Dear Friend,

This month, we’re scrapping “the talk”.

It’s a common belief that once children reach a certain age – often somewhere between 11 and 16 – that an adult is expected to give a grand talk explaining the basics of sex. However, significant research from child development experts, child psychologists, and sex educators say that having one pivotal talk with your child (or any kid for that matter) is actually not the best way to go about things.

Starting to integrate sex education in normal conversations, language, and day-to-day activities is a great way to introduce important lessons (like consent, gender identity, or even general anatomy) at the most impressionable ages.

We spoke with Dr. Lea Lis, “The Shameless Psychiatrist” and parenting expert, who told us that conversations about sex should be ongoing, and begin as soon as a child can talk. She explained that it’s easy to incorporate lessons into everyday life such as:
  • Learning boundaries by respecting other kids’ “body bubbles.” 
  • Not grabbing or touching siblings or friends without first asking.  
  • Respecting the boundaries of pets and all other animals.
  • Learning how to respectfully greet new people.
  • Gaining the understanding that others also must respect their boundaries.

Being a role model and a trustworthy listener and teacher can help young people feel more comfortable coming to you with questions and feel empowered to make healthier decisions when it comes to sex. In addition, it’s important to remember that we often cannot rely on our school systems to have these conversations.

Schools don’t have to teach accurate sex education?!

Believe it or not, less than half the states in the USA require factually accurate sex education in schools. 30 states do not require sex education at all.

This failure to empower and educate is one of the leading reasons that some of the highest populations of people with HPV, Gonorrhea, and Chlamydia are girls ages 15-19.

Talking about sex starts at birth...

You might be wondering, how exactly are we supposed to tell a newborn the ins and outs of penetrative sex? You aren’t! That would be ridiculous. But what you can do is start slow and equip young folks with some basic vocabulary and general ideas to prepare them to talk more in-depth and accurately as they grow up.

Let’s break down some ways you can begin to integrate sex-positive education into kids’ (and our own) day-to-day lives.

Ages 0-2:

Vocabulary, vocabulary, vocabulary: This is when children are absorbing language – use that to your advantage! Talk about genitalia with their anatomically correct names. A child, or adult, shouldn’t be reprimanded nor afraid to use the word “penis” or “vagina” – that leads to shame over one’s own body!

Sex vs. gender: Now is the time to start crushing social norms and ideals – like gender vs. sex. When talking about body functions, such as menstruation, use the term “people with vaginas” and “people with penises” rather than women and men. That way we can begin stripping down the idea that all women menstruate or that all men have penises.

Consent is the name: Children are learning endlessly at this stage of life, absorbing ethics and morals as well as language and social identity. This is when consent should be in the forefront of all interactions. If they learn now, they’ll likely understand sexual consent inherently when they get older.

Ages 5-10:

Pornography isn’t realistic: Studies have shown that the average age of exposure to porn is eleven years old. That means that talking about porn should begin much earlier. It’s important to discuss as to erase any shame or embarrassment a child might feel over a natural curiosity and to educate them on the significant and important differences between sex in porn and sex in real life.

Masturbation isn’t only for grownups: Children start exploring their own bodies at a very early age and infantile masturbation is common and healthy (and often non-sexual). Talk to kids about masturbation! Be clear that it is normal and healthy behavior, but set boundaries as to where and when is appropriate to partake in the activity.

Give your full attention: By establishing yourself as a trusted ally early on who listens and provides helpful feedback, youth will be more likely to share what they might otherwise feel worried about getting in trouble over. Through listening you may also be able to help identify and prevent unhealthy relationships and encounters with other children and adults.

Ages 10-18:
(and beyond!)

“Virginity” is an outdated concept: It’s time we reject the idea of “virginity.” It’s a patriarchal and sexist concept that does much more harm than good (if any). Using the term creates unnecessary fear and pressure to have sex, causes shame if it is “lost” to the wrong person, and much more. Use conversations with young people as an opportunity to change the way we talk about virginity.

Pay attention to your language: The baseball metaphor has been around too long, and it’s damaging. Sex educator Al Vernacchio gives a straighforward TED Talk on the power behind the sexual metaphors we use. We think you’ll agree: Baseball has struck out. We're hungry for Pizza.

Don’t stop talking: Continuing to have conversation on consent, practicing safe sex, being tested regularly, etc. shouldn’t stop after talking about it once or when you know they have started having sex. Being a safe place for a youth in your life to come to with questions, concerns, and conversations on enjoyment is the most important part of breaking down the taboos of discussing sex and will empower not only their sexual lives, but your relationship with them as well.

Sex education should be EMPOWERING.

This is what we’re all about after all: empowerment. But what does empowering sex education and sex talk mean? It means giving young people the tools and knowledge to become leaders and educators themselves. It means shaping people who are comfortable with their sexual selves and excited to own their sexual biography.

During our talk with Dr. Lea she also emphasized that talking about pleasure is a powerful tool parents have in shaping how their kids think about sex and treat others. She told us, “Parents tend to stress all the risks of sex and forget to tell teens that sex is about pleasure, and if it’s not pleasurable then something is not right.”

She added, “Don’t leave sexual education to the responsibility of the same sex parent. Mothers of sons should not leave discussions about dating or consent solely to the father to handle. Mothers can shape a son’s future attitude towards women and teach him how to act respectfully and responsibly. A boy may remember a conversation about consent with his mother vividly because of their differing perspectives.

A mother has a unique opportunity to shape her son’s sexuality by allowing discussion beyond the typical commands: ‘wear a condom, don’t get her pregnant.’ Why not also include a conversation about consent, and pleasure? What would happen if boys heard it from their mothers first that sex would be better—more pleasurable, and maybe even more frequent—if they communicated with a partner? ‘Can I kiss you? Can I touch your breasts? Does this feel good? Am I going too fast?’”

Fathers, or other male role models, can also have an influence on body image by explaining that men have a wider view of physical attractiveness than is presented by the media, and that a girl does not need to be stick skinny.”

Every child is different and you as their parent, relative, or friend know them best. It’s important that you are comfortable discussing sex and that you do so in the best age appropriate way.

Writing prompt:

What is the earliest memory I can recall in which I was taught about sex, sexuality, or our reproductive systems?
This voluntary monthly prompt invites you to explore your sexual biography.
Tips on exploring this:
Set aside 20 minutes with your phone on silent and relax yourself in a comfortable space with a pen and paper. Go slow. Start with what comes to mind from your first read of the prompt. Continue writing your stream of consciousness. You might also consider answering: Who was teaching me? How were they teaching me—was it through what they said or their own behavior? Was what they taught me accurate? What questions did I have and how did I feel after receiving that knowledge? (Using meditation or reflecting with someone are also options.)

Researching our sexual biographies:

Do you feel your community provided you with accurate and substantive sex education?
Yes          No
Did you feel empowered by sex education that you recieved?
Each month we ask a question in support of our leading mission at My Sex Bio. As we grow we plan to help fund and supply research for sex education. The results of these questions may be shared on social media as well as the following month’s newsletter. These results will also help curate relevant content for our readers, like you, moving forward. Responses are voluntary and anonymous.
—The MY SEX BIO Team
Listen To This Month's Playlist

Special thanks:

Thank you to Dr. Lea Lis for talking with us. For more information about The Shameless Psychiatrist, follow her instagram @shamelesspsychaitrist or her blog with the same name and sign up for her newsletter.

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