How adults respond to questions of human sexuality set the tone and context. It’s seriously not that hard. Your kid deserves to be informed and encouraged to ask questions. This IS sexual violence prevention.

Stella asked me what I would say if she told me that one of her friends told her they had sex. I wasn’t allowed to ask any questions, simply give my answer. I even succeeded! (I am known for frequent streams of consciousness follow up questions.)

“Well, I know that sex happens. My first concerns would be if it was consensual and did they use protection?” 

Before anyone starts freaking out, think about what your response would be. Then ask yourself why would that be my response? Go back to the concept that discussions like this ARE action steps in sexual violence protection. If I answered inauthentically my kid would know it immediately. As awkward as it was asking the question, Stella has learned to rely on honest information.

At some point in the conversation, she said,

“So, you’re okay with my friends having sex but not me?”

Whoa!

In clarifying, I repeated my initial response that I know sex happens. I am NOT okay with it happening at this age. Sex and intimacy are extremely complex. Many adults are terrible at establishing and nurturing healthy, safe boundaries and communication without adding sexual intimacy. I reiterated that accurately reading facial cues and body language can be disastrous in a relationship, let alone adding the complexities of sexual body language into the mix. There is a significant difference between acknowledging that sex happens in adolescence verses denying it. One of the many reasons abstinence only education is reckless, irresponsible, and potentially dangerous.

How parents respond and answer their child’s questions about sex influences their perceptions. If we’re weird, uneasy, or awkward talking about sex then they will be too. I’m not saying that these conversations aren’t uneasy, weird and down right uncomfortable. But this isn’t about us. It’s about them.

I frequently think about the risky, dangerous situations I put myself in, as a young person, leaning how to have intimate relationships. Many of them turned violent. Had there been a trusted adult to help me process feelings, teach me about consent, and boundaries I know many of those risky situations would have been avoided. I might have been able to recognize the glaring warning signs. Maybe I would have avoided the most violent relationship I found myself in. Just possibly, I could have side stepped damaging beliefs about my worth, physically and emotionally.

Information is power.

Information brings liberation.

Information sets up success.

Kids are going to find information then share it far and wide with one another. What type of information to you want your child basing their decisions on? From the internet and pornography?

I also understand the desire to protect our kids. To preserve their innocence. Educating them about sex, and intimacy can successfully be done incrementally. Give them the information they are specifically asking for. Don’t over-think it. More times than not they just want a quick answer and move onto Minecraft or Instagram. What builds over time is trust. A deep, unshakeable trust. The kind that ensures a lifelong connection. You become that person they can count on to answer even the hardest questions authentically.  

So, when YOUR kid asks you what you how old you were when you had sex for the first time or what foreplay means do what I do.

  • Take a DEEP breath
  • Ask a clarifying question, or two, to make sure you’re answering the right question
  • Be honest
  • Stop taking yourself so seriously
  • Be willing to say I don’t know
  • Respond with, “What do you think?”
  • Do not diminish their curiosity, confusion, and need for information

Autonomy is achieved through knowledge.

OH, and for my friends freaking out about what friend she was referring to, I promise it’s not your kid!

Recommended Reading: 

Spare Me, “The Talk”, Jo Langford, M.A. 

Jo provides training for organizations and agencies as well as therapy to adolescents and families around a gambit of sexuality themes – with an emphasis on LGBT issues, Internet safety, digital citizenship and comprehensive sex education.

Jo is the author of the  Spare Me, “The Talk”, series – guides to sex relationships and growing up for modern teens and their parents. 

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