Hey, there. Before I get rolling on this post, I want to acknowledge the following:
- You should find a comfortable place to sit to read this, with a comforting beverage.
- We’ve all been taught different things about our bodies and sex.
- Use the time you’re taking to read this to sit with that uncomfortable feeling, so that you’ve acknowledged it before talking to your kid(s) and friends and partner about all things sex.
- Some of us are dealing with some heavy stuff about ourselves and sex.
- Some of us are pretty open about our bodies and sex.
- Everybody is different. So, our parts are also all different.
- I use the terms “person with a (genitalia being discussed)” because not everyone with a penis identifies as male, and not everyone with a vagina identifies as female.
Here we go.
I can’t remember any one single event that framed my now sex-positive thinking. There have been a TON of sex-negative experiences: my parents being too embarrassed to talk about sex and anatomy; religious teaching that focused on shame and abstinence (and more); demeaning comments made by peers, friends, and lovers; witnessing the mistreatment of assault victims; counseling folks receiving HIV+ diagnoses; poor self-body image stemming from movies, media, society—all the things. Over time, what I wanted to know and share with others just sort of happened. Because the stork, the birds and the bees…those are just terrible ways to learn things the hard way.
And then, I had little humans come out of my body! Humans whom I and my partner would have to teach about their own bodies and boundaries! OMMWHAAAATTT?! And all the scary terrible horrible things started creeping back in my mind. Not once did I ever prepare to talk to kids about sex.
But that’s all my baggage, not theirs. So we had to start on the right foot. But how?
Use the correct anatomical terminology. When we normalize the language and remove shame from the equation, we lay the groundwork for self confidence and body positivity—and also for talking about consent and touching.
Some people in my house (ahem, not me) who don’t think it’s important to close the bathroom door when using the toilet. This then led my youngest daughter to ask, “Why is Daddy’s vulva on the outside?” TEACHABLE MOMENT ALERT/OMG, DON’T PANIC.
“Daddy has a penis. We have vulvas on the outside and vaginas and ovaries and other things on the inside.”
“OK. Can I have a snack now?” No big deal. It happened so fast, I didn’t even break a sweat.
I don’t think I learned correct terminology until middle school, in health class, and even then the information was lacking. Somewhere along the lines of potty training and pre-K, it’s just been a normal thing to discuss when it comes up.
And the “where do babies come from” conversation has come and gone. I am a birth doula and I encapsulate placentas. My kids will often debrief me after I return from a birth, asking for pictures and to see any placentas I’ve brought back. I admit, I have an unfair advantage in talking about sex and birth and bodies and things, though I’d like to think that even if this wasn’t my work, I would easily talk about these things so my kids wouldn’t have to unpack so much shame and fear baggage as adults.
Talking about sex can be just about as awesome as having someone repeat “moist” in your ear over and over. Whether you’re talking about it with a friend or partner, sometimes we aren’t always brave enough to be clear about wants and boundaries. So, how are we supposed to talk about it with our kids?
Well, you don’t have to do this on your own.
The internet is rife with good and bad resources, horror stories, and humor, things that make you say “hmmm” and “WTF.” THERE IS SO MUCH OUT THERE. HOW ARE WE SUPPOSED TO TALK TO KIDS ABOUT SEX! With that in mind, here are some resources for your perusal. (You may also want to sit somewhere cozy with a comforting beverage in hand while you review these individually.)
- In Case You’re Curious: Questions about Sex from Young People with Answers from the Experts is perfect for parents to connect and break the ice with their teens to jump-start an ongoing conversation about sexuality, healthy relationships, and self care. Within these pages you will find non-judgmental (and fun!) answers meant to educate teens without the uncomfortable silence or weird eye contact often associated with “The Talk.” With questions like, “Does masturbating give you a disease?” and “Is the pineapple thing true?” In Case You’re Curious isn’t afraid to tackle the nitty-gritty questions you may think twice about raising your hand to ask in your sexual health class or at home.
- From Diapers to Dating: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children—From Infancy to Middle School—This widely recommended parenting guide offers a wealth of practical techniques to help you identify and communicate your own values about sexuality to your children, infants to age 12. In this revised edition, acclaimed parenting educator Debra Haffner covers the latest research and addresses issues of timely concern, including internet safety. The book includes:
- “Values Exercises” to help you identify and communicate your beliefs to your children.
- “Special Issues” to advise you on discussing difficult topics.
- “Teachable Moments” to help you recognize opportunities or entry points into a discussion of important issues.
- Let’s Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent and Respect: Teach Children About Body Ownership, Respect, Feelings, Choices, and Recognizing Bullying Behaviors—This book explores these concepts with children in a child-friendly and easily understood manner, providing familiar scenarios for children to engage with and discuss. It is important that the reader and the child take the time required to unpack each scenario and explore what they mean both to the character in the book, who may not be respecting someone’s body boundary, and to the character who is being disrespected.
- A Mighty Girl List of Books on Sexuality—A good resource for all kids, not just girls.
- Planned Parenthood: What should I teach my elementary school aged child about their body?
- AMAZE takes the awkward out of sex ed. Real info in fun, animated videos that give you all the answers you actually want to know about sex, your body, and relationships.
My favorites come from Amaze.org. I’ve watched the kid-centered videos with my kiddos and they LOVED them. The real golden ticket here are the videos made for grownups to help prepare for conversations:
And there’s these great vids as kids talk to some experts:
Folks, these resources don’t even scratch the surface of what’s out there. And kids will come up with some weird and amazing questions.
Remember to breathe. You can do this.