Parents nowadays understand that talking to children about the birds and the bees is a “good parenting” requirement. Yet, we still struggle with knowing what to say, how to say it, leaving us stumbling, bumbling or otherwise avoiding the topic altogether.
To further add to our insecurities, we live in a media driven world full of mixed messages from which teaches girls (and women) to publicly display their bodies in lingerie and swimsuits, but then bear the label “slut,” “desperate for attention” and “emotionally needy” for doing so. Meanwhile, boys and men learn to objectify those girls and women … and that they must disconnect from their own feelings and emotional needs—left silently suffering in the name of “real” masculinity!
It’s no wonder we have such a hard time talking to our kids about sex in a healthy way. Few of us receive healthy messages about it as adults! Well, to help you start figuring out what to say to your kids about sex, let’s dedicate this article to what NOT to say. Because these 7 (entirely bullsh*t) messages about sex hurt your kids more than they will ever help.
Here a seven awful, damaging, and UNTRUE things we tell our children about sex (and we should stop!):
1. Sex is for making babies
There is much more to sex then reproduction! You know this, science knows this, and guess what? So do your kids! When you keep it real and acknowledge our natural human sexual desires (for, both, physical pleasure and human connection/bonding) your children trust you as a valuable source of, honest, information. And more importantly, they develop healthy views about themselves as well-rounded sexual beings.
It’s crucial that you focus on all aspects of sexuality and not just baby making!
2. Using slang names for body parts, or weird, covert phrases for sex
When we’re uncomfortable using proper names for sexual organs or talking openly about sex (without code phrases), we teach kids that sex is taboo and that their bodies are shameful. If you do find yourself whispering or your tone changing when you say words like “penis,” “vagina,” or even “sex,” a good practice is to repeat saying them to yourself until they come out naturally. But calling it “down there” instead of “penis” or “vagina” is just plain inaccurate.
So, get comfortable with your body and your kids will learn a valuable lesson about their own self-worth.
3. Sex is for marriage
For centuries, all over the globe, we’ve viewed sex as a shameful act, learning to believe that only in marriage is sex “pure.” Yet, the rates of premarital sex are consistently high across generations! This causes tremendous internal conflict in us and in our kids.
Instead, try redirecting your focus on the healthy “how to” of relationship building and less on arbitrary rules about the physical act of sex itself.
4. Sex is wrong, bad, and dirty
When your kids ask questions about sex or show their curiosity, be mindful of your reactions. Sometimes your negative reaction is subtle (like a frown that they brought the topic up) and sometimes it turns into severe punishment (like a child engaging in sexual exploration). Every time you disapprove of their natural curiosity, you’re send a strong (and dishonest) message that sex is bad and shameful.
This one is tricky and is going to take some self-exploration on your behalf. But, know this—showing disapproval is the fastest way to ensure your kids start going elsewhere for information about sex!
5. Sex = penis in vagina penetration
Sex is much more than heterosexual intercourse and orgasms (or goal-oriented “getting off”), it’s about a relationship with our own bodies, caring relationships with others, and healthy decision making. When we only talk to kids about sex as intercourse, we focus on the physical aspects of sex and neglect the spectrum of sexual orientation, human connection and relationship building skills that ensure a healthy sex life.
Holding hands, cuddling while watching a movie, giving long intimate hugs, writing love letters or making your partner their favorite food are also part of sex and intimacy (how many of us ever mention the word “intimacy” to our kids?). All the contradictory messages kids receive, that sex is entirely penetration, leaves them with a lot of confusion and incredibly ill-prepared for creating actual healthy relationships.
6. Not saying anything at all and avoiding the topic
Sometimes the discomfort of talking to kids about sex causes us to shut down and avoid the topic all together. Or perhaps, we believe the myth that kids having “too much information” encourages them to engage in sex—when in reality, studies show that comprehensive information does not lead to sex, but NO information does (and to riskier sex, too).
Ignoring or avoiding the topic reinforces the lie that sex is shameful and unnatural, which breeds serious consequences during sexual decision making well into adulthood. Even if you don’t know what to say, keep an open door policy and be there to listen to your children!
7. Having sex makes you a man! Or, having sex cheapens you as a woman!
This is one of the most harmful and truly destructive messages we send kids about sex. Talking in gender stereotypes is toxic for boys and girls!
Boys become disconnected from their feelings and empathy in relationships, learning that having sex means showing dominant aggression, acting tough and staying emotionally independent—and that being a real man means conquering women.
Girls learn to exhibit passive, virginal, dependent behavior, all the while balancing the pressures of looking “sexy”—look sexy at ALL times, but never ever actually be sexual. Because, as we know, a girl who has sex is “easy,” “dirty”or “loose.” … i.e. less worthy.
Gender-based social expectations become the romantic code adolescent’s use when making sexual decisions throughout adolescence and adulthood. Girls learn that they “give” sex (or “owe” sex) and boys learn to “take” sex. And our current rape culture shows clearly how terribly awry that message has gone.
Tell your kids the truth about sex
Like anything, passing positive, honest messages to our children about sex takes practice, courage and self-awareness. The more you ask yourself questions about sex and the more you practice having conversation with your children about the topic — the easier it’ll become! If you master not communicating the toxic messages above … you’re already off to a great start!
Look, as awkward as it feels, if your kids ask you questions about sex, awesome! Answer them honestly. If you need to make some adjustments to some of your answers, that’s okay too! Part of honest, open and healthy dialogue is creating space for on-going conversation.
This article originally appeared on Your Tango. For more like this from Your Tango, try: