Sex talk (How to Not Screw It Up)
Talking to our kids about sex is more important than most of us realize. As parents, we are the best chance them developing a healthy sexuality. If we do it poorly, it can literally lead to a life of bad sex. If we do it well, we can support them to be empowered in their sexuality and decrease the chance of them having horrible and even abusive sexual experiences.
The problem is that our society teaches us to be private about our sexuality. We all hide the fact that we are sexual beings, except when we are in magazine aisles at the grocery store.
Why are we so private about something most people enjoy so much? If you look closely, it is shame. There is a sense of shame that we have in our society about being sexual beings. Unfortunately that shame gets in the way of being able to have healthy conversations with our kids.
Shame causes us to to feel and act awkwardly when it comes time to talk with our children. We end up saying things in truly weird ways and giving our kids very strange conceptions about sex. We unconsciously give them the message that sex is shameful and not something that can be easily talked about with integrity.
If we can work through our own shame then we can come to interact with our kids in a very easeful way and support them to have an empowered sexual relationship with themselves.
Here are five things that you can do to have a really solid conversation with your kids and support their sexual development.
Step 1: Face Yourself
The most important step is to get in touch with your own shame. Perhaps you even notice it listening to me. Do you find yourself cringing in certain moments and backing away at the idea of being direct? Notice what happens for you when you think about talking to your kids about sex.
Write down what those issues are so you can more fully think about them. It is quite likely that they got passed to you from your parents and their shame about sexuality, their difficulty talking to you, combined with all the mixed messages we get from our society about our sexuality.
Step 2: Collaborate with Your Partner
Once you have had a chance to feel your shame and feelings about your sexuality, go to your partner and share everything with them. Find out what is going on for them. This teamwork will allow both of you to work through your shame and to come to feel better about your sexuality and your ability to talk about it.
If you have never really talked to anybody about the feelings you have about sex, then talking to your kids about sex is probably going to be really difficult. Start by sharing all things that come up with you with your partner and talk about how you would like to talk to your kids about it. Make it a collaborative effort that will allow both of you to feel more capable in that intense moment with your children.
Step 3: When to Have the Sex Talk
Talking to your kids at the right age is really important, but it is best if you talk to them throughout their lives and as early as possible. You can start with the birds and the bees and how animals do it. Then where babies come from and specifically the story of their conception and birth. The story slowly develops as they develop.
This also gives you a chance to develop your ability to talk about it in a non-shameful way. If you have never really talked to your kids about making love and you have to do that at the age of 11 or 12, then it is going to be really awkward for you and you are likely to pass on that awkwardness to them. If you slowly feed it to them, you will get a chance also to warm to the subject and find your way that will feel empowering and good for both of you.
Step 4: Stay Attuned
As you are having these conversations it is very important to track your child’s reactions. Of course they are going to be uncomfortable. That is inherent in the process. You are often feeding them information that is a little bit ahead of them. You do not want to be behind them.
If they are figuring out from their friends or the internet, there is a good chance they will end up confused and misdirected. If you are just a little ahead of them, they are going to be uncomfortable, but they are going to have the information there so that when they start feeling their own sexuality, they are going to know what to do and they are not going to feel as confused and lost. If you have made it really safe for them to talk about, then they may even turn towards you with their questions as they arise.
If they are getting overstimulated by what you are saying and shutting down, then obviously back off and take it slower. It varies a lot for different kids at what age you should do this, as they all develop at different ages. It is also typically different for boys and girls. If you can find your ability to meet them and track their reactions as you talk, then you will be able to deliver the information in a way that feels very natural and supportive.
Step 5: Don’t Hide Your Own Sexuality
(This step is likely to really highlight your own shame and thus a great place to help you understand what you might need to work through before talking to your kids.)
I highly recommend talking to your kids about the fact that you have sex. Let it be a normal part of life, not some weird thing that we hide from one another. Let the kids know, when appropriate, “Oh yeah, we had sex last weekend.” Not a big deal, not putting it in their face.
But I want to emphasize not having sex in a way that the kids have to listen to, because that is actually really disturbing for them. They do not know what the sounds mean and are likely to think someone is being hurt.
By simply tell them that you have sex, then they will know that sex is something people do. As a result they don’t have to feel ashamed about it themselves and they can come to know that we live in a society where sex is a natural part of life.
One Really Hard Truth
This might be shocking, but please stay with me. It is very normal for kids to have sexual feelings towards their parents. They are very intimate with us and as their bodies change and they start to feel good in their bodies, it is common for them to feel arousal in connection with us. If we react poorly to this and flinch back, then we give them a message that their sexuality is bad and that they should keep it in check. If on the other hand, we can hold our boundary, but stay in connection with them in that moment, then they learn that their sexuality is not something they need to repress or hide.
To be clear, I am not condoning any form of sexual contact with our kids.
Often this is experienced when cuddling or sitting next to one another on the couch watching a movie. You might feel in being close a certain eroticism that has not been there before. If you back away in that moment, you can cause significant attachment wounds. Notice anything that is happening for you and see if you can stay in contact with your kid.
One Last Very Important Point
Similarly, it is very normal for us as parents, to have sexual thoughts and feelings about our children. Yes, that is a disturbing idea, but the reality is we are very close with them. We love them and are often in physical contact. As their sexualities bud, their hormones are going to affect ours.
If we react to those brief moments of sexual arousal in a negative way, we can actually cause lots of little traumas for our kids. If on the other hand we can feel those experiences and of course not act on them, but nonetheless stay in contact with our child, the feelings will pass and our child gets a good message about their ability to stay in contact with us.
A Special Note for Dads with Daughters
This is seen most starkly between fathers and daughters, specially if the two are very close. As the daughter’s body starts to change and they become a sexual being, the fathers often abandon them during this precious time. Dads often feel they should stop roughhousing, wrestling and being physically close. Sometimes this is because fathers have sexual images in relation to their daughter and are very disturbed. This is very normal.
If we back away and abandon our daughters, we teach them that their sexuality is not safe to share with men and that they need to be worried about men abandoning them throughout their life. It is really important for us dads to notice how we respond as our daughters develop into sexual beings and to stay in contact in a way that our daughters really need from us.
Thank you for joining me. I would love to hear your thoughts about talking to your kids about sex. Please join the conversation below, and I will see you next time for another episode.
Julian Redwood, MFT