The other night, as our children played, my partner and I had a discussion about an essay I'd read. The premise claimed feminist consent culture has "ruined sex." (Ugh.) This prompted an animated, five minute discussion between us about everything we found problematic with that claim. While our kids — 2 and 5 — weren't involved in the conversation, they were right there and we did nothing to lower our voices or particularly censor our thoughts. In general, I've made it a point not to avoid talking about sex in front of my kids.
That's not to say I wax poetic about my personal sex life in front of my little ones (or, you know, anyone) or cavalierly leave pornography strewn about my home. I don't discuss graphic, hyper-sexualized material in front of them and I'm actually quite conservative in what I will allow them to be exposed to in movies and TV. However, when it comes to talking about sex in a matter-of-fact way? Well, I see no reason to shield my kids from the knowledge that sex is something that exists and isn't inappropriate or dangerous. M
Moreover, I think there is value in allowing sex to occupy a spot in the roster of "Things We Talk About In This House," which is why my partner and I have made it a deliberate personal policy for the following reasons:
It's easy to take a bold stance on "sex talk" when you know your kids are too young to know enough to even ask what you mean. Talking about sex in front of toddlers, at least my toddlers, has basically zero consequences. I'm guessing I still have a little while on this trend with my soon-to-be 3 year old, but my kindergartener has started to notice when the subject comes up.
Don't get me wrong, it's going just fine and I'm not chickening out at the last minute or anything, but I'll admit that making a plan and sticking with it is far easier when you know you don't have to do anything.
"But wait, the whole premise here is talking about sex around your kids! Now you want to avoid a sex talk? I'm confused!"
Allow me to clarify.
I want to avoid a sex talk. As in a singular discussion on the subject of sex in which I nervously spout off whatever half-formed, confusing explanations that pop into my head, then leave it at that. I want the subject of sex to be an ongoing discussion and learning experience, like pretty much anything else we want our children to know and learn about. My parents are amazing, wonderful people, but I never once discussed sex with my father (probably to this day) and "the talk" my mom gave me when Iw as 8 or 9 years old taught me bupkis. You know what did teach me about sex? Furtively tuning into a call-in radio show every night and listening to a certified sex therapist discuss real-life issues with people. So, you know, ongoing discussion in a judgment-free environment.
When it comes to talk about sex around and with children, I believe in the concept of a "gradual build" to complete information. In other words, my 3 year old isn't going to hear stories of graphic sexual assault, but she will know that no one is allowed to touch her without her permission. As the years go on, we can get more specific as she learns, hears, and is ready for more information. My 5 year old doesn't know how sex "works," even though he hears me talk about it sometimes, but when he asks I'm ready to let him hear the basics of pleasure-seeking genital contact and then we can move on from there as he has questions.
My children won't be learning about everything, from kissing to condoms to chlamydia, all in one go, or even within the span of a few short years. Learning about sex, hopefully, is a lifelong process, and I don't think it can start too young.
I can't tell you how many times I've heard parents (and adults in general) spell out S-E-X when children are present. Honestly it's sort of adorable that people can labor under the impression that kids won't figure out what you're saying pretty quickly. I mean, how long did it take you to figure out what your parents were talking about when they started spelling "I-C-E..." You knew after probably the third time they spelled it that it meant ice cream was a possibility and you'd start freaking out.
Conspicuously and actively avoiding the discussion of sex does a few damaging things. First of all, your kids are going to learn this is a subject they cannot come to you with and, contrary to popular belief and wishful thinking, this will not result in them dropping the issue. It will lead them to seek information on their own and God only knows where they're going to find it (the internet can be a misleading and profoundly disturbing place, friends). Moreover, they will likely believe this is a "naughty" subject, a presumption that will very likely be supported by whatever the hell they learn about sex on the internet or whispered on the playground, since kids have this habit of latching on to the weirdest aspects of literally anything.
But worst of all, I would worry about kids who could be told to "keep a secret" in a sexual abuse situation, or were told they would "get in trouble," in regards to sexual situations. This isn't to say that horrible things can't happen to anyone, unfortunately, but painting sex as something that's neither secretive nor dirty (and, more importantly, something that is consensual) let's children know they can come to parents without without breaking a taboo or fear of rebuke.
Society does this creepy thing where it says (or at the very least, very strongly indicates) that sex only happens (or should happen) to certain kinds of people. Generally it's beautiful, young, heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied people. Don't believe me? Name a sex scene in a movie between two fat people (or a fat person and a thin person) that wasn't created for comedic effect.
Another option is to say that sex is something for either married people or slutty "bad girls" (because, let's face it: men and boys are not going to be scrutinized for their sexual exploits to the degree women and girls are). Sex positivity (and a complete absence of any and all slut-shaming) is something that is tremendously important to me: I want my kids to know that most adults have sex and that everyone is entitled to pursue an active and enjoyable sex life with a consenting partner or partners.
Like I said, the questions will be asked, and I know a lot more about sex than a Google search or that weird older kid down the street. I am also very much of the belief that if the kid is asking a question, they are ready for some kind of answer, and that there is an age appropriate way to respond to most topics.
As I've said above, I really want my kids to know that I am someone they can come to with their questions, concerns, and thoughts. What better way to do that by unabashedly discussing sex from the time they're young?