Sex-positive parenting is on the rise, and for good reason.
Despite society’s more inclusive perception of sex, the vast majority of schools do not offer a comprehensive sex education. This reality has contributed to the popularity of sex-positive parenting practices in recent years.
What is Sex-Positive Parenting?
At its core, sex-positive parenting is a practice that paints a full picture of sex from a young age. This requires parents to provide information and support that will enable their children to blossom into sexually autonomous adults.
However, there is no blueprint for sex positive parenting. The type and timing of the conversations that take place will vary from household to household. Nevertheless, it is important to acknowledge that a single discussion around sex is not enough for your child to gain a thorough understanding of sexual health, practices and their preferences.
For many children, sexual exploration, relationships and intimacy begin far before they reach adulthood. So to ensure your child is well informed and self-assured sexually, it is critical that you practice sex-positive parenting from the get go.
Oh the talk.
For far too many children, the talk manifests as a 30 minute speech from a parent that provokes more questions than answers on the topic of sex.
Unfortunately, it is typical for the talk to result in awkwardness, discomfort and a distaste for chatting about sex with a parent. And more often than not, this experience rarely provides children with helpful information and support.
Sex-positive parenting is changing this narrative.
First, the talk is not a single event, nor is it a monologue. Sex-positive parents will kickstart the conversation early on, even as early as the toddler years. This doesn’t mean that a two year old is given the run down on the birds and the bees. Rather, when a toddler is learning the words for their body parts, why leave the genitals out of it?
That is your ear.
That is your nose.
And yes, that is your penis.
From this stage, the talk will continue to evolve. Oftentimes, the more engaged conversations around sex will be a product of questions asked by your child. Even if the question comes as a shock to you, it is important to answer them thoroughly and honestly.
Remember, if your child has the capacity and curiosity to ask you a sophisticated question around sex, they have the capacity to receive a sophisticated answer.
What is going on in the classroom?
While school curriculums are critiqued for a number of reasons, one of the more profound criticisms is that of the sex education curriculum…
… or better put, the lack thereof.
Within the context of the United States, the distribution of inadequate, false and fear-based lessons on sex within schools is far too common.
Sex education differs from state to state, from district to district and even from school to school. The laws that govern this part of a child’s classroom education are decided by state and local legislatures.
How appropriate, right?
Legislators’ decisions dictate whether or not educators in their jurisdiction can discuss birth control, sexual behaviors and LGBTQ+ experiences. Additionally, these laws outline if and how educators must speak about abstinence in the classroom.
Let’s Take a Look at the Legal
- 37 states have laws that require the inclusion of abstinence in sex education.
- Only 18 states require sex education to provide information on birth control.
- Only 9 states require that educators include the discussion of LGBTQ+ identities and relationships in their sex education curriculums.
- 7 states, of which all are in the South, prohibit educators from discussing LGBTQ+ identities and relationships with students. These states not only forbid these types of inclusive and affirming conversations, but do not allow educators to even answer questions on the topic. Additionally, many of these laws require educators to teach LGBTQ+ identities and relationships in a negative light.
- Oklahoma law requires schools and health departments to provide public, educational resources that “clearly and consistently teach that abortion kills a living human being”.
These laws are just a snippet of the legislation that govern how sex is talked about in schools. And after decades of insufficient sex education, it is now clear that these laws negatively impact children’s development and safety.
Various studies show a distinct correlation between sex education and rates of STDs, teen pregnancies and even sexual assault.
One study compared the prevalence of various acts of sexual assault in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom. Of these three nations, the US has the least comprehensive sex education. Without much surprise, the United States also has the highest rate of rape of the three.
Furthermore, the United States has higher rates of sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy than most other industrialized nations.
Sex-positive parenting is an essential piece of the sex education puzzle for many reasons. But more than anything, this style of parenting is absolutely critical when it comes to breaking down the heteronormative narrative of sex.
Regardless of your child’s sexuality, it is imperative they know that there is more than one sexuality…
… more than one gender…
… and more than one way to have sex.
This particular understanding of sex and sexuality is invaluable. Not only is it affirmational and supportive of LGBTQ+ youth and adults, but it promotes non-binary thinking, inclusivity and advocacy from a young age.
And while many may argue that removing sex from the binary, heteronormative construct is nothing more than theoretical bliss, the data shows otherwise. Numerous studies show that teaching a comprehensive sex curriculum has real, positive outcomes on the well-being of LGBTQ+ folk.
According to the CDC, teenagers who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community are at higher risk of contracting STDs. If this comes as a shock, it absolutely shouldn’t.
Well, consider the laws that prohibit teachers from discussing LGBTQ+ identities and relationships in class. How can you expect queer youth to practice safe sex when they are not taught how to do so?
In short, if sex education curriculums neglect to instruct, support and validate the sexual experiences of LGBTQ+ children, it is illogical to assume they will carry out sexually safe and autonomous lives.
So if your child’s sex education class is limited and far from insightful, your role as a sex-positive parent is even more crucial.
Not sure what topics to cover with your child? We have you covered.
The 6 Pillars of Sex-Positive Dialogue
1. Body Positivity
As parents practicing sex-positive teaching, it is important that you introduce the topic of sex early on.
No, this does not include sharing the ins and outs of sex with your 3 year old. Rather, it is setting the foundation for the more open conversations you will one day have.
From the moment your child can pinpoint their body parts, it is crucial that you engage in body positive conversations with them. These types of discussions will teach your child how to show love and respect for their body, in all contexts.
