Talking With Kids About Sex
Be inclusive. Be accurate. Be honest. Be open.
Sex talk isn’t just for the bedroom. Although we tend to reserve conversation around intimacy for times of intimacy, you can build a better relationship with your sexual health and wellness at any time.
When Talking to Your Doctor
If you feel that there is something wrong sexually, talk to your doctor. They are the best resource for treating any physical obstacles you’re encountering. And if they are not equipped to deal with your exact problem, they should be able to recommend you to someone who can help.
You have to advocate for yourself. You know your body better than anyone else, so if you feel something is wrong don’t let yourself be talked out of seeking or gaining access to treatment. The squeaky wheel gets the grease.
When Talking to Kids
It’s one thing to talk with other adults about sex, but many have a hard time feeling comfortable having open and honest conversations with children about sex and sexuality. Some fear that they’re too young for the information, or that talking to them about sex might encourage risky behaviors in children.
However, this is not the case.
Understanding their sexuality and their body is just as important as understanding all other aspects of their health. For their physical and mental wellbeing, it’s beyond rewarding to put aside your personal awkwardness and mentor your child.
A lot of sex talks begin with “When a Mommy and Daddy love each other. . .” And while that might’ve been sufficient 40 years ago, that’s not enough for the new generation. A growing percent of the younger population identifies as LGBTQ+. Nearly 16% of Generation Z identifies as LGBT+, and this percentage is expected to rise both in Gen Z and in the following demographic cohort, Generation Alpha.
America has never been more queer. Concepts of gender and sexuality are changing every day, and the heteronormative explanation for sex and sexual health doesn’t keep up with this reality.
When you talk to your kids, make space in the conversation to talk about all kinds of sex. It’s important they know that all kinds of people have sex. Sex, as many have first understood it, begins and ends with a penis penetrating a vagina. But this explanation leaves a lot of important information out. Sex can include any combination of body parts, belonging to any combination of people.
It’s also important to include pleasure during this conversation. Female pleasure and the female orgasm (along with pleasure for all vulva-owners) are often entirely left out of the conversation but deserve to be part of human understanding of what sex is. It’s important for all individuals to know that their bodies and their satisfaction matter.
On that same note, when teaching your child about their sexuality, call their body parts by their medically accurate names.
Teaching kids the proper names for genitalia is more awkward for you than it is for your child. They have no frame of reference to feel awkward or embarrassed or confused, and that in itself makes this conversation all the more rewarding. Your child can grow up already familiar with their body and can potentially completely bypass the awkwardness that you and scores of other adults feel when talking about their own bodies.
If that’s not enough to convince you to have this conversation, teach your child about their body for their safety. Race Against Abuse of Children Everywhere reports that teaching a child the proper names for their body parts “helps your children build a positive body image and opens the door for an honest, open dialogue with you on any questions they have about their bodies or sexuality.”
It’s been proven that nicknames confuse children and muddy their understanding of their own body, or what is acceptable touching. It helps to explain what is and is not acceptable touching, and who is allowed to touch that part of their body.
When your child understands their body and what’s happening to it, they can accurately express when something is wrong. They’re equipped with the knowledge to advocate for themselves. And they’re more likely to be understood by adults. Nicknames and codewords aren’t universal so not everyone will understand what your child is saying. But proper names are universal and there will be no doubt what the child is expressing.
RAACE advises parents to not make a big deal out of the conversation. If you treat it like something normal (and it is), their understanding of sexuality will be that it's a normal and natural thing they shouldn’t be embarrassed by. They’ll also understand what sex is supposed to look like, so if they should ever experience inappropriate contact they will be equipped with the knowledge that they’re being mistreated and should speak up.
Editor’s Note: Consent should be a mandatory topic of conversation when answering questions about sex, sexual activity, touching, dating, or communicating with potential partners. Teach children early they have the autonomy to say no, other people have the autonomy to say no to them in any situation, and that the no is to be respected, not negotiated. When we are clear about consent as children, we take that knowledge with us as we experience more complex situations in the future.
Check out our piece on Consent as a resource to share with your children.
When your child asks you a question, answer it honestly. They don’t need an in-depth explanation, but they do deserve honesty. Answer as accurately as you can using language they will understand.
“I don’t know” is an acceptable response to questions. If you truly don’t know something, it’s ok to tell them that. But let them know that you’re going to research and find out for them, and when you have the information requested circle back.
Honesty is always the best policy. If you hide information from them, that won’t be enough to hide their curiosity. They are likely to look for answers somewhere online, and the information they receive might be incorrect or actively harmful, but they’ll have no way to separate what’s right or wrong.
Children pick up on your nonverbal cues. If they can sense that you’re irritated with them for asking or that you feel awkward answering the question, they could intuit that they’ve done something wrong. This could lead to them believing it is wrong to talk or ask about sex.
Making your kids feel comfortable talking about sex is important for many reasons, but one of the most important reasons to have these conversations when they’re young is because they won’t be young forever. If you can foster an environment where your child is comfortable and empowered in their sexuality, you’re paving the way for your children to become confident and well-adjusted adults.
They could start their adult lives with some things it takes most adults years to curate, and that some eventually never achieve: knowledge of consent, boundaries, understanding of self, and a healthy relationship with their body and sexuality.
And that isn’t even the best part. When you open a judgment-free line of communication with your child, you’re making yourself a safe place for your child to share their personal lives with you. If they know they can open up to you, odds are that they’re more likely to do so. And when you’re able to have open and honest conversations about sex, you can be sure that the information they’re getting is safe and accurate.
You don’t have to know everything to be a good mentor for your child. What matters is that you keep putting in the effort. You’re giving yourself the opportunity to learn and grow with your child.
Talking To Yourself
Getting comfortable with your own sexuality is a journey. You’ve got your own timeline, and what feels right for you might be totally different from other people you know. Give yourself permission to develop your own sexuality in your own time.
Your relationship with your body is important. You only get one body, and it's yours for life. Finding ways to invest and feel comfortable and empowered in it will make all parts of your life more rewarding, not just your sex life.
Learning is a great way to feel more comfortable. Find resources to educate yourself about sex. A whole world of TikToks, YouTube seminars, books, sex therapists, blogs, and (shameless plug) The Lion’s Den social media channels exist on the wilds of the internet all designed to help you live your best life.