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.
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. I had to have that conversation with my sons when they were 3 years old. 3. Let that sink in. I had to warn my children that someone may try to do something to them against their will. Let me tell you how angry that made me. How unfair and wrong those conversations are; and yet, totally necessary because we live in a sex-negative culture where victims of sexual assault get shamed and blamed while predators get excused and ignored because our cultural understanding of sex is mired in shame, violence and oppression. I also had to tell them that if someone did violate them it was not their fault. I had to tell them that even if they were too afraid to say no, it still isn’t their fault and to never be afraid to tell me, that I would never be mad at them. And we’ve had these conversations over and over and over. Every time they start a new school year, every time they join an after school program, every time they spend the night at a friend’s house.
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. The gender binary is still the default template when teaching parents how to talk to their children about sexuality. I’ve witnessed too many honest, authentic, sex-positive people have no idea how to convey their lived experiences of both gender and sexuality to their own children. Instead, they rely on larger cultural scripts that are limiting and confusing because they really don’t know what else is appropriate to say.
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.
Above everything, parents want their kids to be secure, and my perspective is that comprehensively educating them about both the physical and social realities of sexuality is the most protective thing we can do. Parents need to feel empowered to speak up. A lot of liberal, progressive parents don’t want to be viewed as dogmatic, as if they are pushing their beliefs unto their children. I feel that way as well. I want to raise critical thinkers. So I end up asking my kids a lot of questions, trying to expose them to the constructions underlying social norms around sexuality and gender roles. It’s a negotiation between not wanting to raise bigots and wanting them to come to those decisions on their own.
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.