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Sex-positive parenting: What you need to know

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Ever wonder what “sex-positivity” really is—and what it means to you, as a parent?

Sex-positivity is a way of thinking about sex that is free of shame and judgment. A sex-positive person recognizes that sexuality is a healthy and important part of life, and believes that individuals should have space to explore and learn about their sexuality without fear.

This point of view is especially useful in parenting, as kids and teens will start developing their first impressions and ideas about sex as they grow. Parenting with sex-positivity will help ensure that kids don’t develop shame or trauma around sex—while also learning to respect the consent and boundaries of others.

What does sex-negativity look like?

Sex-negativity can show up in lots of different ways, even for folks who may consider themselves more open-minded or non-judgmental. Adults carry with them all of the attitudes and misconceptions about sex that they learned as young people, and many of those can be deeply engrained. The following are just a few examples of sex-negative behaviors and attitudes—

  • Scolding kids for self-pleasuring or looking at sexual content
  • Victim-blaming after an incident of sexual violence
  • Speaking negatively about sexual acts or preferences that aren’t personally appealing
  • Shaming others for perceived sexual promiscuity (also known as “slut-shaming”)
  • Framing certain sexual perferences or idenitites as “normal” and others as “abnormal” or “deviant”

Parenting with sex-positivity

Sex-positive parenting is all about empowering children with the knowledge and confidence to navigate sexual situations as they get older. Avoiding topics like pleasure and sexual health can make children more vulnerable and unaware of potentially unsafe situations. Kids who know how to set boundaries, talk about their bodies, and understand pleasure and consent will be better equipped to say “no” when they feel uncomfortable, and will have the language to talk about it with trusted adults. 

Here are some ways that parents can use sex-posivity in their own families—

  • If you notice your child is masturbating, don’t overreact. Let them know they can do it in a private space when they’re alone.
  • Teach young kids the medically-correct words for their body parts (i.e. penis, vulva, etc.)
  • Talk about what our bodies do for us rather than what they look like
  • When talking about sex, ask your child what they know first—then fill in the gaps (we have scripts that can help you know what to say to your kids during “the talk” at every age)
  • Make your “sex talk” an ongoing thing, not a one-and-done conversation—check in regularly and make sure they know your door is always open

Sex-positive parenting can help you and your kids keep the lines of communication open, which is one of the most important things you can do to keep them safe. It’s natural to feel some resistance to acknowledging your kids as sexual beings, so it’s also important to be patient with yourself and know that it’s totally natural for the sex-positive point of view to bump up against your internalized sex-negative ideas (which almost everyone has). 

If you find yourself stuck when your child asks you a question or a particularly tricky situation comes up, tell them you aren’t sure what the answer is, and that you’d like to look it up together. Looking through reliable sexual education resources as a family can be a great way to teach and learn at the same time. 

Mckenna Saady is a staff writer and digital content lead for ParentsTogether. Before working for nonprofits such as the Human Rights Campaign and United Way, Mckenna spent nearly a decade as a child care provider and Pre-K teacher. Originally from Richmond, VA, she now lives in Philadelphia and writes poetry, fiction, and children’s literature in her spare time.