We are born trusting our bodies and our instincts for what our bodies need.
For most of us, something interrupted that trust long before puberty.
We can’t just allow our kids to grow almost all the way up and then one day realize they are sexual beings and break out some library books to teach them what goes where, the end, amen.
Like my mom did.
She just called me into the dining room and there sat a stack of library books and she said, “have at it” and left me there to look through them.
I don’t remember being able to ask any questions.
I found The Joy of Sex on my bachelor uncle’s bookshelf when I was a preteen. He never censored my reading.
I remember reading one of my mom’s magazines on the living room floor, probably Glamour, when I was about 12 and asking my dad what is an orgasm? He yelled at me, “What the hell are you reading?” and he never answered my question. I felt like I was in trouble. The dictionary definition didn’t help me. There was no internet in 1988. I couldn’t ask my equally ignorant friends or acquaintances at school.
While I understood the biology of puberty and even the mechanics of sex and procreation, it was still a shock when I got my first period.
I was 12, one month shy of my thirteenth birthday. My father was tickling me and we were wrestling around on the floor. Suddenly, he sat up, and told me through clenched teeth to go to my mother. I didn’t know what I had done wrong, why I was in trouble for nothing.
Through some unknown communication, my mother somehow knew and took me to the bathroom and bathed me like I was a toddler. I was stunned, speechless, and helpless. I looked like a skinny ten-year-old. I had no breasts, but had developed public hair the last year. Nothing seemed textbook. The memory is a huge embarrassment to me.
I still wonder where my breasts went. I only grew during pregnancy and nursing and then they went back to flat nippled pancakes. I couldn’t find any clothing that fit or looked right.
I was another disappointment to my mother that I never looked like her in all her mesomorph glamorous hourglass glory.
I had to use my mother’s sanitary products. I didn’t get to go to the store to choose a variety to try or discover for myself what worked best or was more comfortable for me. I wasn’t allowed to wear tampons. Those weren’t for virgins. I eventually began wearing tampons when I was about 16. I was also no longer a virgin then.
My father discovered condoms in my purse when I was 18. Why was he going through my purse in the first place? He stormed into my bathroom when I was getting out of the bath. I never had any privacy. I stood there dripping, trying to cover myself with a towel while he berated me, lectured me, yelled at me.
I couldn’t think quick enough. I could’ve lied that they were leftovers from when we had handed them to the principal during high school graduation, which was true.
The scenario dissolved into my parents forbidding me to see my boyfriend anymore. They told me I could leave with the clothes on my back if I didn’t like. I prepared to leave. I was already a sophomore in college with a part-time job. But I had nowhere else to go, nowhere to live. No family or friends would take me in. My boyfriend’s parents wouldn’t intervene to let me live there. The best they could offer was maybe I could move in with his sister, a single mom. It wasn’t appealing to me.
I was lost and alone and on the cusp of adulthood, with my parents treating me like a juvenile delinquent.
The relationship never improved.
I snuck around for months with my boyfriend only to break up with him in an ugly immature way because of the stress.
It ruined many future relationships for me. I didn’t know how to have healthy relationships. I was in my early twenties, living at home and going to college, having to pretend I was an adult while having to sneak around with friends, dates, boyfriends.
I want to help my children grow up more healthy than I did.
Children need mentors instead of gatekeepers.
We have to start the conversation about sexual health when children are very young, with those first innocent and precious, maybe uncomfortable for us, questions.
Where do babies come from?
How are boys and girls different?
What are those bugs or animals doing together?
Talking about sexual health with the children in your world encompasses many topics, not just sex, puberty and reproduction. The exciting part is that we generally have about 18 years to roll it all out. Starting early, approaching subjects gradually using age-appropriate language throughout their development, makes it a lot less overwhelming or awkward than trying to cram it into one talk.Sex Positive Families
We need to answer honestly, but not overwhelmingly, according to the child’s age and ability.
I think it’s best to avoid cartoons, fruit, cutesy birds and bees analogies.
I often panicked and overtalked when my son wanted a very simple answer.
It’s best to keep it simple and teach the proper names for all body parts for both male and female to our sons and daughters.
