As I was raising toddlers, I made them ask for the things they wanted. I prompted them by telling them, “Use your words.” When I think about talking to my own children about sex, there are a few things that I want to make sure that I get across, but most importantly, I want them to use their words. So let’s start with some basic words: penis, vagina, breasts, vulva, testicles, anus. I want my children to understand their body. I want them to know it, own it and love it. We use the correct anatomical names for body parts, so there is no confusion when talking about sex and health. I also taught our children to ask for permission first. “It’s not borrowing if you didn’t ask first. It’s stealing.” There is no need for interpretation on that one. If there is something that you want, ask first. Period. If someone doesn’t want to share, they were allowed to say “no.” I told my children “no” on many occasions, and I still do. They were not allowed to beg either. If you were to ask my 3 children (ages 17-24) my quote for grocery shopping, they would all tell you, “No means no, not ask until you get your way.” Little did I know that I was teaching my children the very basic concepts of consent and coercion. Without thinking about sex, the simple rules established at a young age would provide a foundation that teaches them to set respectable boundaries for themselves, and give them permission to tell people “no.”
Are these the only things that I wanted my children to know about sex? Absolutely not! Some other words and phrases that come to mind are, “Safety first!” When it comes to safety, we need to help our children understand the facts. Here are a couple of facts that are alarming. Chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis are at an all time high, and young people ages 15-24 have the highest number of new cases. Oral cancers caused by the HPV virus are rising, especially in people ages 15-24. And, about 80% of all people who are sexually active are infected with the HPV virus. I don’t know about you, but I don’t like those numbers. When I chose to become a parent, I chose to protect my children. Unfortunately, protecting them means that I have a responsibility to have uncomfortable conversations with them. Notice “conversations” is plural. There is no such thing as a “sex talk” (singular). We need to be using many words throughout their lives. Sex is such a huge topic that it must be an ongoing conversation.
As you leave my home there is a sign that says, “Life is a journey, enjoy it.” Sex is a journey. A beautiful journey that is meant to be enjoyed. I don’t want my children to feel shame, or guilt when it comes to sex, but I do think that teaching them about sex with values is important as well. However, it doesn’t matter what our values are. They are exactly that. Our values. We will attempt to pass those values on to our children. Some of our children will embrace our values, but some will question and rebel against them. Our role as parents is to help them develop their own values that will guide their lives. Will they do things that may hurt or disappoint us? Definitely. And that’s okay. It is in these moments that we are truly tested as parents, so don’t forget to use your words, “I love you and I always will!”