Sex-Positive Parenting: Why You Should Talk Openly To Your Kids About Sex
Unlike a lot of mothers in my suburban community, I have no problem talking to my kids about sex. In fact, I'm very comfortable talking honestly, openly, and nonjudgmentally about it.
I was raised by a stylish diva mom of the Mad Men era. Twice divorced, she was slightly embittered but unequivocal when she told me flatly, "Sex is the one thing a man can give you that will make you happy."
The female orgasm was an act of pride and rebellion—it was her brand of feminism.
This is what informed how I educated my daughter about sex, although my tutelage was far from embittered—because sex, love, and relationships have always been a highly satisfying part of my life. I write about my sex-positive philosophy in my recently published memoir Wide Open, which describes my journey balancing romantic love and family life.
Educating my children on sex, love, and relationships is a crucial part of what I consider good parenting.
When my daughter was 10 years old, she got into my sex toy draw and borrowed a small lavender vibrator. I didn't notice it was missing until 10 days later when she sheepishly confessed to me that she had taken it and that she "really liked it." I told her to consider it hers. I was happy she'd taken the initiative.
We chatted about the vibrator's shape and silky texture, and I explained female physiology to her. I told her that masturbation was a private activity saved for nonpublic spaces like her bedroom.
"A vibrator will be your own personal sex educator about what you need to do to achieve climax. When you get a lover, this is the information you'll pass on to him or her," I told her.
Educating my children on sex, love, and relationships is a crucial part of what I consider good parenting. It's right up there with keeping them out of danger, teaching them to respect the environment, and making them responsible for their own actions (along with doing their own laundry and 30 minutes of reading a day).
But there seems to be a pervasive fear that talking about sex with teens will encourage them to have sex, even though research has shown time and time again that that's not true. In fact, teaching kids about sex earlier on may actually lead kids to wait longer before having sex and to make safer choices when they do. The Netherlands, Germany, and France have the lowest rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases among teens. These three countries have exemplary sex education and government programs that allow easy access to contraception. Knowledge and education facilitate wise decisions.
The United States has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the Western world. According to Advocates for Youth, since 1997 the U.S. government has subsidized more than $1.5 billion in abstinence-only programs that exclude crucial information that could prevent teen pregnancy and STDs. Until recently, these "sex as danger" programs were the only sex education classes eligible for federal funding. But researchers at the University of Washington found that comprehensive sex education was associated with a 50% lower risk of teen pregnancy1 compared to an abstinence-only program.
Given the puritanical roots of the United States, these statistics aren't surprising. But I live in one of the blue states, where the "sex is dangerous" dogma is on par with the ideology that humans lived among dinosaurs. I expected a sex-positive attitude from other parents. Not so.
In kindergarten, my daughter asked me the inevitable question: "Where do babies come from?" I responded with a simple description suited to a 5-year-old. My little girl became the source of sex education for her kindergarten pals. When her best friend told her mother about "the sperm and the egg," this little girl's mother called me up and stated flatly, "I don't want my child thinking about sex."
Developmentally, kids start asking basic questions about sex as early as 3 years old. Making the subject verboten puts kids and teenagers at risk because topics that are forbidden and mysterious often become cause for rebellion.
There’s pervasive fear that talking about sex with teens will encourage them to have sex. Research has shown time and time again that that’s not true.
My daughter's friends are polite and affable. They are also curious and hungry for frank information on life. They need guidance with empathy—not lectures or policing.
At 14, my daughter got her first boyfriend. We discussed birth control. My daughter was very candid that she was not ready to have sex, which I was glad for. As their relationship developed, she felt pressured. Her boyfriend is a great kid—and yet I think we can all agree that testosterone is one wily ride.
After further discussion, the issue seemed to be not that her boyfriend was truly pressuring her—he wanted to respect her boundaries—but given both their levels of sexual inexperience, they didn't know how to pleasure each other.
I felt empathy for both my daughter and her boyfriend. I explained to her that the learning curve at this age in terms of your body, your boyfriend's/girlfriend's body, what you are feeling, and what you need is huge! Then I coached her about several ways she and her boyfriend could pleasure each other without penetration or risk of pregnancy.
I am happy to report that at 15 my daughter is sexually satisfied but still not having intercourse. She's doing great academically and socially and is also exploring the fine art of living well.
It's time parents stopped portraying sex as dangerous—emotionally and physically—and started telling the truth about the pleasures it can bring when done safely and maturely.
Gracie X is a sex writer, director, actress, and author of Wide Open: My Adventures in Polyamory, Open Marriage and Loving on My Own Terms. She has degrees in Women's Studies and Acting from Bard College, and she writes prolifically about ethical non-monogamy, open relationships, and creating chosen families. Her work has appeared at Bustle, The Huffington Post, New Harbinger Publications, Metro UK, the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, KTEH, Outfest, and elsewhere.