Maybe we should stop projecting our own sexual hangups onto others. My parents and The Church didn’t give useful or healthy advice.
And stop sexualizing children and teens. Stop assuming, joking, encouraging, or asking kids about romantic relationships. They’re children.
Comprehensive sex education gives kids & teens the resources to make the healthiest decisions for themselves. This isn’t radical; it’s ethical.Eric Sprankle, Psy.D.
Sexual health is more than sex.
Comprehensive Sex Education:
- Human Development (including reproduction, puberty, sexual orientation, and gender identity)
- Relationships (including families, friendships, romantic relationships and dating)
- Personal Skills (including communication, negotiation, and decision-making)
- Sexual Behavior (including abstinence and sexuality throughout life)
- Sexual Health (including sexually transmitted diseases, contraception, and pregnancy)
- Society and Culture (including gender roles, diversity, and sexuality in the media)
Teaching human development seems like the easy part! It’s science. It is unemotional. This goes here and this happens and sometimes there is procreation. This is neutral ground.
Relationships are a bit more difficult as we are almost all still dealing with our own issues and navigating through them. It’s important that kids and teens know what a healthy relationship looks like, especially since I am still learning how to do this myself.
We all are still learning personal skills and how to get along well.
As far as behavior, health, and culture, that’s where things tend to get more difficult!
We cannot just focus on abstinence and STIs and call it a day. When generations of people fear sex and think it’s all bad and struggle with healthy relationships, we have to change something.
I have witnessed some disturbing acts this past year.
On two separate occasions, with two different families, parents teased their children and laughed at their cries of “No!” and “Stop!” The two incidents took place while I was a spectator at my son’s baseball games.
One father squirted a water bottle onto his tween daughter and the mother, father, extended family all admonished her for saying, “Stop!” and she cried while they continued to make fun of her and got her shirt all wet.
The other incident, a mother squirted her baseball player son with a water bottle – a little too much in the face, trying to clean out his sandy eyes. He started crying and getting angry and she ridiculed him and told him he was fine, but then proceeded to empty the water bottle onto his head and he got rather hysterical at that invasion. She continued to laugh at him and other parents chuckled at the scene.
I was horrified. These kids are learning that consent doesn’t matter. They are learning they are not safe. They are learning their parents won’t believe them nor do their feelings matter. They are learning that “no” or “stop” don’t mean anything. And they might do things to others and wonder why it’s not ok.
Consent through Fear, Guilt, Pestering, Begging, Pleading is not Consent.
Teaching about autonomy and consent should begin when children are babies. It has nothing to do with sex.
Children should have bodily autonomy.
Kids can and should choose what and when to eat, clothing, when to sleep, and how to control their bodies, including touch.
Kids should learn at a young age that they can make their own decisions based on their bodies needs and desires. I assist, coach, and guide them to make healthier decisions. Sometimes, it’s inconvenient for me. (We compromise on meals and sleep schedules. Our family has privilege and freedom with this.)
Model asking permission before touching kids or their belongings and teach them to do the same with others.
Ask permission before picking up, tickling, or engaging in any activity that involves touching a person or their possessions.
Teach kids their bodies are their own. They don’t have to touch, kiss, hug, or high five relatives or friends or anyone.
Teach kids to ask before hugging their siblings or friends and other adults.
Practice asking teens and other adults if it’s a good time for conversation. Show respect for space.
Teach kids and teens not to give out personal information in person or online.
We have to talk about harassment, assault, and rape.
We have to end these ridiculous attitudes about sexual violence.
I don’t want to know his swim scores. I don’t care what she was wearing. I don’t care if she did drugs or how much she had to drink. I don’t care if they had sex before. I don’t care if they were watching porn.
No means no.
Kids have the right to say no and we as parents must accept their no. If and when a situation arises when we must compromise, we have to do so respectfully and lovingly. Connected parents who are not controlling are more likely to have children willing to cooperate and desiring to find solutions that makes everyone happy.
I’ve had the hard conversations with my three daughters about not wearing this or that, about not running, skating, biking, hiking alone. They must constantly be vigilant and aware of their surroundings and who might pose a threat. I warn them about not accepting a drink from anyone or setting food or drink down and coming back to it. I constantly remind my daughters to take up space. I want to believe all women because I think all of us has experienced sexual assault at some point, even if we don’t want to admit it or be really honest about it.
