As a mother, I know how difficult it can be to practice sex positive parenting. It can be hard to talk to our children about things that we deem to be awkward, uncomfortable, or taboo.
This isn’t just about our own comfort—it’s a natural maternal instinct to want to protect our children’s innocence for as long as possible, and “sex talks” can sometimes seem like a threat to that.
Unfortunately, we also live in a world that threatens this innocence everyday, and one that too often depicts Black and brown bodies in a hypersexualized way.
It’s time to open your mind, put aside any reservations that you might have, and get comfortable with discussing sex with your kids.
This is something that courageous moms, parents, and guardians everywhere need to work to change.
As a medical professional and reproductive health specialist, I can say with absolute confidence that practicing sex positive parenting is the right move. There is far, far more to be gained from creating an open dialogue with your children about sex than there is to be lost.
It’s time to open your mind, put aside any reservations that you might have, and get comfortable with discussing sex with your kids. This way, you can send your children out into the world with everything they need to have a healthy and educated relationship with others and with themselves when it comes to sex.
Don’t know where to start? That’s fine. I can help.
1. Make discussions about sex a part of your family’s life.
Most of us will have memories of awkward encounters with our own parents when it came to talking about sex. (I can clearly remember my own mother’s discomfort discussing what getting my period meant.)
Some of us may not have had these conversations at all.
It’s important not to repeat this with your own children. You can do better!
A good place to start practicing sex positive parenting is by normalizing the topics of human reproduction and sexuality by bringing them into normal daily conversation, either as a family or one-to-one with your child. It’s never too early to get started.
If you begin to normalize the discussion of sex, sexual health, and intimacy with your children from a young age, the topic will feel less taboo by the time they are teenagers. Just make sure that you are sticking to age-appropriate topics and using terms they can understand, especially if they’re quite small.
2. Know that sex positive parenting means being open, honest, and willing to ask for help.
Unless you’re a sexual health specialist, you’re not going to be an expert and you won’t have all the answers.
You may find that your child has questions you simply aren’t prepared for—that’s fine, normal, and nothing to worry about. We can’t be a fountain of knowledge on every subject, and you should use professional resources to your advantage if you are coming up short.
It’s always better to ask if you don’t know—this is a behavior we should try and model for our children, especially when it comes to important topics like sex. This is a core of sex-positive parenting.
Thankfully, there are plenty of websites you can use if you find you need assistance!
Period tracker Clue, for example, has a podcast called Hormonal that was designed to answer a multitude of questions that many people have about hormones and birth control. It also offers 450 science-based articles that you can read to get ready.
Planned Parenthood offers excellent resources around sexual diseases and contraception, as well as information on consent.
And Girlology, created by adolescent and pediatric gynecologist Melisa Holmes, MD, is a wonderful source parents can use for younger children. It also has content for children who are transgender and non-binary.
3. Have a plan about how you’ll talk about the big three: conception, consent, and contraception.
These are three essential conversations to have, but are topics that parents may struggle to broach with their kids. Doing so acknowledges that your child is growing up, and this can be difficult to come to terms with.
Trust me, though, they will be better for it if you have an open and honest dialogue about these topics with your children.
Covering conception (a.k.a. Where do babies come from?)
This is probably one of the first conversations many parents will have with children when it comes to sex. It often comes up with younger children when they find out that new siblings are on the way.
Talks like this are a great chance to lay the groundwork for future discussions about sex, and you should feel comfortable in using anatomically correct terms.
The most important thing to do when it comes to this sensitive discussion is to let your child lead the discussion.
Avoid giving “cute names” to genitals as this can confuse children. There isn’t anything taboo or overtly sexual about discussing sperm, eggs, and how they meet—and at a very young age, your child won’t see asking about these things as awkward.
If you’re not sure how to answer these questions, consider using Planned Parenthood as a resource. They have a great explainer on how to discuss sex and conception with young children, and how much information to provide as to not overwhelm them.
Discussing intimacy and consent
One discussion you should try to have regularly is around the topic of intimacy and consent. It’s important that children are taught from a young age about appropriate levels of touch and setting healthy boundaries when it comes to their body and engaging in intimacy.
Feel free to start these conversations with the basics: this involves things like making sure your child knows that people must ask for permission before touching others, or give permission to be touched, and make it clear that ‘no means no’ when it comes to any form of physical intimacy.
Not only can this help to protect your child from a young age, it can also help to make the discussion of intimate boundaries feel normal, which will help you in the long run. As long as you’ve laid the groundwork for this conversation and normalized the discussion of consent, you should be able to continue it as they grow.
Talking about contraception and STIs
This is perhaps the talk parents dread the most, as it involves the acknowledgement of your child’s developing sexuality. But it’s never too early to educate your child about their bodies. Do what feels right and comfortable. There is no perfect age.
Remember: Initiating these kinds of conversations is far less excruciating or upsetting than helping your child through a contraceptive failure, pregnancy, or sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at a young age.
Sex-positive parenting means taking a gender-neutral approach to this talk. You should be talking to boys about birth control, and you should be talking to girls about condoms: pregnancy prevention and safe sex is everyone’s responsibility, and it’s our job to educate our children, no matter their gender.
You should also make sure they are aware of STIs, how they are contracted, and how to seek treatment for them—they may not want to come to you for help if they find themselves in that situation, so you should make sure they know where to go.
The most important thing to do when it comes to this sensitive discussion is to let your child lead the discussion. Consider using phrases like “How much do you know about safe sex?” or “Are they you teaching sex ed at school? Would you be willing to tell me about what they’re teaching you?”
By positioning your child as the commander of the conversation, you can let them lead the way, so they can set healthy boundaries in terms of what they’re willing to talk to you about. This can help to ease awkwardness and help them to feel more in control of the discussion, which may make them more receptive to what you have to say.
And that’s what you want when you’re being a sex-positive parent.