And while “body positivity” is often sexualized by the media, it is a broad topic, inclusive to every part of the human body. Practicing body positivity with your little one can be as simple as showing appreciation for the capabilities of the body. In fact, any conversation, movement and experience that speaks to the body in a positive way is inherently body positive.
So make body positive thinking a natural part of your child’s growth and development. This perspective will contribute to an inclusive and healthy outlook on sex as they grow older.
2. Insights to Intercourse
As you can expect, sex-positive parenting requires parents to talk about sex with their children.
Exactly when the topic of sexual intercourse should make its way into the conversation is dependent on your child’s personal development, expressed curiosity and social experiences. But when the time is right to introduce intercourse, it is important to speak about it in an anatomically correct way.
You may not realize that referring to genitals as “pee-pee” or “private parts” has a negative impact on your child’s sexual development, but it most definitely does.
Using this kind of “acceptable” language to describe genitals tells your child that the anatomically correct terms, such as vagina and penis, are “bad words”.
And let’s be real, when you group the words vagina and penis into the same category as explicit and universally unaccepted curse words, you teach your child to sensor and shelter this part of their body out of fear.
So, provide insights to intercourse as your child’s curiosity probes, and be sure to speak to the body and sex in an anatomically correct way. This is the first step to normalizing the entire human body and all of its capabilities…
… including sex.
Society likes to label masturbation as a discreet act completed by those who crave pleasure and enjoy a good porno.
In reality, masturbation is a practice explored by all people, of all sexual preferences and of all ages. This includes children.
Young children all have a moment of physical enlightenment — the moment when they realize what is being hidden by the diaper. As a parent, it is not uncommon for you to witness your little one exploring this part of their body with their hand.
Don’t fret, this behavior is totally normal.
As your child gets older, this behavior will likely evolve from an innocent curiosity into a pursuit of pleasure and self-gratification.
This is also normal.
As “the talk” with your child expands with age, it is important to address the topic of masturbation. First, define it. From here, you can speak openly about it, answer any questions your child may have, and seek to normalize it through authentic and ongoing conversation.
4. Consent & Boundaries
One of the most compelling components of sex-positive parenting is the teaching of consent and boundaries.
Because this topic is rarely included into school sex education curriculums.
This is not only a disservice to youth and their sexual development, but compromises their safety and ability to communicate boundaries with future sexual partners.
There is a correlation between how consent and boundaries are taught and the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault. So, if you execute any level of sex-positive parenting, you should focus on this.
You can introduce the concept of consent in settings that are totally unrelated to sex. For example, when your little one returns from school, ask them if they would prefer a wave, a high five or a hug. Down the line, once they understand the relationship between the greeting they request and the greeting they receive, you can bring the word “consent” into the discussion.
You should empower your child to provide the same level of consent in sexual settings as they would in any other environment.
You can check out this resource for teaching consent and boundaries to your child as they grow.
5. Pornography & Representation
Porn is often labeled as purposeless, obscene material.
This type of content, however, is not without value. In a world where sexual education and representation are lacking from schools and the mainstream media, porn is often a way for both adults and children to answer their questions on sex.
The online world of porn is also a sound avenue for people who are seeking validation of their sexual preferences, or who are looking to explore their sexual identity.
And in a society where abstinence is frequently a pillar of youth sexual health instruction, porn reveals the truth: that sex is far more than a procreative practice.
Additionally, with the internet as accessible as it is, children are more likely than ever before to engage with obscene material online. This is why it is important to talk about porn and representation with your child.
Explain to them that the people in pornographic films are actors. Let them know that dominance, submission and forceful behaviors that are common to mainstream pornography are not reality.
Sex can be rough, but it also can be intimate.
Penetration is sex, but not the only kind.
Sex can involve a penis and a vagina. It can also involve people with the same genitalia.
Your child should be familiar with each of these concepts before they start becoming sexually active.
6. Safe Sex
The most effective way to reduce the number of STDs, teen pregnancies and abortions is to teach safe sex. This includes a comprehensive rundown of all types of birth control.
Explain the benefits and use cases of condoms. Share the purpose of oral contraception and other hormonal contraceptives, and share their limitations.
You should provide this information to your child before they have the chance to become sexually active. Let them know that when the day comes, they should consult with you to ensure they are protected. Position yourself as an ally to their safety and well-being, and avoid planting a seed of fear.
Sex education curriculums thrive on the concept of fear by sharing photos of grotesque STDs and revealing alarming rates of teen pregnancy. If your child engages with this type of education in school, your responsibility to teach safe sex as a parent is enriched even further.
Sex-Positive Parenting Resources
There are many sex-positive parenting resources out there, covering everything from consent to coitus.
Here are some helpful resources for you to explore as an aspirational sex-positive parent.
- Sex Positive Families
- Semi Crunchy Mama
- Where Did I Come From? By Peter Mayle
- The Quick Start Guide To Sex-Positive Parenting By Airial Clark
- From Diapers to Dating: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children – From Infancy to Middle School by Debra W. Haffner
- It’s Perfectly Normal: Changing Bodies, Growing Up, Sex, and Sexual Health by Robie H. Harris, illustrated by Michael Emberley
- One Dad, Two Dads, Brown Dads, Blue Dads by Johnny Valentine
- It’s So Amazing: A Book about Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies and Families by Robie H. Harris, illustrated by Michael Emberley
- Queers for a Cause: Igniting Grassroots Advocacy in the LGBTQ+ Community - July 28, 2021
- Your Risky Rundown on All Things Anal - July 20, 2021
- Tuck These Best Selling Sex Toys Into Your Nightstand - July 20, 2021