have a positive, healthy relationship with their bodies and to sex. After all, sexuality is simply part of human development, and it starts early. So whether your child has a crush, is discovering masturbation, or going through puberty, etc., it’s important to be honest about what’s happening. To start, this could be as simple as using correct anatomical language, and teaching your child the word vagina, vulva, and penis rather than calling it a wee wee.
Teaching consent can also start early, and you can start by simply asking a child if it’s okay to hug them. While this might seem silly to some, these simple statements are helping teach your kid that they have agency over their body and they are allowed to say “no.” It shows them their “yes” or “no” will be respected. When tickling a child, you can also stop and ask “Still good?” or “You still enjoying this?” as a way to show consent is ongoing and you’re allowed to stop in the middle of an act. It’s so important to teach these skills long before they are sexual. It helps them trust in their own ability to speak up and have their body respected, by loved ones and by strangers.
While we are teaching our kids to have control of their bodies, it’s important we teach them to respect others’ space as well. When a child is displaying sexual behaviors, like masturbation, for example. it’s important to gently redirect the behavior to appropriate places. Bowers says you can say something like “Hey, I know you really love your penis, but it’s time to put it away because we don’t pull it out at the dinner table.” It helps to teach them that this kind of curiosity, and those feelings are completely normal, but that there is a time and place for it. It shows them their body belongs to them, but that they should also respect the space of others.
It’s important to have books and other resources on hand as these conversations may come up sooner than expected. Bowers recommends The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex, This is My Body! What I say Goes!, and Let's Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent, and Respect. When your child starts having questions like “Where do babies come from?” Bowers suggests What Makes a Baby? When your kid is around middle school age, you might want to turn to The Porn Conversation, a helpful site with tips on how to make your child’s devices safe and monitored, and how to talk to them about porn.
While we may be hyper-focused on ensuring our kids have a healthy development, we tend to forget about ourselves. But it’s important to prioritize your own pleasure, too. Whether that’s just taking a few minutes alone to masturbate, or have a set time to be intimate with a partner. We also don’t have to be physically intimate with a partner, we can make time for spiritual, intellectual, emotional, or experiential intimacy. There are so many ways to have connecting experiences that don’t even involve sex. Valuing your own sexual health and pleasure will help you have a more positive view on sex in general, which will be reflected in the ways you talk to your children about sex.
It’s okay to start talking to our kids early about sex and in ways that are honest. Kids tend to let us know when they are ready for more information, but it’s important to stay ahead of the potentially negative messages they may be getting about sex from school or their peers. Leaning on the resources Bowers mentioned can help, but, of course, everyone’s parenting style is different, so you do you!