Is Sex-Positive Parenting the New Frontier?
I’m not allowed to say who or give you any details but someone in my house just kissed a boy for the first time.
Hint: it was not me.
Growing up, most of us got ‘the talk’, which usually consisted of:
When two people love each other the man inserts his penis into the woman’s vagina and they make a baby the end please don’t ask me any more questions.
In other words, sex = love, sex = a penis + a vagina and, sex = a baby.
Hardly the whole story, right?
These days, many parents are making sex a priority in their own lives, and including sexuality as a more regular topic of conversation instead of a one-off. And they’re starting to discuss important topics around sex like consent, pleasure, disease prevention, gender identity, and gender expression.
This is what’s known as sex-positive parenting.
What is Sex-Positive Parenting?
According to Arial Clark, a U.S.-based parenting and sexual health expert:
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.
Sex-positive parenting is not about telling your teen it’s okay to have sex.
Sex-positivity in parenting is:
- Giving your children the information they need to make good choices
- Helping children understand and listen to their own bodies
- Establishing the difference between “good” and “bad” sexual experiences (ie. consent)
- Developing trust and encouraging communication from an early age
Because the mechanics of sexual intercourse (what goes where and what happens when it does) used to be the extent of what our parents shared with us, the rest of the juicy details came from our friends with older siblings. The result? Most, if not all, of our ideas about sex and sexuality got tangled up in misinformation, secrecy, and shame.
This didn’t stop sex from happening, but it did damage and distort our ability to express what we did and didn’t want, and to enforce boundaries. We didn’t fully understand all the different forms of sexual activity, the relevance of power dynamics, and how we might change both physically and emotionally after we did it. If we were lucky, we figured it out. If we were unlucky, we had bad experiences that further compromised our ability to look at sex and relationships in a positive light.
In addition to teaching our kids what is okay, we also have to teach them what isn’t so they know if something bad happens to them. Date rape, for example, isn’t a new phenomenon but our ability to name it is because we’re finally talking about the fact that strangers aren’t the only ones who rape, and that it’s okay to say no to someone even if you’re in a relationship with them.
When it comes to talking about sex, many parents don’t know what to say or how to make it age-appropriate, so they say nothing. Or worse, they lie. They pretend masturbation isn’t normal or that sex should only be between people who are married and want to make a baby. They minimize the power of desire so kids are unprepared for how they feel in the moment, how compromised their ability to make good choices might be, and the potential consequences of that.
But, with great power comes great responsibility. We absolutely must be our children’s primary point of contact when they have questions about big, important things.
This is not a job for TikTok.
And rest assured parents, talking about sex does NOT lead to sex. (If you don’t believe me, try talking about how messy the bathroom is, or how you’d really like them to take up violin.) In fact, many studies have found that talking about sex regularly and openly with your teens results in them waiting longer to do it and using contraception when they do. #MissionAccomplished.
Beyond teaching our kids the right words for body parts and sexual behaviours, being a sex-positive parent also means acknowledging that not all sex happens between a man and woman. This is especially important if a child has grown up with only heterosexual relationships as examples. Understanding gender identity and sexual orientation (and giving kids the freedom and space to explore these concepts for themselves) is a critical part of raising kids who are empowered to establish and express their whole selves.
In fact, being a sex-positive parent is a natural extension of believing that our children’s happiness is the most important thing. Practicing the values of sex-positivity is bound to lead to a more confident and empowered adulthood. If we teach our children to own and express how they feel and what they want in a sexual context, imagine how valuable this knowledge might be in other areas of life. Being able to confidently say what we do and do not want is an important life skill, especially for women.
All parents, regardless of their comfort level, experience, personal/religious values, or children’s age can practice sex-positive parenting. Every parent can be a sex-positive parent by being a reliable and informative resource, regardless of your own personal feelings about sex. Sex-positive parenting means you can tell them you do not approve of them having sex without shutting down all conversation about sex.
You can preach both consent AND the dangers of unwanted pregnancy and diseases. Giving your child the tools and information they need to be safe and healthy is not the same as endorsing sexual activity. Instead, it’s an acknowledgment of the realities and responsibilities that come with being sexually active, no matter how old we are.
I’ve heard it said that we should talk to our kids about sex because ‘they’re going to do it anyway.’ And while this is likely true, it’s also an oversimplification of the issue and fails to acknowledge the wonderful opportunity sex-positive parenting gives us to connect with our kids, to learn who they are and to build trust. Don’t be a sex-positive parent just because you think it’s inevitable your kids will have sex. Be a sex-positive parent because your kids deserve it.
Interested but not sure where to start?
Here are a few resources to help you on your sex-positive parenting journey.