, , , ,

Moving from Sex Talk to Sex Conversation

Moving from Sex Talk to Sex Conversation

Here’s the material from the Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) I discussed on the air (listen to attached clip), with the annotations taken from our slowly forthcoming book Consent-Based Sex Education to be released in 2020 (finally!)

Key Concept I: Human Development


  • Help children[1] to appreciate their bodies.
  • Provide information about reproduction as needed, requested, or encouraged by happenstance (e.g., a family member or friend’s pregnancy, a visit to a museum, an intriguing film, etc.).
  • Affirm that human development includes sexual development, which may or may not include sexual expression and reproduction.
  • Teach children to interact with all genders in respectful and appropriate ways and discourage sexist views or stereotypes.
  • Define and explain consent as the core of how one shows or shares one’s body with others. Encourage children to seek and give permission before being hugged or hugging others. Pets offer excellent teaching tools because they, too, may give or refuse consent to be held, petted, cuddled, etc.
  • Provide a supportive environment so children can consider and affirm their own sexual and gender identities and to respect and affirm the identities of others.

Key Concept II: Relationships


  • Help children develop and maintain meaningful relationships. This will begin with family, pets, and platonic friendships and then, with few exceptions, evolve toward the realm of sexual expression in adolescence and young adulthood.
  • Teach children how to express and receive love and intimacy intentionally and with forethought as to both the benefits and consequences of any involvement. This process should balance ethics and personal responsibility with a sex-positive, hopeful message.
  • Offer a rational approach to exploitative or manipulative relationships. Ironically, one of the biggest threats to learning about personal safety is the problem of “stranger-danger” which posits that one’s greatest risk of mistreatment is from a roving pedophile, when, in fact, children (and adults) are always at greater risk of harm from people they know and often those they hold dear. The stronger a child’s command of consent, the more likely the child will be to slip the bonds of a destructive relationship early and mitigate harm.
  • Explain the direct risk between substance abuse and sexual exploitation in coupling relationships and encourage moderation and personal safety awareness in drinking situations. Again, a rational perspective is necessary to manage risk. For example, a young person is far more likely to be sexually assaulted after voluntary intoxication than by being “roofied[2]” or “gotten drunk” by another person. While these latter incidents do happen, they are comparatively rare.
  • Help children make informed choices about family planning options and relationships. Understanding the commitment and responsibility that comes with having a long-term relationship, getting married, or having children is essential to making wise choices about these major life events.
  • Teach skills that enhance personal relationships. These will start with friends in preschool and evolve to long-term committed relationships. Though they’re intended for established couples, I favor John Gottman’s books[3] for teaching kids how to manage romantic relationships and even platonic friendships. I’ll draw a lot from this material in this book and in Book Four; but there’s no substitute for reading Gottman’s excellent, research-based work yourself.

Key Concept III: Personal Skills


  • Help children identify and live according to their own values. A consent-based sex education is an ethics-based sex education. It is a core task of parents to present and reinforce effective values in their children. It is a core task of children to challenge those values and choose their own. Encourage both tasks with the ultimate goal of producing an ethical, sex-positive child who makes value-based choices. This is, in fact, the whole point of the next two chapters of this book.
  • Encourage children to take responsibility for their own behavior. Like a supercharged Camaro, sex is one of those things in life that’s only fun if you treat it responsibly. Teach your child to balance the many joys of sexual expression with responsibility and social justice.
  • Foster effective decision-making. As we’ll discuss in great detail in the next chapter, the key to sex is consent, the key to consent is authentic choice, and the key to authentic choice is mindful decision-making. Teach kids to be intentional, to seek their own wisdom and the wisdom of others, to gather and critically consume facts, to weigh costs and benefits, to take decisive action, and to use regret effectively as a guide to better choices.
  • Whenever possible, nurture critical-thinking skills. As noted earlier, the core element of consent is neither unbridled passion nor pointless anxiety. It’s mindfulness. Critical thinking allows one to become a good consumer of sexuality.
  • Teach children to communicate effectively with family, peers, and romantic partners. As anyone who has been involved with sex therapy knows, communication is everything. Fortunately, this generation is steeped in sexual communication 24/7, as we’ll discuss in Book Two. Your job is to help guide how that works out for teens at home, so they’ll be effective at it later with partners.

