Updated: Feb 5
By Viviana Diaz, LPC
“The sex conversation” is often talked about as something to dread. It’s also portrayed as a single conversation, though it’s really a lifetime habit of open discussion. Though many parents have difficulty with these conversations because of their upbringing, values, and sex education—or lack thereof, there are ways to become more comfortable with them. Anxiety about these topics is normal, especially if we don’t have the tools we need. Unfortunately, although these talks need to be frequent and ongoing from early childhood onward, parents often avoid them due to their lack of confidence.
Much of parental fear around having open conversations with children and adolescents is based on the misconception that talking about sex will encourage their children to have sex. Think about that for a minute. When you were a kid, did your parents’ decision to talk about sex or not have any impact on the fact that you thought about sex, were curious about it, and eventually experimented with it? Sexual feelings and thoughts are a normal part of growing up and will arise even without any conversations. As a parent, you may want to be in the loop rather than out of it.
Being armed with accurate information and parental guidance about both the facts and feelings around sex and sexuality will help your children when they are faced with the often false information provided by peers or the pressure to perform certain sexual acts.
The internet and barrage of media our children are constantly exposed to present them with such a range of ideas and images about sex that the conversations parents have with them become even more important. It is all too common for kids to have an early exposure to porn, BDSM, and other visual information that children have no context for or ability to process. There is all too much online material that promotes false or misleading information about gender roles, sexuality, power dynamics, and more. Children need access to their parents’ knowledge, support, and honesty to cope with and understand all these things.
I can easily go into the rabbit hole of the dark web, an invention of our current culture where sexual abuse, pedophilia, misogyny, sexual exploitation, and sex trafficking are accessible to anyone, and are very real threats to our most vulnerable citizens—our children. Again, I am not trying to scare parents. I am a parent myself; however, we live at a time and in a world where, if we hold ourselves back, if we do not offer our children and youth the guidance and support that they need, we put them at risk. Now more than ever before, these conversations are vitally important.
Sex education offered in the American school system is insufficient at best, and in some cases does more harm than good. If we allow others—the culture, media, and their peers—to be the only providers of information that educates our children about the world of sex and sexuality, we are missing an opportunity to support children and protect them from harm and degradation they can be exposed to if we are not paying attention.
It’s important that our children are armed with facts, an understanding of their bodily autonomy, confidence to make healthy choices, and the knowledge that their parents will be non-judgmental supporters throughout life when it comes to conversations about this topic an any other.
See our blog Sex Talks with Kids: The What, When, and How with pointers about how to discuss topics around sex and sexuality with children of different ages.