After years of sexual abuse, the ongoing processing and healing from those experiences has forced me to see my body and how it reacts to touch in ways others may never consider. And as a queer, nonbinary person, it is both challenging and fun at times for me to explore and read about the nuances of sex. Talking about sex isn’t hard for me. I am pretty comfortable with it actually. I am an advocate for LGBTQIA+ inclusive sex ed in schools, and I am an advocate for my kids’ personal safety when it comes to touch, consent, and safe sex when they are ready to explore sexual relationships with themselves or others.
I recognize not everyone looks at “the talk” through the same lens I view sex and sexuality, and I know not all parents are comfortable talking about sex with their kids. But early and ongoing conversations with and not at your kids about their bodies are some of the most important conversations you will have.
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests age appropriate ways to start talking to your kids as early as 18 months old. For my kids, using the correct names for body parts and emphasizing consent around touch, particularly tickling, kissing, and hugging, were the first steps I took to incorporating body talk into our everyday routine. And a new study shows that parents who talk to their kids about sex end up with kids who have safer sex. Of course it does.
The study involved 12,464 adolescents ages 9-18; the mean age was 12. The study showed an increase in condom use by youth who had parents intervening more than parents who didn’t. It also showed that adolescents younger than 14 responded better than older kids. The study also showed that talking to kids earlier did not lead to sex at earlier ages; it just meant safer sex. And that’s what we all want. If kids are going to be sexually active, and if we don’t provide the information they need and want, they will find it somewhere else. And that information may be horribly inaccurate and terrifying.
To make this as easy as possible, here is a variety of really inclusive, non-threatening, and gentle resources to help you talk to your kids of most ages about sex, gender, sexuality, menstruation, and masturbation. (Yes, masturbation too.)
1. Planned Parenthood
An actual Planned Parenthood healthcare provider would likely help you navigate sexual health questions with your kids, but I am referring to the organization’s website. There is a LEARN tab that has plenty of information to educate you as the parent before you dig into topics like sexual orientation and gender with your child. Also within that tab is a For Parents section, which sends you to a treasure chest of tips, what to expect, and questions for you to explore with your kids. The site breaks down each age group from preschool to high school and sprinkles videos throughout. The section also has plenty of “what if this happens?” or “what if my kids asks this?” types of Q&A scenarios that address most parents’ fears and uncertainty when it comes to talking to kids about sexual reproduction and safe sex.
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2. Sex Ed School, YouTube Channel
Sex Ed School is amazing, and you need to be watching these 10-15 minute videos with your kids. Hosted by Eva, a sex researcher, and Nadine, a sex educator, the episodes cover topics like genitals, gender, consent, kissing, and love—including self-love, i.e. masturbation. The hosts are in front of a group of middle schoolers in a classroom setting and have lively discussions with the students on all of these topics. My 8-year-old daughter loves these videos. Seeing other kids talk about these topics puts her at ease and the hosts use simple terms and easy to follow lessons that empower her while teaching her about bodies and the respect they deserve. The episodes are very body and LGBTQIA+ inclusive in language used and the relationships discussed.
Host Eva Bloom tells Scary Mommy, “These conversations are hugely important! Teaching kids about their bodies without shame can help them move through the world more confidently as they grow up, teaching consent is essential in helping them have healthy relationships, and especially for queer kids, learning that being LGBTQ+ is normal (and wonderful!) is imperative to improving their mental health and wellbeing.”
3. Six Minute Sex Ed Podcast
Six Minute Sex Ed is a podcast hosted by sex education teacher, Kim Cavill. Most episodes are about 6 minutes long, like the name says, and are broken into two levels. Level One is good for listeners of any age, but is designed for younger listeners and Level Two is geared for tweens, teens, and adults. Cavill intends for these shows to be listened to as a family so that discussion can happen after. She understands lives are busy, so the podcasts are short, to the point, and full of great information to help you stay connected with your kids while having really meaningful conversations about sexual health and body autonomy.
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If we’re talking about porn without talking about consent and digital ethics, we’re not equipping young people with the info they need to make informed decisions. . . . If we’re talking about consent and digital ethics without talking about porn, we’re not equipping young people with the info they need to make informed decisions. . . . These issues are inextricably linked.
4. Sex Positive Families
Sex Positive Families is my favorite place on the internet to find a variety of resources in one place to help talk to my kids about sex, consent, and body positivity without shame or fear. The site’s founder, Melissa Pintor Carnagey, is a sex educator and licensed social worker. Sex Positive Families offers a podcast, several downloadable resource guides, online parenting groups, and sessions with Pintor Carnagey as your personal parenting coach for raising sexually healthy kids. This website is incredibly inclusive and comprehensive for all bodies, genders, and sexualities.
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How can we help our children understand the differences between a secret, something that's private and a surprise? These are different terms with often very different outcomes when applied. The ways we frame, model and reinforce these concepts in everyday situations makes all the difference in how our children use them. In the context of sexual health and safety, here is some helpful language to highlight the differences between the three terms: 🤫Secrets are often meant to be kept quiet for a long time and to protect something that would make people feel unhappy, unsafe or hurt. 🔑Privacy is about respecting a person’s personal space or information. It does not have the outcome of hurting or compromising the safety of another person. 🎉Surprises are kept quiet temporarily then shared with others for a happy or positive result. Make it a habit in your home culture to opt for privacy and surprises over secrets, and when secrets happen, be sure they know if it is a safe or unsafe one. Remind them of who the trusted adults are in their life, if ever they are asked to keep a secret by anyone. Let them know that if they ever tell someone about unsafe secrets or touch, and that person does not believe them, that they should keep telling until someone believes them. Starting the talks early to make clear these differences can prepare a child for informed choices about the types of communication to have with others and who they can talk to when something feels unsafe or hurtful. To learn more about these concepts, and for helpful resources to support the talks, follow the link in our bio.
Perhaps quiet, less interactive options are more comfortable for you and your family; diverse books that include all types of identities are great ways to start conversations too. I have been reading What Makes A Baby to my kids since they were three years old. The book explores the science of egg meeting sperm to form a fetus. The book doesn’t talk about sex or the logistics of how one makes those ingredients meet, but in a very thoughtful way talks about how some bodies have sperm and some have eggs. It strips away gender and doesn’t define relationships in heteronormative ways.
Other great books include: Sex Is A Funny Word by Cory Silverberg and author of What Makes A Baby; Let’s Talk About Body Boundaries, Consent and Respect by Jayneen Sanders; and Positive Sexuality: A Kid’s Inclusive Guide to Being Body Aware (Kids Aware) by Sara Matilde Perry.
Whatever resources you use, you need to have these conversations early, often, and without shame and judgment. You want your kids to be as informed as possible when it comes to their sexual health and happiness. It’s not only for their protection, but for the protection of the people they have relationships with.
Breathe, folks. It’s just sex.