~ August, 2021 ~ For the most part, your child’s questions have probably been pretty straightforward and easy to answer. But before you know it, they are going to ask the question you’ve been dreading: “Where do babies come from?” After the initial apprehensiveness fades away, you may wonder if this means it is time to have the sex talk. If so, how on earth do you go about doing that?
Things are different today than they were when we were growing up. No longer are parents expected to sit down with their child one day and have a “bird and bees” type talk about sex, filled with euphemisms and a hefty dose of discomfort. Now, with body positivity and sex positivity all around us, talking to our kids about sex can be positive and affirming—for our kids and ourselves.
Still, you may not know exactly what sex positivity is, what its benefits are, and how to go about infusing it into your discussions with your child. Below is a guide on how to have sex positive talks with your kids as well as tips on how to integrate sex positivity into your parenting.
What Is Sex Positivity?
Sex positivity is all about being open and honest about sex and sexual desires while also modeling sexual acceptance. It is also about removing shame about sexuality and sexual desire.
“Sex positivity is knowing that your desires are healthy and normal, no matter what they look like,” says Leah Carey, sex and intimacy coach and host of the podcast Good Girls Talk About Sex.
Sex positivity is also about boundaries and consent, which are vital lessons we must teach our children, even from an early age. According to Carey, it’s important that kids realize that they have agency over their own body and feel comfortable expressing their wishes. They should have the confidence to express their desires with a full-throated “Heck yes!” or “Heck no!” she says.
Another element of sex positivity involves being open and accepting about different sexual orientations, different gender identities, and different ways of expressing one’s sexuality. It is about teaching our children that “love is love” and that your family is a place where they can be themselves, and share their feelings and relationship concerns with you.
Importance of Sex Positive Talks
As the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP) explains, talking openly to our kids about sex does not mean you are parenting without any moral value. In other words, when you acknowledge sexuality your are not condoning or giving them permission to have sex.
Instead, your acknowledgement gives your kids a safe space to share what they are thinking and feeling. They also should feel free to discuss what choices they are considering so that you can help them make smart decisions.
Whether we like it or not, our children are going to be inundated with information about sex and sexuality from an early age, from television, social media, and their peers. That is why parents need to make sure their kids have good, sound information about sex and clear up any misinformation they may have received from friends or other sources.
What’s more, age-appropriate conversations about sex positivity are relevant at any age.
In fact, teenagers that are exploring sexuality and romantic relationships for the first time are not the only ones that need these types of conversation. Incorporating sex positivity into your conversations with younger children means teaching them “body safety”—that their bodies are their own, and that no one is allowed to touch their bodies or private parts without consent.
Although it is scary to think of anyone harming our young children, it sadly still happens. About 1 in 9 girls and 1 in 53 boys will be the victim of sexual abuse or sexual assault by the time they are 18.
For this reason, parents need to be intentional about giving their kids every tool in the book they can to prevent this from occurring.
Teaching body autonomy cannot protect kids from every instance of harm. But, these lessons mean that they will be more aware of when their body boundaries are being infringed upon or violated, and they are more likely to share with you what they have experienced.
Benefits of Using Sex Positive Language
Sex positivity includes being open and honest about what sex entails as well as using accurate language and descriptions with your child including terms like penis and vagina rather than euphemisms. These conversations also involve focusing on the aspects of sex that can be positive and affirming for our kids rather than what is off-limits or dangerous about sex.
After all, incorporating honest, accurate information along with sex positive messages helps children have a healthy relationship with their sexuality and their bodies. Having these types of conversations when they are young, enables them to grow up with confidence in themselves and their sexualities.
When we show our children that finding pleasure in sexual feelings is normal, we are increasing the chances that our children will have sex-positive intimate relationships as they get older, says Jen Lumanlan, MS, MEd, an expert in psychology and child development and host of the podcast Your Parenting Mojo.
What Sex Positive Conversations Looks Like
Most experts agree that building sex positivity in your kids is not about one, specific “sex talk” where you sit down and tell them what sex is, what all the body parts are called, and how they can have a safe and positive sex life when they grow up. Not only is that kind of conversation awkward, but it is also not the best approach for your children.