We have to also talk to our sons about respecting all people all the time. We have to discuss his privilege to go anywhere he likes and how he might seem threatening just by his size and strength compared to women. I teach my son to make room for others. I try to calmly point out to my husband and son when they use inappropriate or questionable language, gestures, or block a space with their physical presence.
If we don’t have these constant conversations, then sexual assault will continue and be more and more accepted in our society.
Anyone can be a victim and it is never his or her fault, no matter the clothing choices, or being alone, or being under the influence of a substance.
Sex is rarely about just sex.
When teens and young adults begin dating, sex is bound to become an issue or a topic of conversation. This is normal and natural. How we react as parents is of paramount importance.
The images of dads with guns and interviews and applications to date their daughters is disturbing. Girls are not property to be sold or bought or even protected like she is fragile.
Boys are not all predators only “out for one thing” as media and society would tell us. “Boys will be boys” and they can’t control themselves, we are taught by almost everyone, and especially by The Church.
Sexual harassment and inappropriate jokes aren’t funny.
Intimacy is not about sex. Intimacy is about TRUTH. When you trust someone, when you can tell someone your truth, when you show your real self to someone, when you can stand in front of someone and their response is: “You are safe with me.” THAT is intimacy.
Happy teens with healthy family relationships seldom rush into early sexual relationships with other dysfunctional partners.
It’s almost considered a normal rite of passage for teens to engage in sexual acts. I remember being curious what all the fuss was about when I was a teenager. Then at 16, I was pretty disappointed and society sure labels the girls and boys differently.
I certainly don’t have a healthy sexual history. I want more for my kids.
I’ve asked myself many times to quell my anxiety and do some soul searching:
“What’s the worst that can happen?”
- What if my daughter gets pregnant?
- What if my son gets a girl pregnant?
- What if my child gets an STI?
- What if my daughter gets assaulted or raped?
- What if my son harasses, assaults, or rapes?
- What if my child is nonbinary or LGBTQ+?
I want my kids to know what contraceptives are and what are the risks and how they can be obtained and used. I don’t want them ignorant or afraid. I hope and pray that they come to me if or when something happens that could be life-changing or life-threatening.
Unfortunately, we still live in a society with a government that wants to dictate what happens to a woman’s body.
Most of these questions concern most parents. Of course we have big emotions if these things happen. No one wishes for a teen pregnancy, violence, or the ostracization that comes from an alternative lifestyle.
I hope that I have the right reactions and love to help my child through anything.
Sometimes [sex] is about a hunger to be desired. It may be an escape from boredom or loneliness. It may also be a way of staking territory or claiming a possession, or may serve as an attempt to lock into an exclusive relationship with another. Sex can be a powerful symbol of status and recognition. It can be about scoring or about belonging or fitting in or clinging and holding on. It may be about dominance or submission or may function to please someone. Sex, in some cases, reflects a lack of boundaries and an inability to say no. It can, of course, express love, heartfelt passion, and true intimacy. Nearly always, in one form or another, sex is about attachment. In the lives of our adolescents it is, most often, an expression of unfulfilled attachment needs.Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers by Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté, MD
It’s important for people to realize that sex should feel good. We are so enamored of sin and purity in American culture and history that it’s easy to push an agenda that sex is bad, wrong, dirty, or sinful.
There is no “switch” to turn on when a person walks down the aisle into a marriage and sex is suddenly considered ok by society, especially religious people. We are doing young people a huge disservice when we teach that sex is bad.
To those struggling with “sexual sin” (e.g., masturbation, same sex attraction), just know that it’s the person who taught you about sin that is causing the struggle, not your sexuality.Eric Sprankle, PsyD
As a Christian, I started off with the biblical curriculum that seems to be pretty approved across the evangelical board. Most of it is ok. It also misses many marks that affect our society.
Do I want gaps in my kids’ education? Of course not. Do I want my kids learning from their friends, the media, Netflix shows, Hollywood? Not without an open conversation, a safe space where they can ask me questions, and discuss difficult topics with me.
