Being a sex-positive parent means we assume that our children will grow into autonomous, sexually active adults and we support our children’ s individual sexual identity no matter what. This support is a lifelong process where the conversations start early with age-appropriate explanations.
As sex-positive parents, we believe that consent is the basis of all sexual activity. There will be times when you will want to be sexually intimate with someone and there will be times when you do not. There are times when it is appropriate to act on sexual desire and there are times when it is not. We have to empower our children to say yes and no. Read this great article, Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21.
According to a recent JAMA Pediatrics meta-analysis, talking openly about sex helps teens become more responsible. The paper reviewed multiple, longitudinal studies about teen sex over three decades and found open “sexual communication with parents” had a “protective role” in safer sex for teens. Also, data from the 2010 National Survey of Family Growth showed that “parental communication about sex education topics with their teenagers is associated with delayed sexual initiation and increased birth control method and condom use among sexually experienced teenagers.”
Telling it like it is: a survey of 1000 Australian Teenagers and Their Parents key findings include:
- Teenagers who have talked with their parents about sexual matters become sexually active later than those who haven’t.
- Most parents (90%) rate themselves as approachable on the topic of sex, but only 74% of teens agree.
- One in five parents think that their teen is sexually active, but in reality about one-third of teenagers claim to be.
- 13% of parents admit that they wouldn’t know whether their teen was sexually active or not.
As parents we need a structure, a scaffolding of practical ways of communicating our beliefs and values about sexuality. Parents are afraid and unsure of what to say and how to say it because we don’t have enough examples. Think of how much structure sex-negative narratives have; we don’t have that for people who want to teach their kids that their sexual health is important. The fear of saying too much about sex too soon, or violating a boundary is very real for parents, so we often choose silence because it feels safest. The article Why Sex Education Also Belongs In the Home by Sol Gordon, PhD is an excellent analysis of how and why parents can be excellent sex educators in the home.
Two books I would love every family of young children to have in their home is both of Cory Silverberg’s illustrated stories, What Makes A Baby and Sex Is A Funny Word. Get them, read them, love them.
One of the many purposes of being a sex-positive parent is that we can protect our kids. Since we know the difference between ‘good sex’ and ‘bad sex’ we can teach our children to know that difference too. Every parent who wants to protect their child has to have the conversation with them that they have the right to say no to unwanted touching and that if someone does touch them in an unwanted way they need to tell you. An organization that is working hard at educating and empowering parents about the realities of sexual abuse is the Mama Bear Effect. Check them out for lots of support.
Being a sex-positive parent means we understand that parents and children come in all genders and sexualities. Much of the information and support that is directed at parents who want to do more than have just a one time conversation about the biological aspects of sexual reproduction comes with an overarching assumption that all parents are heterosexual, or want to be heterosexual, or should be mimicking a heterosexual dynamic. I have presented at the Gender Spectrum Conference and I highly recommend the work they are doing.
What can you do to start being a sex-positive parent today?
I am not afraid to have whatever conversations my kids need to have. I am not afraid to talk about sex, sexuality, sexual assault, gender roles, power dynamics, systemic oppression, misogyny and fear with my children. I am not afraid to answer their questions and offer my interpretation. I have been having age appropriate conversations about sex and sexuality with my kids their entire lives. As an advocate for sex-positive parenting and a sexuality educator, I am grateful to help other parents have these conversations with their children too.