Instead, experts agree that incorporating sex positivity into your everyday conversations as these topics come up, is the best approach. You want to avoid the tendency to over-educate your kids, says Nicole Prause, PhD, a sex researcher and licensed therapist
Try not to dole out more information than your child can really process at one time. Even though this approach of providing lots of information often comes from a good place, it is not as helpful as you might think.
“Giving them pieces to consider, to integrate with their existing knowledge, and to ask about in the future, is more likely to result in lasting knowledge than overwhelming them with details,” Dr. Prause says.
You also need to consider how you talk about things along the way as well as the words you choose. Dr. Prause says if you see your child touching themselves in a sexual manner while they are on the couch watching TV, you can respond using language that affirms the experience while also teaching your child about appropriate boundaries. You might say, “I know that feels good, but you should only touch yourself when you are alone in your room, OK?”
If your child asks why you have set that boundary, you can explain that touching themselves, while it may feel good, is something that should be done in private. Try not to shame your child, but instead focus on educating them.
By integrating sex positivity into your conversations with your child, you can help them build autonomy, self-confidence, and boundaries when it comes to sex. Having one isolated “talk” does not allow you to accomplish that goal. Instead, sex positivity involves having multiple conversations as your child grows.
Specific Sex Positive Phrases to Use
When it comes to talking to your kids about their bodies and sex, experts recommend using accurate terms for body parts. You also should avoid glossing over the mechanics of how sex works.
Make sure you cover all the different ways that sex happens—that it isn’t limited to heterosexual couples. And, discuss all the ways that babies are made including sexual intercourse, artificial insemination, and fertility treatments.
“When my daughter asks questions about how babies are born, I answer them honestly using correct terminology—[like] penis, vagina, uterus—making sure to say that ‘a lot of the time’ when babies are born it happens with these body parts but that some babies are born in other ways,” suggests Lumanlan.
Besides using correct terminology for body parts, the AAP recommends you refrain from emphasizing the “don’ts” of sexuality like “Don’t have sex,” or “Don’t get pregnant.” Instead, focus on language that addresses these concerns in a positive light.
You also might try asking your child questions like “What are some ways people can have healthy sexual relationships with others?” or “How do you think you’ll know when you’ve met someone who you want to be intimate with?”
Leah Carey, Sex and Intimacy Coach
Over time, this will result in a teenager and young adult who feels comfortable saying ‘yes’ to what they really want and ‘no’ to what they don’t in romantic and sexual situations.
— Leah Carey, Sex and Intimacy Coach
These types of questions can be adapted for younger children, too. For instance, you might talk about what things in life feel good or give them pleasure like foods they enjoy or hugs from their favorite people. The goal is to normalize talking openly and in affirming ways about all kinds of pleasure, says Lumanlan.
In addition to any specific talk of bodies, sex, and sexuality, Carey recommends using the phrase “thank you for taking care of yourself” regularly with your children. Doing so can instill a feeling of confidence and positive decision-making skills in your child.
“Over time, this will result in a teenager and young adult who feels comfortable saying ‘yes’ to what they really want and ‘no’ to what they don’t in romantic and sexual situations,” says Carey.
Addressing Fears About Having “The Sex Talk”
Many parents, even after learning about the importance of having sex positive talks with their kids, and how to do it, still feel uncomfortable about it all. If you find that describes you, that is OK—and completely understandable!
One thing you can do is explore your own relationship to sex and sexuality, and how it felt to discuss these things with your parents.
“It’s hard to teach something you haven’t learned yourself,” says Carey. “The best move parents can make for their child’s sexual health is to work on their own relationship with sexuality with a coach or therapist.”
Be sure to address any shame you feel regarding these topics, especially if you weren’t introduced to them in positive ways. You can also take advantage of the many sex positive books that are on the market today. Lumanlan recommends “What Makes a Baby” for younger children and “The Every Body Book” for kids age 5 and older.
“Books can be a great jumping off point for these conversations—books on body boundaries as well as on how bodies change,” she says.
A Word from Verywell
If you are still feeling apprehensive about having sex positive conversations with your child, you should know that you don’t have to do this on your own. Enlisting the help of others can be a wonderful idea. Get your spouse involved, ask a trusted family member to help, or get assistance from a trusted adult in your life or your child’s life.
Remember, too, that a pediatrician is an excellent source of information for your family and your child. Talk to them if you are unsure how to address these discussions with your child. They also can assist you with any questions about your child’s specific needs when it comes to sex education.