Sexual education has long been hyper-hetero and abstinence-based, often focusing on anatomy and the medical side of sex and neglecting or evading pleasure talk. But given that sex is still so taboo, talking with teens about it isn’t necessarily a comfortable conversation for a lot of parents.
If you're a parent and about to have the talk with your kid, you may need a sex ed refresher yourself because so much has changed since you took the class in school. It's no longer enough to talk about "where babies come from" — and you may need to learn a few things before having that conversation with your child.
Fortunately, a surge of shame-free sexual education platforms have cropped up, disseminating the details of kinks, destigmatizing female sexuality, supporting same-sex dating and more while promoting safe, consensual sex among beings of all sexual identities.
Here are six platforms for sexual education parents can reference.
Bedsider is an online sex ed and birth control support network operated by Power to Decide, a campaign to prevent unplanned pregnancies. According to the site, 7 in 10 pregnancies among unmarried women 18 to 29 years old are unplanned, so having accurate data is vital.
“Babies are great… when you’re ready for them,” the sites reads. “We think in the meantime you have the right to a healthy, happy sex life without worrying about unplanned pregnancy. You can make that happen by taking an active role in your reproductive health.”
To help people take control of their sex lives (or talk to their kids about becoming sexually active), Bedsider offers tools to compare birth control options, from the pill and the patch to cervical cups and condoms. It also lets readers in on where to get birth control with a health center locator, delivery options and a directory of stores that sell emergency contraceptives nearby. Moreover, it allows readers to set up reminders for taking their birth control or for any upcoming appointments they may have.
Scarleteen bills itself as “sex ed for the real world.” The site shares inclusive, comprehensive and supportive sexuality and relationship information for teenagers and young adults. Topics span everything from abuse activism to pleasure politics to unlearning unlovability and sexual shame.
It’s a safe corner of the internet where parents and teens can ask genuine questions, and the staff answers honestly. For example, recently, users have posed issues and questions like: “I'm a lesbian with conflicting feelings about only wanting to have sex with one person, the person I marry” and “How can a sex life become mutually pleasurable when you don't want the same things?” and “How can I get this guy to stop misgendering me?”
Meanwhile, the message boards (which boasts user-to-staff or moderated user-to-user conversations, including a separate channel for new users), a live chat and a free text service allow readers to engage more intimately.
O.school’s mission is to give users the knowledge, tools and language to explore various aspects of pleasure via intimate, live-streamed sessions with “pleasure professionals,” articles, videos and social media Q&As.
“I decided to start building O.school to provide the kind of shame-free information about sex that I never got growing up,” Andrea Barrica, founder of O.school, tells SheKnows. “I had religious abstinence-only sex education, and I had to learn a lot on my own. I wanted to share this knowledge with others. I knew there needed to be something between PornHub and WebMD — something that was friendlier, more approachable.”
The dating coaches, sex educators and doctors at O.school cover everything from communicating with reserved partners to queer dating, having sex with disabilities and reclaiming your body after trauma. The O.riginals series is a particularly popular section covering a variety of topics, from how to support survivors of sexual assault to how to explore one’s own body through "clitersizing" (aka masturbation).
“Parents can look through our material and see what they think is appropriate to share with their kids,” Barrica says. “We believe that learning about body parts and about pleasure is a key component to understanding and exercising consent."
4. Your Sexual PSA
Your Sexual PSA believes sex-negativity is a global crisis. That’s why it touts itself as “a totally shame-free education platform” according to Gigi Engle, the site’s resident sexuality educator and advice columnist.
“We’re here to save the world because we’re in this weird place where sex is being stigmatized. It’s not being taught in schools, and some parents don’t know how to talk to their kids about it,” Engle tells SheKnows. “You see everything online about how to fix a car, change a Brita filter, cook — but nothing on how to have sex or how to have pleasure during sex. So we are working to change the way that people become educated.”
Engle answers real questions about everything from how to stop faking orgasms to how to deal with broken condoms. She also curates a section called “In Case You Missed It” — credible, quality stories she pulls as sources for parents and educators.
STDAware is committed to the education and awareness of sexually transmitted infection risk and prevention. They encourage routine STI screenings for both preventative and curative purposes. The site covers a broad range of sexual health topics free of charge and judgment.
“STDAware provides factual and narrative information on various sexual health topics as well as government and social resources that might benefit a reader who is looking for certain types of services — ART payment-assistance programs, support groups for people living with various kinds of STD conditions, domestic violence hotline referrals and more,” Jamie Dresselhaus, content manager of the site, tells SheKnows.
Dresselhaus says the site encourages parents to become as informed as possible themselves so they can in turn aid their kids’ understanding of sexual health and diseases.
“Parents can quickly navigate our site for questions about sexual health, safe sex and transmission risks — and sit down with their kids and teens to read the article together and review any questions and implications,” she adds.
Kinkly was founded in 2013, and today, it’s a comprehensive source covering popular topics spanning sexual health to sex toys. And don't be put off by the name — yes, the site does cover BDSM and kink, but there's a lot more to it.
“We try to source a mix of sex therapists, sex educators and industry experts as well as people who speak from experience,” Tara Struyk, Kinkly cofounder and editor-in-chief, tells SheKnows. “In a lot of cases, people also want to hear about what it’s like to try something kinky and maybe step out of their comfort zones by living vicariously through someone else’s experience. People who speak from experience can also bring a lot of the empathy and a sense of belonging — something that’s really missing from a lot of sex ed.”
Kinkly also boasts sexual education resources for parents, but Struyk suggests parents get more comfortable about kinks themselves.
“Even if they aren’t reading about educating their kids on Kinkly, by exploring their own interests, they are getting acquainted with sex-positive language and learning how to drop their own sexual baggage,” she says. “When you can approach sex as something normal and healthy, talking about it with anyone becomes a lot easier.”
So before you sit down to have a talk with your kids, it's probably best to brush up on the latest sex ed yourself — because it's never to late to learn more about sex and pleasure.