When you have the sex talk with your kids, address these important topics

Feb 23, 2015 at 9:00 p.m. ET
Image: Blend Images/Kidstock/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

The first time I talked to my daughter about sex she was about four years old and we have not stopped talking since.

"My friend said she has sex dreams mommy," my daughter said to me while we were eating lunch one day. I had to stop myself from spitting my food out in disbelief of what my first grader just told me.

My daughter and I had conversations about sex and reproduction before, but I was still shocked to hear her say a friend told her she was having "sex dreams."

"What do you think about this?" I asked.

"I think they're too young to be thinking about these things, but it's OK because they say they're in love."

My disbelief hit a whole new level I was not aware even existed. At that very moment I realized that our sex talks were lacking, not holistic enough, not inclusive and not comprehensive.

Sex can be complex and can be more than just the physical act. Sex includes a myriad of social and personal skills and components that we must help our children deconstruct, understand and critically think about. Sure, she knew "good touch, bad touch" and how babies enter the world, but we never discussed relationship dynamics, consent and the emotional component of all of these things.

I set out to have a more holistic conversation with my daughter and developed a list for how to do it.

Open up the conversation to include more than just the act of penetrative sex

Talking about relationships, consent, emotions and how these all play a role in sexual and nonsexual relationships is just as important — I argue more important — than telling your child storks do not deliver babies. When you open the conversations up to include these things, you'll find that the conversations become more natural and less awkward.

Approach 'the talk' as an ongoing lifelong conversation

First things first, it's not "a talk" — the notion that we only talk to our children about sex once and never have to do it again is harmful and not healthy. Our children are always going to have more questions about sex and relationships and we need to be there to answer them as often as they need us to and when we feel necessary. My daughter and I started talking about sex and reproduction when she was 4 years old. We have since expanded the conversation to include sexual health, birth control and consent. "The talk" is a lifelong conversation.

Discuss like vs. love vs. crush

I explained to her how these emotions are all different and do not necessarily always develop into the next.

It is OK and expected to have crushes on people. It is OK and expected to even like some people. Love, however, is a very deep emotion that takes time, energy and work to develop and maintain (something that a first grader is not capable of doing and experiencing).

Acknowledge that not all sex happens between two married people

I was 15 and not married when I became pregnant and gave birth to my daughter, so there is no logical reason why I would tell her that sex only ever happens between two married people. It would not only be inaccurate to tell her this but dishonest as well.

It is very important for me to raise a child who realizes love and relationships happen outside of the narrow heterosexual, cisgender societal narrative, which is why I use the phrase "two people" not "one man and one woman."

Talk about consent with girls and boys

Consent is so important to discuss with our children. Rape and rape culture is too common in society to not discuss it. "Bad touch and good touch" conversations must expand to include consent and body autonomy. Our children all need to know that even at a young age they have body autonomy and they need to know what consent is. Kissing someone against their will is not consent. Touching someone without their permission is not consent. Someone forcing themselves onto you is not consent. Both boys and girls need to know and understand this and the earlier the better.

Don't hide the fact that birth control exists

I admit, the first time my daughter found out about birth control was by accident. She found condoms in my closet and asked me what they were. I froze and quickly thought about whether I wanted to lie to her or tell her the truth. I told her the truth and told her that the condom was called a condom and that it helps in stopping pregnancies from happening. She shrugged her shoulders, said OK and kept playing with her dolls. We have since expanded the conversation to the several different forms of birth control available for use.

There is no doubt that discussing sex with our children can get awkward and uncomfortable at times, but starting the conversations early, in age-appropriate ways, and continuing to have the conversations to combat any misinformation they might pick up along the way is imperative.

As parents and chosen families of children in our lives, it is imperative that we help children understand their sexual health. They're going to have to deal with sexual health for the rest of their lives so we must equip them with the best and most accurate information available.

More on parenting

Telling your kids how you lost your virginity should not be part of sex ed
Middle school sex education is actually working
Hey parents, masturbation isn't pornography