I want my kids and teens and young adults to be able to ask me the hard questions, even if it makes me uncomfortable, even if I don’t know the best answer. We can discuss it and discover the best course of action or philosophy together.
The body is much sinned against, even in a religion based on the Incarnation. Religion has often presented the body as the source of evil, ambiguity, lust, and seduction. This is utterly false and irreverent. The body is sacred.John O’Donohue, Anam Ċara
Pornography is not real life.
Sexual media is fantasy. Kids and teens are exposed to a lot of fake bodies and abusive sexual and relationship circumstances in the media.
It’s important to talk about these issues with kids and teens before we realize they’re viewing porn online, on smartphones, or with their friends.
Internet and social media makes everything instantly accessible. It doesn’t seem to matter if there are parental controls on devices. If kids are curious, they will find a way.
We have to discuss the dangers of pornography and its exploitation of males and females. We have to talk about sexting before we discover photos of underage teens on devices.
I am blessed that my nineteen year old daughter feels safe to be open with me about her life. I don’t have to agree, but it is her life and her body. I can only guide her and tell her about my past and help her make good choices for herself.
Many people regardless of faith or background feel fear or even disgust regarding many sexual topics. It’s important to move past issues that are uncomfortable for me. That means that I have to learn about things that I never knew before.
Sex is about pleasure. It should never be degrading or demeaning or humiliating.
We have to talk about gender.
If our teen speaks up about sex, sexuality, or gender…listen, love, and be humble.
The concepts of gender and sexual orientation are awkward for many of us whether we grew up in religious homes or not. Gender fluidity wasn’t acceptable until recently. We are still working out LGBTQ+ equality in our society.
For people who cannot accept gender or sexual differences other than binary cishet, please ask yourself why and don’t just wrongly quote religious texts to justify your hatred and intolerance.
I want to be respectful of everyone. I am learning how to do this.
I had students who were abused because their Christian parents couldn’t accept who they are.
The discovery of one’s sexual preference doesn’t have to be a trauma. It’s a trauma because it’s such a traumatized society.James Baldwin
When I was in college, I didn’t know sexual slang or anything about pornography. I was sheltered and naïve.
As a student and even after I graduated, I was the butt of many jokes from classmates, partners, and then from my high school students during my first few years of teaching.
I don’t want my kids to feel shame because they don’t know something that everyone else seems to know.
A couple books that really helped me as a parent heal from all the lies our society teaches about sex:
The Great Sex Rescue: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended by Sheila Wray Gregoire
Come As You Are: Revised and Updated: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life by Emily Nagoski
Sex is a difficult topic for many parents. We just have to do better.
I’ve written about sex ed before and my philosophy is evolving as my kids grow up and I learn how to parent better.
- Is it Time for The TALK?
- Having The TALK
- Healthy Sexuality and Relationships
- Why I Don’t Teach Purity
- 10 Things I Want to Tell My Children
- In the Middle
- Parenting Teens
- Teaching Kids About Relationships
- Making Sense of It Book Review
- Shameless Book Review
Maybe preview so you’re prepared before you read these to your kids or hand them to your kids to read.
- My Body! What I Say Goes!: A book to empower and teach children about personal body safety, feelings, safe and unsafe touch, private parts, secrets and surprises, consent, and respectful relationships by Jayneen Sanders
- Amazing You: Getting Smart About Your Private Parts by Gail Saltz
- It’s Not the Stork!: A Book About Girls, Boys, Babies, Bodies, Families and Friends by Robie H. Harris
- It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health by Robie H. Harris (My husband read this with our son.)
- It’s So Amazing!: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies, and Families by Robie H. Harris
- The Period Book: A Girl’s Guide to Growing Up by Karen Gravelle and Jennifer Gravelle
- Body Drama: Real Girls, Real Bodies, Real Issues, Real Answers by Nancy Amanda Redd
- Cycle Savvy: The Smart Teen’s Guide to the Mysteries of Her Body by Toni Weschler
- Malia’s Magnificent Moontime: A Holistic Guide to Menstrual Self-Care by Angela Shabazz and Kendi Shabazz Muhammad
- Moon Mother, Moon Daughter by Janet Lucy and Terri Allison
- Celebrate Your Body by Sonya Renee Taylor and Book 2 by Dr. Carrie Leff
- The Girls’ Guide to Sex Education: Over 100 Honest Answers to Urgent Questions about Puberty, Relationships, and Growing Up by Michelle Hope, M.A.
