You’re a good dad, you care about your kids and want the best for them. “The best” includes the information and values they need to develop healthy sexuality.
When parents ask me “at what age should I start talking to my kids about sex?” I gently reply, “If you haven’t started yet, you’re behind schedule—no matter what age they are.”
Sexuality education starts with the right words for body parts (as opposed to “woo-woo” or “lady bits”) while you’re bathing your baby in the sink. It continues when you and your partner are physically affectionate in front of your child. And it goes on at the dinner table, in the car, and on TV when your child hears your criticisms of “sluts,” or your disapproval of someone else denigrating gays.
So like most educational jobs of parenthood—such as teaching kids about nutrition, study habits, and managing disappointment—sexuality education isn’t a one-time event, or even several conversations. It’s a 15- or 20-year project that goes on non-verbally as well verbally, and gets increasingly sophisticated over time.
These days it’s popular to complain that kids are getting their sex education from pornography. I agree, porn is NOT where we want kids getting their ideas about what’s sexually “normal”—in terms of bodies, situations, or activities. But they only rely on porn for information when they don’t get what they need from home or school.
In the age of Google, Alexa, and Wikipedia, of course kids will go online if they want information they can’t get from an actual human. Imagining that kids will acquiesce to any plan to keep them ignorant about sex is simply unrealistic.
As a gift to all the dads who aren’t sure what to say or do to help their kids develop healthy sexuality, here are some topics your kids need your input on—and what you might want to say about them.
~ Why do people have sex?
“As with eating and watching TV, different people have sex for different reasons; in fact, the same person might have sex for two different reasons at two different times.
Common reasons people have sex are pleasure and closeness. Sex can feel good physically in many different parts of your body, including (but not limited to) your penis or vulva. Sex can also be a way that people express feeling really close to each other, or their desire to feel really close to each other.
Some people have sex for reasons that aren’t very healthy—to prove that they’re grownup, or to have something to brag about, or because they’re lonely or angry. On rare occasions someone forces someone else to have sex, and no matter why they do it, it’s always for a bad reason.”
~ What about babies?
“On the one hand, intercourse—a penis in a vagina—is the only way to create a pregnancy, and therefore a baby (unless people get the assistance of a special laboratory process). While some people have intercourse specifically hoping to create a pregnancy, most people having sex usually don’t want that. They therefore use one of the many products available that allow people to enjoy intercourse while preventing pregnancy.
In addition, there are many other kinds of sex that don’t involve a penis in a vagina, and so they are safe from an unplanned pregnancy.”
~ What can go wrong with sex?
“As I said, different people have sex for different reasons, and sometimes one person’s reasons are too different from the other person’s reasons.
By analogy, let’s say two friends go to a movie together. One is going hoping to enjoy the film, while the other is going because she feels lonely and wants someone to talk with, or she hopes other people will see her and think she’s cool, or she wants to get away from her parents’ fighting. You can see that although those two friends might really like each other, they might not have such a good time together at the movies.
It’s the same thing with sex. If one person, for example, wants to feel close to the other person, while the other person mostly wants to brag to their friends that they had sex, or they just want their own pleasure without being gentle or caring, you can see how that can create bad feelings all around.
Another potential problem is if people don’t use birth control when they have intercourse, and they’re nervous about creating an unwanted pregnancy—or worse, they actually do create an unwanted pregnancy. It’s certainly a problem if someone forces someone else to have sex, or pretends to care about them in order to get sex. When someone is forced or tricked into sex, they’re always really, really upset.
And finally, if people aren’t gentle together, or they’re in a hurry, or they don’t understand how bodies work during sex, one or both people might feel physical pain. In that case, of course they should just stop.”
~ What about porn?
“Porn is made specifically for adults, so I don’t think it’s good for kids to watch it. Because kids don’t understand a lot of the games adults play in sex, and don’t have their own sexual experiences as a comparison, the stuff in porn can be confusing or even upsetting to kids.
And because kids don’t bring sexual knowledge or experience to their porn watching, they may not realize that real sex isn’t like the sex in porn. Real sex is slower than porn sex, it often involves more talking and less jumping around, and it doesn’t necessarily include an orgasm. Porn sex doesn’t show people being disappointed, which they sometimes are with real sex.
And finally, porn shows a lot of activities that a lot of people hardly ever do, or never do. For example, most women don’t kiss or have sex with other women; most people don’t have sex with their anuses; most people don’t have sex with more than one person in the room at a time; most people don’t have sex with complete strangers; and most people don’t have sex without a little bit of friendly conversation about themselves or some hugging and kissing first.”
~ What’s all this #MeToo stuff?
“These days there’s a lot of talk about consent—about making sure that both people want whatever touching or sex they’re doing. Many women are revealing the ways in which they’ve been sexually spoken to or touched that they didn’t want. Women are even talking about having been forced to have sex, or being told that to keep their jobs or get ahead in their careers they have to have sex even if they don’t want it.
Doesn’t all that sound terrible?
I don’t want anyone treating me that way, and I don’t want anyone treating you that way. I certainly don’t treat anyone that way, and I never, ever want you to treat anyone that. Imagine how angry or horrified you would be if someone forced your mother or sister to have sex, or told them that bad things would happen if they refused. If you ever even think about pushing someone to have sex after they say no, think about someone putting your mother or sister or brother in the same awful position.”
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Ultimately, the single most important source of sex education is kids watching their adult caregivers: Do we like our bodies, and respect others’ bodies? Do we talk about sex in ways that trivialize or demonize it? Do we make assumptions about or demean other people for their sexual choices?
And do we encourage our kids to value and enjoy their bodies, validate them touching themselves erotically (while telling them to keep those behaviors private, of course), and appreciate their sexual curiosity and interest?
As Emerson once said, “Who you are speaks so loudly, I can scarcely hear what you say.” Remember, your kids are getting their primary sexuality education from watching you. Do you approve of what they’re seeing?
If you liked this piece, I’m sure you’ll enjoy my article at www.MartyKlein.com/masturbation-madness-can-it-kill-you