Queer Mom Chronicles: How I’m Approaching the “Sex Talk”

feature image photo by Alex Tihonov via Getty Images

“Mom, why do people have s-e-x?” my son asks, stopping me dead in my tracks.

If you’re a parent or have regular contact with kids, you know that they will ask you questions that’ll stop you in your tracks randomly. There is rarely any rhyme or reason to it. My kid does this all the time, and I’m never ever prepared for what may come out of his mouth.

“Um, because it feels good,” I say, trying to be casual. I figure if I don’t act like this a big deal, then he won’t act like it’s a big deal.

I can’t say that I’m surprised he’s asking me about sex. He’s almost 10.

“Where did you hear about sex? From one of your friends at school?” I ask. I know some of his friends have older siblings, so it’s not an off-base question.

He shakes his head and says he heard it from something he saw on YouTube. While I monitor what he watches, I allow him to watch shows that are made for adults. If I find it inappropriate, I will tell him to turn it off, and he’s really good about complying. He’s not a sneaky kid, but I will go back and make sure the offensive content is scrubbed from his YouTube account. Also, he’s an only child, and for his whole life it’s been him and adults at home with one TV. He watches shows like The Golden Girls, Bob’s Burgers, Frasier, and King of the Hill with us and he likes watching Family Guy and South Park clips on YouTube. (I do not need any comments on my parenting decisions. I know my kid, and like I said, I will deal with anything I deem inappropriate accordingly.)

My son is pretty innocent. A few months prior to our conversation, a teacher on the playground brought him over to me because he was making “inappropriate” sounds. It took several hours and lots of tears to get him to admit to his stepmom what kind of sounds he made. He didn’t know the sounds were sexual in nature; he had heard other kids making them first and repeated them. Not only was he incredibly embarrassed, he was scared about getting in trouble. I didn’t get to talk to the teacher, but I would have told her that shaming a child is not the most effective way to make a point. It should have been space for a conversation, not making a kid feel bad. And if she knew my kid, she’d know that she did so much more damage with her approach.

Talking to young kids about sex is uncomfortable and weird and awkward. I have been worrying about having these conversations with my kid since he was about five and asked me where babies came from. The “sex talk” isn’t even just one talk, which is the worst part! You have to meet them where they’re at, which means you have to do it again as their understanding grows. Sex will be no different. What I tell him at nine is going to be a lot more basic than what I tell him when he’s 12 or 13. I can tell you now that I’m not looking forward to it. Not because of the content, but because I have to grapple with the fact that my son is growing up.

Because of my son’s age, I’ve been doing some lowkey preparation for exactly this situation. If I was caught off guard, I wanted to have some idea of what the heck I was talking about so he didn’t think I was totally useless. I started following Sex Positive Families on Instagram, and through them I found a few other great resources, including Amaze. When it was time to sit down and write this column, I knew I had to reach out to these two places to get answers to some questions about the process of talking to kids about sex.

I was curious to know some of the biggest misconceptions adults have around kids and what they want to know about sex. Victoria Ogunleye, Digital Sex Education Manager for Amaze, explained that one common misconception is kids don’t want to hear about sex from their parents. “Young people actually crave that open and honest dialogue with their parents or trusted adults,” they shared.

This might sound weird, but I was honored that my son asked me about sex — it means that he really trusts me, which is a big deal. He may not fully understand what sex is, but he has enough foresight to know it’s something an adult knows about. Even though I’m the adult he trusts the most, he is a very shy and private kid; he doesn’t even like talking to me about relationships or feelings unsolicited. When I was his age, I didn’t talk to my mom about feelings or relationships, and I definitely didn’t want to talk to her about sex. I genuinely don’t remember ever talking with my mom about sex, whether she offered or I asked.

“We find ourselves confronting our own truths and our own pasts and our own histories around these talks or lack of talks,” Melissa Pintor Carnagey, LBSW, founder and lead educator of Sex Positive Families told me.

“That is where we can draw our motivation, our ‘why’, why does it feel so important that we break these cycles of silence or shame or taboo? When we can be clear about that for ourselves, it can help us do what can feel like the hard thing of saying the truth or just showing up.”

Unlike when I was his age, there are so many resources for talking to your kids about sex. There’s so much that it can be overwhelming, especially when you’re trying to find age appropriate, inclusive resources. Sex is a great thing when done with consent, and I want him to know that. I want him to feel as comfortable in his body as he can and understand that sex has a lot of different functions, and not all of them are positive.

“Childhood is such an exciting and confusing time filled with countless questions and changes, so adults need to make sure there’s a safe space where kids can learn about what they’re experiencing or will experience in the future,” Victoria shared.

Amaze.org is an incredible resource, especially for tweens and younger kids. Their videos are colorful and animated, and that really does make a difference. I watched one of the videos with my son about what happens to bodies during puberty, and we both learned a lot. There is another one that specifically addresses pleasure, and it was a great companion for my answer that people have sex because it feels good. The video doesn’t just explain pleasure in the context of sex, but it gives additional context for things that can be enjoyable like a cupcake or dancing to music.

