How to Teach Your Kids about Sex
What will your kids learn about sex on the school bus? What will their school teach them? Do you feel like pornography will give them accurate info on how to connect well with others? (Research says the average age kids find porn is 11, which means half of them find it before then.)
The reality is that if you don't teach your kids about sex, their views will be shaped primarily by sources like insufficient school curriculum, misinformed conversations with friends, and whatever trash they uncover online.
That’s how many of us figured things out. And that left us ill-equipped to deal with our bodies and relationships in healthy ways. Many of us are still seeking answers or picking up the pieces from our flawed or non-existent sex education.
But we can do better by our kids!
Teaching Kids Better Sex Ed Than We Got
I've met many adults who struggle to find healthy sexuality due to flawed or non-existent sex education. Thanks to culture that depicts sex and relationships in unrealistic, shame-filled ways, many of us have had to fill in the gaps on our own and unlearn the misleading messages we received growing up. Now as a parent, it can be intimidating to teach my own kids about sex given the cultural context and lack of good examples on how to do so. While we may not have received the best sex education ourselves, our kids can experience a better foundation.
In a world of diversity and confusion, we want our children to feel confident and competent as they navigate life's choices. Since you love your child more than anyone else, I want you to be their primary teacher and guide, rather than the larger culture.
Ways Your Kids Will Learn About Sex
Sex ed in school is often a watered down, simplistic version of puberty and basic biology. The environment rarely allows for exploring the complexity of sex, how our bodies function at a chemical or psychological level nor the relational components of sexuality. This leaves students without much practical knowledge.
Popular culture, from advertisements to porn to movies, paints the picture that sex is a highly desirable, performance activity. The societal image of sex is idealized, not grounded in reality for most couples, leaving us feeling comparatively inadequate. It teaches objectification and commodification of our bodies. Kids soak up these ideas from culture and often pass them around in misinformed playground talk.
In church, sex is typically very taboo. The topic is either avoided entirely or taught from a male-pleasure-centered, shame-inducing lens. It teaches penetration as a marital obligation and commands a lot of black and white rules regarding male/female interactions and bodies. This leaves little room for grace, nuance, or natural curiosity— beautiful parts of God's design!
Many parents are apprehensive about teaching their kids about sex, fearing that educating is giving permission for harm and not wanting to "pollute" or "dirty" a child prematurely. This shame and belief that sex is naughty, bad, or dangerous often results in avoidance, and passes the shame down to another generation.
None of these outlets give the full and accurate picture of sex, so our kids, just as we likely did, end up piecing together their own sex education, taking harmful narratives to heart. That's why we have to do better laying a solid foundation for our kids!
Research shows that holistic sex education is really helpful for society. People relate to one another better when we understand sexuality. We have fewer unplanned pregnancies, fewer teen pregnancies, and less violence in relationships. All of those things improve with accurate, no-shame sex education.
So how do we provide that healthy, comprehensive sex education for our kids?
When it comes to a healthy sex education, there are 3 core elements: positive self-value, accurate information, and social health. This framework underpins how we view our worth, our bodies, and our relationships. Therefore, it's so important to start teaching these values to kids early.
The 3 Elements of Healthy Sex Education
Here's an overview of each element:
1. Positive Self-Value
We want our kids to feel good about who they are. The first thing we can do is teach them to listen to their body and the information it gives them. Taking care of the body's needs is vitally important for long-term health and essential for healthy connection.
2. Accurate, No-Shame Information
Teaching biology with "no shame" means that any time we reference the body, the brain, or connection between humans we aim to talk about them in terms of facts. It isn't an opinion or something to be embarrassed about, it's just science. Knowledge gives power and appropriate control for a person over their own life. Educating your kids creates an environment for curiosity and appreciation for the body and its natural design rather than a risk to be avoided or afraid of.
3. Social Health
Social health describes a person's ability to get along well with others. It is dependent on your child being able to use their voice effectively. Sexual health is dependent on social health. Establishing appropriate ways to advocate for ourselves and relate well with others sets us up for better overall sexual health.
All 3 of these elements are interdependent and crucial for both our own and our kids' sexual experiences.
Reconsidering the "Sex Talk"
Often sex is first introduced formally in families and schools in the form of the dreaded "sex talk." In school, this looks like a seminar that introduced puberty, periods, and sex. It's a conversation full of warnings and discomfort with abstinence-only education that uses STIs to scare students from sex. At home, "the talk" can be made to feel like a dramatic event that makes the topic more shameful and awkward due to the anticipation and fuss we create around it.
What if, instead, we normalized conversations about bodies and sex and introduced the topics earlier? Rather than making the "sex talk" a one-time weird, stuffy conversation, we can integrate education about anatomy and relationships throughout childhood, appropriate to their development. It's a positive ongoing dialogue rather than an event to dread.
Tips for Comprehensive Sex Education for Kids:
Here are some ideas on how you can better teach your kids about their bodies and sex in order to set them up for success.
Encourage curiosity. Answer your kids inevitable questions truthfully and without a tone of secrecy around the "awkward" ones.
Speak in plain language using proper anatomical terms. This gives clarity on the body and its functions, which will allow them to be able to communicate clearly if something is ever is wrong.
Don't avoid the topic. By treating bodies or sex as topics that can only be discussed behind closed doors, we create an aura of shame around them. This discourages questions and perpetuates harmful beliefs.
Start the conversations early and add in more information appropriate to their development and understanding as they get older. This normalizes it.
Model health as their parent.
Do Your Own Work, Too!
I know you want the best for your children. But sometimes it can be hard to know what the best is or how to offer that. One of the most fundamental parts of creating the best environment for your kids is to be healthy yourself.
When you are healthy, not only can you show up better for your family, but you are also modeling health. Your kids are watching you and learning from you! Seeing you interact with the world informs how they will interact with the world. So if you want your kids to have a healthy sense of self, good relationships, tools to manage their emotions and stress and so on, demonstrate those in your own life. You won't get it exactly right every time, but when you know you’re aren’t modeling well in some area, commit to seeking that health. Your kids will learn from that, too!
Whether it’s mental, physical, emotional, relational health or beyond, your health patterns inevitably impact your kids. When it come to raising them to be healthy humans, it’s important that you’re doing the work, too!
If you want support in guiding your kids to a healthier sense of self, consider my course Sex Ed for Parents. It's on sale now for 40% off using the code SPRING40. It's more than just the science of intercourse! This course is designed to equip you to teach your kids health in their self-vale and in their relationships, which affect our sexual health even more than our knowledge of sex.
Discount only available until March 25th!