Key Concept IV: Sexual Behavior


  • Encourage children to embrace and express healthy sexuality across the lifespan. I teach kids I work with that the decisions they make now need to be made in a way that they’ll want to reflect upon later. What seems amazing at seventeen may later be seen as embarrassing and hurtful. The goal of consent-based sex education is to help teens create as many positive and as few negative experiences as possible on their lifelong sexual journey.
  • Challenge children to express sexuality in ways that are congruent with their values. Only parents can extend sex education into a discussion of values and in that role, they can only help kids consider and evolve their own values around sex.
  • Clarify that teens may enjoy sexual feelings without necessarily acting on them. The active side of consent means self-regulating action. Teens must understand the value of restraint to honor their own consent and that of others. Similarly, teens should learn that sex is not simply P-V intercourse, but a wide range of practices with varying levels of risk and reward.
  • Help children discriminate between life-enhancing sexual behaviors and those that are harmful to self and/or others.
  • Give children space and guidance to craft their own unique sexuality while respecting the rights of others to do likewise.
  • Encourage children to seek and critically consume new information to enhance their understanding of sex and sexuality.
  • Assert as a core value of parenting the importance of engaging in sexual relationships that are consensual, nonexploitative, honest, pleasurable, and protected. In these books, I refer to this as acting in a “wise” or “sexually competent” manner.

Key Concept V: Sexual Health


  • Teach children best practices for health-promoting behaviors, such as regular check-ups, breast and testicular self-exam, and early identification of potential problems. These should be seen as no different than any health-related exams. Of particular concern has been the conflation of the vaccines for HPV (like Gardasil and Cervarix) with sexual expression, as if avoiding giving a teen those protections will discourage P-V intercourse. If you believe nothing else I say, believe me when I say that view is a product of parent anxiety and not child best interests.
  • Be sure children can use contraception effectively, including a full understanding of and ability to use emergency contraception. We’ll discuss this more in Book Four but for now, presume that contraception is rarely applied too early in the teen years and when it is applied too late, it creates all manner of hardship.
  • Be sure children understand risk management with regard to contracting and transmitting sexually transmitted diseases, ways to reduce risk, and limits on risk management. Never use this information to leverage kids away from sexual expression, but to arm them to consume it wisely.
  • Conduct value clarification on how to handle an unintended pregnancy and how to convey that to a prospective partner before initiating P-V sex. This should never be undertaken as a threat, but as a rational conversation expected of any adult who is sexually expressive.
  • Work with children to prevent sexual misconduct and abuse. It’s easy to have a misguided “stranger danger” talk or teach personal safety awareness. It’s excruciatingly difficult to talk with your child about how he or she can avoid becoming an offender. Yet, these are among the most critical consent-based discussions for pre-teens. You cannot teach your child how to avoid harm unless you also teach your child how to avoid doing harm.

Key Concept VI: Society and Culture


  • Demonstrate respect for people with different sexual values and expect your children to do likewise. This was, for many years, difficult for parents who did not themselves accept diversity in others. Today, young people will accept nothing less than an inclusive approach to sex education and if they don’t hear it at home, they’ll not listen long.
  • Assess the impact of family, cultural, media, and societal messages on one’s thoughts, feelings, values, and behaviors related to sexuality and choose carefully what you mean to bring into conversations with children. As I warned in Chapter 1, these books will challenge you to reconsider the intersection of these issues and encourage you to take that dialog forward to your children and teens.
  • Critically examine the surrounding world for biases based on gender, sexual orientation, culture, ethnicity, and race. Avoid behaviors that exhibit prejudice, stereotyping and bigotry. Engage children in similar observations and dialog. Today, middle schoolers, high schoolers, and college-aged adults are voracious consumers of sexual information, and highly suspicious of bias. That doesn’t make them perfect judges of content, but this is one thing they’ll sniff out fast.
  • Encourage children to educate others about sexuality. If kids are going to teach each other about sex, we should encourage them to share accurate information, to be skeptical, and to research what they don’t know or think they might not know.

[1] I’ll use the term “children” in this section to describe offspring of any age who are under your tutelage as a parent, including young adults.

[2] Being given a drug (usually Rohipnol) that incapacitates the victim and allows for sexual assault.

[3] Gottman, John (2015) The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert and Gottman, John (2002) The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *