How do I raise my child to have a healthy attitude about sex?

Raising a sex positive childI hear this question a lot. Mostly from mothers who realize that they’ve inherited a lot of shame around their own sexuality and don’t want to pass it on to their kids.

I know they’re looking for words to use with their child – and how to speak them without feeling like they’re crawling out of their own skin – but my answer is always the same: the best thing you can do is look inside yourself.

Kids listen to what we say, but they imitate what we do. So if you’re walking around with a lot of shame, anger, and fear about sex, it doesn’t matter what words you speak to them – they’ll recognize and (most likely) internalize your discomfort.

Let’s take a concrete example:

How do you feel about masturbating? Really, truly, at the very heart of you – do you feel like you have to hide that you masturbate? Do you feel like you’re doing something a little dirty? Do you worry that you’ll be “found out” by your friends or family – or even your partner – and you’ll die of shame?

Now let’s imagine a scenario:

You knock on your child’s door and walk in without waiting to hear them say “come in.” And there they are – on the bed, pants off, “inspecting the goods” as it were.

You didn’t expect it, but there it is in front of you. You don’t have time to put on your “good parent” face. You react in an instant. Your response mirrors your internal conversation.

What does your child see?

If you are still nervous that masturbating is a sin, your response may look like: “Don’t do that! That’s nasty!”

If you believe that masturbating is a shameful secret, your response may look like: “Don’t ever let anyone know! That’s a secret!”

And if you are struggling with the intersection of femininity and sexuality and power and responsibility (as so many of us are!) and feeling angry about it, your response may look like: “It’s fine with ME that you’re doing that, but the rest of the world won’t get it. You’d better keep it to yourself or you’ll be shamed for it.”

But if you’ve made real peace with your sexuality as a normal, healthy, and vibrant part of yourself, and you understand the importance of boundaries and consent, your response may look like: “I’m really happy that you’re getting to know your body! Here are some guidelines – you can do it as much as you want inside the privacy of your bedroom. If you have any questions, you’re welcome to ask them. When we’re outside this house, it’s important that we respect other people’s boundaries, so we don’t touch ourselves in that way and we save those conversations for when we get home.*”

See the difference?

Please be clear – if you walk in and have an initial reaction that you’re not thrilled with, you CAN recover! You can go back to your child later and say the words you wish you had said earlier. But the look that crosses your face in that first moment can never be fully erased. And that’s why it’s worth starting the journey of inner exploration. First. Today. Now.

Because you never know what might be on the other side of that bedroom door.

If you’d like to have these words at-the-ready for when you need them, grab the Conversation Guide ↓↓↓