As a sexologist, I often hear from parents who are nervous about discussing sex with their children. For so many, it seems like a daunting task filled with uncomfortable topics.
I've seen firsthand the impact that sex-positive parenting can have on overall well-being. After all, engaging in healthy conversations about sexuality sets the stage for talking — without guilt or embarrassment — about the body and all its functions. It also sets children up to feel positive about their own bodies and to make conscious decisions about their sexual health later in life.
For moms and dads who want to raise sex-positive kids — without stressing about the topic — here are my favorite tips:
1. Think back to your own early experiences with sexuality.
Before having the conversation, take some time to really dig deep into your memory bank and remember how you first learned about sexuality. Reflect upon those early conversations: were they positive, negative or did they fall into a gray area? Would you change anything about the ways in which you learned about sexuality?
It's important to tap into these early experiences because they play an integral role into your own sexuality. And your feelings and experiences can then be passed onto your children in a variety of manifestations — whether they're presented as fears, insecurities, shame or positive views.
The key here is to own your feelings, whether they're good or bad.
2. Always use the correct language for body parts.
One of the most important things you can do for your children early on is to refer to body parts by anatomically correct names. Making an effort to do so from birth will serve as reinforcement for your child that the body is normal and doesn't need euphemisms.
Using the proper names for body parts also fosters self-confidence and a positive body image. More importantly, it opens the pathways of communication between parents and their children.
3. Keep it age appropriate.
A large part of sex-positive parenting lies within your ability to discuss sexuality from an age-appropriate perspective. But first, you need to reject the common misconception that “sex education” should be relegated to the annals of reproduction, sexually transmitted infections and contraception. When we abandon the standard views of what sexual education “has” to be, we then can openly communicate with children about sexuality in a more honest and informative manner.
After all, there are a wealth of topics that are crucial to developing a healthy sex-positive attitude: love, pleasure, empathy, consent, sexual assertiveness, diversity and preferences, self-image, gender stereotypes, respect for all, boundaries, healthy relationships, intimacy, safety and trust.
With these topics in mind, beginning conversations about sex early on and continuing to do so as your child grows is the best sexual education strategy.
For example, in early childhood, curiosity-focused sex play with friends of both sexes is common. It's important not to scold your child if you catch them playing doctor. Gently explain that privates are, well, private, and touching one another’s is off-limits. Questions like “how are babies made?” should be answered by providing a brief description of sexual intercourse. For tweens, it's important to address puberty and explore how the media presents sexuality, while teens need information and support to make conscious decisions that protect their sexual health.
4. Keep conversations casual.
Reject the urge to tackle one big discussion about sexuality at once. Instead, find ways to approach the subject during normal conversations and activities.
Make it a point to keep things fun while you're at it, too. It's totally acceptable to get a little silly with things if it helps. Try to look for teachable moments when attempting to relay information in an inviting way. Don't shy away from using TV shows, music videos and overheard conversations as an excellent starting point for discussing sexuality.
Then, encourage your child to come to you with any questions and keep the conversation going. Be sure to listen carefully to what your child is saying and encourage them to speak at their own pace.
5. Allow your child to embrace their sensual side.
It's important to remember that we are sensual beings by nature — and your child is no exception. Do your best to allow them to embrace this aspect of life rather than try to suppress it, even if it's unfamiliar territory for you. Try not to scold your child during these times as it can lead to them feeling ashamed, fearful and insecure.
These feelings may very well shape their views on sexuality and hinder their abilities to grow into healthy, sex positive adults.
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