- Asking About Sex & Growing Up: A Question-and-Answer Book for Kids by Joanna Cole
- Sex is a Funny Word: A Book about Bodies, Feelings, and YOU by Cory Silverberg
- Consent: The New Rules of Sex Education: Every Teen’s Guide to Healthy Sexual Relationships by Jennifer Lang, MD
- S.E.X., second edition: The All-You-Need-To-Know Sexuality Guide to Get You Through Your Teens and Twenties by Heather Corinna
- Changing Bodies, Changing Lives: Expanded Third Edition: A Book for Teens on Sex and Relationships by Ruth Bell
- Unprotected Texts: The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire by Jennifer Wright Knust
- The Gender Wheel: a story about bodies and gender for every body by Maya Christina Gonzalez
- It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity by Theresa Thorn
- Pink Is for Boys by Robb Pearlman
- Sparkle Boy by Leslea Newman
- Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
- Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky
- Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
- Sense and Goodness Without God: A Defense of Metaphysical Naturalism by Richard Carrier
- Tell Me: What Children Really Want to Know About Bodies, Sex, and Emotions by Katharina von der Gathen. Read a review.
- Who Are You? The Kid’s Guide to Gender Identity by Brook Pessin-Whedbee
- Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee
- That’s What Friends Do by Cathleen Barnhart
- Express Yourself by Emily Roberts
- Stand Up for Yourself and Your Friends by Patti Kelley Criswell
- What Does Consent Really Mean? by Pete and Thalia Wallis
- C is for Consent by Eleanor Morrison
- Consent (for Kids!): Boundaries, Respect, and Being in Charge of YOU by Rachel Brian
- Consent: The New Rules of Sex Education: Every Teen’s Guide to Healthy Sexual Relationships by Jennifer Lang
- Making Sense of “It”: A Guide to Sex for Teens (and Their Parents, Too!) by Alison Macklin
- A Better Way to Teach Kids about Sex by Laura Padilla-Walker, Dean M. Busby, Chelom E. Leavitt, and Jason S. Carroll
- Kelly Grove The “Sex Lady” Who Teaches Us to Do Better and The Things Sex Education Failed To Teach You
- Lily Isobella, especially these posts: Not My Son and What Did You Need to Know?
- Born in an Age of Porn
- Don’t tell the kids to just look away
- How Sex Ed Perpetuates Rape Culture
- How to Talk to Kids About Consent
- Get the Sex Education You Never Had With These 9 Books
- Our Whole Life Curriculum
- These are Our Bodies Curriculum
- Fast Times at Ridgemont High
These books and resources can be a great education for those of us with gaps and questions. We should want to do better and have a more open, trusting relationship with our children than we perhaps did with our parents. I’ve read and watched a lot of it with my own teens so we can discuss the concepts, issues, and scenes.
When young people are not informed early that their bodies can be a safe place for them to get to know, to explore, and that it can be pleasurable to do so… or when they’re taught about sex only from a reproductive standpoint without discussion of pleasure, we do not adequately prepare them with the necessary awareness, language and interpersonal skills that best ensure their safety and satisfaction within sexual experiences.
An attempt to deny or dismiss pleasure contributes to higher incidences of “consenting” to sex when it isn’t truly desired; being less aware of the non-verbal cues and unique needs of partners; faking orgasms; and, not being aware of and confident within one’s own body.
When young people are ill-informed and under-prepared, they cannot make informed choices.
Sex education discussions must be shame-free, must include the nuances of pleasure and must be early and ongoing to truly make a meaningful impact.
Ideally, children live long enough to grow into adults. Let’s do our part to prepare them for safer, mutually satisfying sexual experiences when they get there.
When we erase pleasure from sexual health talks with young people, we fail to fully prepare them for safer, mutually satisfying experiences into adulthood.Sex Positive Families