How Do You Explain “Sexy” To Your Kids?

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About Tom Burns

Tom Burns is a husband, a dad, and a veteran of the educational publishing industry, living just outside of Detroit Rock City. He’s also been a writer and contributing editor for a number of web sites, including 8BitDad, and founded - a website devoted to helping parents find the right books for their kids. You can find him on Twitter at @buildalibrary.


  1. Joanna Schroeder says:

    Tom, I feel ya on this one – profoundly. And I think you handled it like a champ. Great article.

    My two boys, who are both in elementary school, became obsessed with Gangnam style and started substituting everything in place of “lady” in the phrase… So, “Heyyyyyy sexy Daddy” and “Heyyyy sexy Mama” and “Heyyyyy sexy doggie.”

    It was like hell for me. It irked me so profoundly. Like you, not so much knowing that humans are sexual beings and that at some point they’re going to have sex with people, but the idea that pop culture has taken a word that is, to some degree, sacred to me. “Sexy” is a great word. It’s an important word. It expresses a certain type of desire that goes deeper than just wanting to do it with somebody.

    Anyway, like you, I said it was more than just “pretty” – but that it meant you wanted to take the person out on a date, or make them your boyfriend or girlfriend. I know it’s more than that, I realize there are sexy films and sexy songs and even sex songs, but it was enough for my kids to realize that using it about their teachers and their uncle wasn’t really accurate, without me having to tell them that explicitly.

    • Good god if I heard them say sexy doggie, etc I would be on the ground laughing. I think it’s extremely important to remember that kids have no sexual drive at that age, and it doesn’t kick in until puberty. I would be far far more worried about 10-12 year olds usage of the word than 6. Letting them know that it’s a term for adults to use for people they want to be intimate with will probably be enough to gross em out and bore them of the word I would hope? Until they have their sex drive turn on, they will not understand fully the meaning of the word so everyone should keep that in mind and realize their usage is farrrrrrrr more innocent than anything. I’m sure kids will say all kinds of crazy stuff that they don’t even know the meaning of, hell I heard of kids saying basically sex was hugging and you had babies after hugging!

      I do wish however the music videos, etc would be shown in age appropriate levels. Kids should be watching transformer music videos n stuff, or Tonka trucks, Lego’s, etc.

  2. My 6-y.o. daughter thought the lyrics were, “Hey, sixty lady,” as in, a lady over the age of 60, and I didn’t bother to correct her. >__< My kids know of the term "sexy," and the way I explained it to them is "acting like a tacky adult, like how I embarrass you when I try to dance hip-hop in the supermarket." Once my son starts feeling "that way" towards kids in his class, I will redefine it, but I personally believe "sexy" is not an ideal to strive for. It's usually too over-the-top/obvious to be sincerely desirable, and takes out the emotional and mental aspects of attraction, which for people wired like me, is much more important than washboard abs and hip gyrations.

  3. Great, relatable piece, Tom.

    The way I explained it to my 7 year old is that:
    sexy = a certain kind of pretty that makes you feel like you’d want that person as a girlfriend or boyfriend.

  4. I’ve had to try and briefly explain “sexy” to my FOUR YEAR OLD, who was in love with “Sexy And I Know It”. I simply couldn’t. I think I said it was related to “pretty” but then veered into the “adult word” argument that you mentioned.

  5. Kate Bartolotta says:

    When my daughter asked (at 7) I told her it was a wilder version of pretty—more for grown ups. Love your take on it!

  6. my son is a bit older, 11 now, and already knew what sexy meant, but more towards the message of the article… The way I explained “adult” words to him was that the word itself is not the problem. It is the simple fact that some words have very difficult meanings (cue Webster’s dictionary here) and that he is not yet old enough to fully understand their complete meaning. It is through maturity that that understanding will come, and until such time as he can truly define their meaning through understanding… not just looking up a definition… then he will be old enough to use that word. Basically if he doesn’t know what a word truly means, then he should not use it. If he acts mature, I will treat him mature. If he has the contextual understanding of an adult at 12, then I will treat him as such. This is my way of avoiding the infantizing of youth, whilst ensuring that he understands the words we say and the things we do only have power within the context of which they are used.

    (NOTE: so far, this has completely prevented him from swearing, being slanderous, or otherwise being crude without telling him he is not allowed to, making it his decision to treat people with respect)

  7. I have my kids change it to pretty lady. I told them it was akin to attractive and was not appropriate for them to use, a more age appropriate word would be pretty or nice, and nice does not fit rhythmically, so pretty is what they chose.

  8. Walt Coogan says:

    I enjoyed this article, even as it reminds me that our society really cares little about allowing children to develop properly and as innocently as possible.

  9. Such a minefield. When I asked my mother what “sexy” meant, she told me it meant “obsessed with sex, like a man who attacks people and goes to jail.” Even though I learned otherwise in a few years, this first connotation has stuck with me all my life — to the point that if someone says a person or thing is sexy, my first reaction is that they don’t like it. Parenthood, argh.

  10. That’s a great take on a difficult discussion. We get so hung up worry about how to answer some questions that we don’t think about how to answer others. I love the take that we have a complex world with complex language – walking our kids through that is a landmine field! I often use the go to that if you don’t understand a word and how to use it – you need to be careful about doing so. Of course this applies to adults too ;) That sausage lady had me laughing too. I think that humor is another great way to help us deal with life and the uncomfortable moments our kids, especially, present. I also love the idea of circling back when we’re flummoxed by our kids – because I believe it’s important for them to see that things are not always neat, clean, black/white, and that they’re not the only ones that need to pause and think about language and what the world and life place at our door. And in our headphones :)

  11. As a teacher in a preschool I come across children singing Lady Gaga et all songs all the time. They seem to instinctively know that a comment I always make in parent teacher conferences is “please allow your children to remain children and listen to age appropriate songs” and take great pleasure in doing the opposite. Starting from the fact that they are age appropriate for a reason and ending with the fact that I teach ESL so vocabulary is an issue, I don’t believe my request is unreasonable, yet parents often do. So I solve it very simply, when asked what a word like sex or the famous f word means, I send it back to the parents with a very simple “ask mum and dad and then you can come and tell me what it means”. I usually end up with red faced parents next time we run into each other as their child loudly informs me that mom and or dad say they don’t know.

  12. Great article that addresses an issue I am particularly concerned about– the sexualization of our children. Music, TV, videos, girls clothing options– all of them are pushing our kids to be “sexy” before they even know what the word means. As a woman, daughter, teacher, and mother of a girl, I had one reaction to your conversation that I wanted to share. Your daughter asked if she was sexy and you said “No!” and when she walked away you felt like she had dropped a bomb and didn’t need to stick around to see the aftermath…my take on her question was different– she was asking for your approval. It wasn’t about causing an effect on you–she was really asking “Am I pretty?” Giving her the context of the word is great; I like the way you told her that “sexy” is a more adult word. But I think, more importantly, she needs to know that she’s beautiful, and you are the first male she will go to for that feedback.


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