It’s really important for us as the adults in our kids’ lives to break down and confront our own issues when it comes to talking about sex. Creating a safe space for our kids to ask us about sex starts with working through our own bullshit. That doesn’t mean it won’t be a little nerve wracking — these are still our kids. But Melissa swears that our own desire to get it right will allow us the space to do the work on our own. The earlier we start talking to our kids about sex, the earlier they learn these things aren’t taboo or shameful to talk about.

“It’s truly most important that they [parents] know that it’s completely normal and typical for your young person to be curious about sex, about bodies. There’s nothing weird, bad or wrong about your kid asking about sex,” Melissa said.

As scary as it may be, we must be the first line of defense when it comes to providing our kids with information about sex. Melissa reminded me that parents can’t rely on outside sources like schools to teach our kids about sexual health. Sex ed (which absolutely needs to include sexuality and gender) is so lackluster in most of the country, and in places like Florida, parents can opt-out of sex ed on their kids’ behalf. Things like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill means that kids are expressly forbidden from learning about sexual orientation and gender identity. She also made a great point that all kids need to learn about these things, not just kids who are or may be queer.

The internet and their peers are sources of so much misinformation that it’s irresponsible to allow that to be how they learn. One incredibly common misconception when it comes to talking to kids about sex is that being armed with accurate information will encourage them to go out and have sex. Both Melissa and Victoria emphatically denied that there is any truth in this.

“Open and honest communication about sex can actually help children develop a healthy understanding of sex, relationships, consent, and more. By having these conversations, we’re empowering them to make informed choices in the future and even potentially delay sexual activity,” Victoria explained.

When I started thinking about how I wanted to talk to my son about sex, I knew that the most important thing to me was being sex positive. I asked Melissa what it means to be a sex positive family, and they had a beautifully simple answer: “Creating a home where young people and the adults talk about these taboo things that have been made taboo by our culture. It starts early, and it’s an ongoing journey.”

Have you started talking with your kids about sex? How’s it going? Let’s talk about it.


Queer Mom Chronicles is a column where I examine all of the many facets of queer parenthood through my tired mom eyes. 

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Sa'iyda Shabazz

Sa'iyda is a writer and mom who lives in LA with her partner, son and 3 adorable, albeit very extra animals. She has yet to meet a chocolate chip cookie she doesn't like, spends her free time (lol) reading as many queer romances as she can, and has spent the better part of her life obsessed with late 90s pop culture.

Sa'iyda has written 122 articles for us.

9 Comments

  1. My kiddo is too young still to start these talks—and by that I only mean she’s only just begun to say her first few words! But I love this approach, and would add that open and honest conversation about sex and bodies can also be really important in helping kids avoid sexual predation and abuse. We’re already laying the foundation by using the actual words for her anatomy when we talk about her body, because even things like cutesy euphemisms can make kids think that certain body parts are not to be talked about.

    I love this column, too, and the insight it gives me into the exciting years ahead!

    • yes absolutely! i started using the correct terms for anatomy as well when my son was a baby. and we started talking about consensual touch when was pretty young too. all of those thing make such a difference!

      thank you so much for reading!

  2. This is tangentially related, but I love the verbiage one of my friends used to talk with her kids about how to know if an adult is safe – she told them as part of using their intuition, that it’s ok for adults to ask kids to keep surprises but not secrets.

  3. Thanks for this article! It’s so important to have these open and honest conversations with kids.
    I love that you said you’re centering sex positivity in your approach, though as an ace person I am wary of certain brands of sex positivity, which often shade into compulsory sexuality. I certainly wish I had received comprehensive sex ed as a kid/teen (or any sex ed beyond the standard heteronormative “wait til marriage” nonsense!), and for me that would’ve included the message that not enjoying/wanting sex is totally valid too. The idea that people have sex “because it feels good” may be true for some (or most) people, but it’s certainly not the only or most important reason that people have sex. And I know that was just a snippet of your conversation, but I think it’s important to note that sentiments like this can be alienating for people on the ace spectrum when they’re presented as generalities/universal truths.
    I know there’s been a recent effort by Autostraddle to be more inclusive of ace people (after some frankly abysmal acephobic content in the past), so I hope this comment is received in the spirit it’s given, and I hope it’s an angle you’ll consider in future conversations!

    • For what it’s worth I was also thinking about how ace/aro stuff fits into these conversations. (I’m aro and grey ace.) A podcast I was listening to recently talked about how as a society people tend to try to hide sex from kids but romance gets pushed on them super young. I’m pretty open with my six year old about things like menstruation, body parts, and consent for hugs/tickling/etc. We recently went to a wedding and my kid talked about how kissing was gross, but as early as Pre-K they starting playing at dating and saying they would get married, which feels so weird to me. I guess I know people played those games when I was a kid, but I never did. (And now I know why. *shrug*)

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