If we can say one thing about parenting, it’s that there’s never a dull moment. We’re constantly celebrating some sort of milestone — from the two lines on the pregnancy test to our baby’s first steps to their first day at school. But one of the most dreaded milestones? The sex talk.
“Mom, what’s sex?” …
“Dad, what’s a vagina?” …
Or even better yet, “why does the anaconda not want some bread?” (Thanks, Sir Mix-A-Lot. Thanks. A. Lot.)
There are tons of literature you can turn to on how to answer questions your child may have about sex. But, according to expert love coach, Annie Lalla in her conversation with Vishen on The Mindvalley Podcast, before you focus your energy on talking to your child, it’s important to understand how you feel about sex and sexuality.
Any awkwardness you have with your own sexuality is going straight to your kids. So the place to work is: where do you show up in awkward and confusion, shame and insecurity around how you think about sex before you even talk about it.— Annie Lalla, love coach
If you’re in a place where you’re amping yourself up, if your child is already asking questions, or even if they’re sitting through sex ed at school, Annie shares three ways you can embrace your own ideals about sex so you can have that honest and healthy conversation with your child.
#1: Understand What Sex Means to You
When it comes to parenting, there are so many myths out there. But one that you should definitely look into is the myth that parenting is about your child.
On the contrary, parenting is about you, according to Dr. Shefali Tsabary, clinical psychologist, New York Times bestselling author, and author of Mindvalley’s Conscious Parenting Mastery Quest.
Before you go into sharing your beliefs to your child, especially one as complex as sex, it’s best to first know your own stance about it:
- What are your own beliefs about it?
- What kind of self-talk do you have surrounding it?
- How do you apply it to your own life?
Whether you realize it or not, you are your child’s role model. Everything you do — your action and behaviors — it’s all copy and paste in their world. And when it comes to anything sex-related, best be aware that your child sees that too.
Before you even talk to your child, they are watching how you react to sexiness in the world and in yourself.— Annie Lalla, love coach
Yes, that includes those cute prince-princess kisses in Disney movies.
So if you have a healthy connection to the subject of sex, then your child will feel comfortable with it too. And if you feel uncomfortable, it will be a subject of embarrassment and disdain on their part.
“Talking to your children about sex includes teaching them your personal values and giving them the guidance they need to navigate these complex relationships,” explains Lisa Osherow, health and sexuality educator, in her TEDx Talk about consent culture.
Take the initiative to figure out what sex means to you and if need be, learn more about it. Because, as they say, knowledge is power.
#2: Equip Yourself With Knowledge
The truth is, everyone has sex. (Well, unless you’re celibate by choice.) So why is this topic so notoriously difficult to talk about with your kids?
Fear of failure is a common reason, according to a study about children’s views on sex-related conversations with their parents.
“[Parents] are so afraid to mess up and say something wrong,” says Dr. Amanda Holman, lead author of the study. She explains they fear looking incompetent and their children won’t see them as a credible source.
Giving them credit, parents want to do it right. But the fear of messing up leads them to talk about sex vaguely or not talking about it at all. So they end up putting off the conversation, and when (or if) the matter comes up, it often is late and comes from out of nowhere.
That’s when it becomes awkward.
According to Annie, the awkwardness comes when you’re not equipped with “the conversational tools and internal emotional dissonance.”
Many of us can relate because our own parents avoided this talk like it’s mono. And chances are, we learned it somehow from friends, books, movies, or sex ed — sources that are either filled with exaggeration, misinformation, or inadequate information.
Peggy Orenstein, author of New York Times bestseller Girls & Sex, explains, “if you don’t educate your child, the media is going to do it for you. And the messages they are going to get are not good from both mainstream media and porn.”
If you want this amazing parent-child connection with the ability to have an open and healthy conversation about sex, you need to be more equipped than with responses of “errr… well… ummm…”
So it’s time to level up and get your knowledge on. Here are some books that will help you with explaining sex to your child:
- It’s Not the Stork by Robie Harris
- Sex Is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg
- What’s Happening to Me? A Guide to Puberty by Peter Mayle
- S.E.X. by Heather Corinna
- Talk to Me First by Deborah Roffman
- For Goodness Sex by Al Vernacchio
Most parents wait until culture and other things, not them, introduce sexuality to their child’s mind.— Annie Lalla, love coach
But it’s your job, as the parent, to get there first.
#3: Starting the Talk
As they say, it’s never too late. Not even for a conversation with your child about sex. (Although it is advisable to have it earlier rather than later.)
Keep in mind that in this day and age, there are so many outlets that expose your child to things sexual in nature, including:
- Googling things like “why do I feel a tingling sensation between my legs?”
- “My anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns, hun” blasting on the radio.
- Inserting inappropriate and disturbing content of beloved cartoons like Peppa Pig or PAW Patrol on YouTube.
- “She turned around and was tryin’ to put my d*ck in her mouth…” as the background music to the viral TikTok fashion trend.
- Creepers posing as children on Roblux.
All of which can negatively impact your child’s mental health.
In a 2018 interview with CNBC, Donna Volpitta, Ed.D., founder of The Center for Resilient Leadership, explains, “children who repeatedly experience stressful and/or fearful emotions may underdevelop parts of their brain’s prefrontal cortex and frontal lobe — the parts of the brain responsible for executive functions, like making conscious choices and planning ahead.”
So sitting your child down for the sex talk is incredibly crucial in their development. Leaving it up to them to find that kind of info without proper guidance is risky.
And when you’re ready, here are some things to keep in mind:
- Use the correct words for body parts. Words like “pee-pee” or “vee-vee” just don’t get the same respect as its anatomical name.
- Present the information that’s appropriate for your child’s age.
- Use every opportunity to be a teaching moment. For instance, if your friend is pregnant, it can be your chance to explain how a baby develops.
- Be as honest as possible.
- Teach them how to be aware of their body. For example, explain that all males get morning wood or females feel a tingling sensation between their legs. When they start experiencing it themselves, they’ll have a reference, and won’t be confused or afraid because those are normal feelings.
- Communicate your feelings. If you’re uncomfortable, let them know because chances are they might be too.
- If you don’t know the answer to something, don’t fret. Let your child know you’ll look into it and get back to them as soon as you can.
- Ask them for their thoughts, like “what do you think about that?”
- Explain the consequences that may arise, like AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, etc.
- Talk about consent, as well as what makes a healthy relationship and what makes an abusive one.
- Seek advice or support from someone both you and your child trust — family members, other parents, your child’s pediatrician, teachers, or even a therapist.
And one important note: find a space where you and your child feel safe to talk about an intimate topic such as this.
Don’t Sit on Your Laurels as a Parent
Having the sex talk with your child isn’t an encouragement for them to be sexually active. Instead, it’s a form of strengthening your relationship with them.
This kind of connection will help your child to have a healthy perception and attitude towards sex. It can also help them make healthy decisions about sex and their sexuality throughout their lives.
And you, as the parent, have the responsibility and accountability to raise a consciously authentic little human. As Dr. Shefali says, “when you parent, it’s crucial you realize you aren’t raising a ‘mini me’.”
We’ve got to break that lineage wound of ‘whatever my parents did, I’m going to just copy because I turned out okay.’ You’re not trying to get your kids to turn out okay. You’re trying to get your kids to turn out the most extraordinary, creatively-expressed humans they can possibly be.— Annie Lalla, love coach