How to Talk to Your Kids About Sex: 6 Ways to be an Askable Parent

By Naomi Tataran, Sex Educator

Editors note: We’re speaking from experience when we say we wish we would have had this type of education growing up. I wish my parents talked to me about sex when I was little. Instead, I had to learn about it from TV, the internet, kids at school, and Roya (thanks girl!) I think most millennials would agree that American sex ed was sub-par. The good news is we can break the cycle and become askable adults for the kids in our lives! Read on to see how. – Jen

This article was adapted from a Facebook Live Video that originally appeared on the Skagit Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services page

Teaching kids about sex can feel uncomfortable and even scary for parents. The truth is, it is completely normal and necessary to have these conversations. Talking to children about sex, gender, relationships, consent, and reproduction early identifies you as a trusted source of knowledge and support. Children will be more likely to come to you with questions – instead of their peers or the internet – if they think of you as an askable person. Finally, kids often say that they want to discuss sex, relationships, and sexual health with their parents—parents are their preferred source of information on these subjects.

I’m going to discuss ways you can be an “askable parent” or teacher and address some of the fears around having conversations about sex. I want to start by addressing the myth that if you have these conversations with kids, you’re somehow putting ideas into their heads to start being sexually active. Research shows that actually isn’t true, and that children whose parents speak openly about these topics tend to postpone involvement in sexual activities when they are older, and act more responsible if and when they become sexually active.

Are you an Askable Parent?

To be askable means that young people see you as approachable and open to questions. Being askable about sexuality is something that most parents and caregivers want but that many find very difficult.  Adults may have received little or no information about sex when they were children. Adults also may worry about:

  • Not knowing the right words or the right answers;
  • Being out of it in the eyes of their young people;
  • Giving too much or too little information; or
  • Giving information at the wrong time.

Sometimes you may not feel like you’re not the right person or “askable” enough to be this person in a young person’s life, and even though that hesitation is valid (especially if it’s your first time in this situation) that shouldn’t be what keeps you from having these conversations with young people. You are still very much capable of being a source of support for young people in your life. 

6 Ways to be An Askable Parent and Talk to Your Kids About Sex 

1. Acquire a broad foundation of factual information from reliable sources. 

Remember that sexuality is a much larger topic than sexual intercourse. It includes biology and gender, of course, but it also includes emotions, intimacy, caring, and loving, attitudes, flirtation, and sexual orientation as well as reproduction and sexual intercourse.

2. Learn and use the correct terms for body parts and functions. 

It’s important for children to know that their private parts are like any other body part. By using the correct term it shows them that if they ever have a problem or have questions they can come to you instead of feeling weird or secretive. This helps destigmatize conversations around these body parts. You can still share that these specific parts are private and that’s why they’re covered by a bathing suit 

If you have difficulty saying some words without embarrassment, practice! Books can be a great resource to take out the awkwardness– keep the book on the shelf like any other book to take out shame or embarrassment

3. Think through your own feelings and values about love and sex. 

Think about your childhood memories, your first infatuation, your values, and how you feel about current sex-related issues, such as contraceptives, reproductive rights, and equality with regard to sex, gender, and sexual orientation. You must be aware of how you feel before you can effectively talk with youth; because it’s important to be emotionally prepared to handle these unfamiliar or sometimes uncomfortable topics. 

It’s also important because by personalizing your experiences, you are showing them that they as a person are allowed to develop their own thoughts and feelings around these issues, even if they might be different from your own. This reiterates that you are here to support them no matter what. Kids learn many things outside of the home, but they learn their most important values at home from their parents.

4. Talk with your child. 

Listen more than you speak. Make sure you and your child have open, two-way communication—as it forms the basis for a positive relationship between you and your child. 

Only by listening to each other can you understand one another, especially regarding love and sexuality, for adults and youth often perceive these things differently.

5. Leave the conversation open for them to always come back to share 

This isn’t just a one-time conversation; this is an opportunity to be a constant support throughout their lifetime Also, sometimes children may have already been sexually abused, and they’re worried or feeling shame about never telling anyone; avoid saying things like “you have to tell me.” Instead say something like, “You can always come talk to me or another trusted adult, even if it’s someone that I like or you like that did something.”

6. Don’t worry about—

  • Being “with it.” Youth have that with their peers. From you, they want to know what you believe, who you are, and how you feel.
  • Being embarrassed. Your kids will feel embarrassed, too. That’s okay, because love and many aspects of sexuality, including sexual intercourse, are highly personal. Young people understand this. (But if you are particularly embarrassed about anything, remember – practice!)
  • Deciding which parent should have this talk. Any loving parent or caregiver can be an effective sex educator for their children.
  • Missing some of the answers. It’s fine to say that you don’t know. Just follow up by offering to find the answer or to work with your child to find the answer. Then do so.

Lastly, I want to note that I believe you as a parent or caregiver are doing your best, and you absolutely love your children. Just because you haven’t had these conversations with your children doesn’t make you a “bad” or “wrong” parent. This article is in no way intended to make you feel guilty or blame yourself for not having these conversations sooner, or at all. It’s simply meant to open up the discussion to know that as a parent, you are capable of having these conversations and that you’re not alone.

For more resources, check out these books:

Sex-positive families reading list

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