You can do it! How to talk about sex

Author name
Sheila Broderick, LCSW

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Once parents find out that I specialize in treating the effects of sexual assault, if they have girls, they often ask me what they should say to their daughter to keep her safe.


First, I will say actually you should be talking to the men and boys in your life about the daily realities of violence toward women because we will never make any progress until 50% of the population stops absorbing this problem as a way of protecting the feelings of the men in their lives.


The second thing I say is empower the people in your lives sexually – irrespective of gender identification, empower yourself, your partner THEN your kids.  We simply cannot teach what we cannot do.


The third thing I say is talk to your kids about sex and with a twinkle in my eye, I say “Dude, it's a little late in the game.”  And what I mean by that is none of us waits until our kids are 17 to talk about sex because if we have never said anything about sex, we are speaking VOLUMES about sex.


Well, Sheila, you have two children, 23 and 18, male identified and female identified respectively.  How did you talk to your kids about sex?  Here are my pointers.  And parents, take heart….it is NOT too late.


1.         Lean into the awkward.  Honestly, despite the fact that I talk about sex all the time, I can feel pretty uncomfortable talking about sex and sexual decision making with my own children, so I just go ahead and admit that I feel quite  shy and I will say “there’s no reason for me to feel uncomfortable talking to you about this because there is nothing wrong with this, but I do.  So, forgive my awkwardness.”  Children are inherently forgiving of their goof ball parents.  They give us way waaaay more leeway than we deserve, typically.


2.         It’s okay not to have all the answers.  I will say to my children, “I don’t have all the answers about sex but I do know two things.  First, it is normal to be curious and to feel like you are ready to explore your sexuality and second it is normal to not feel ready and to not be exploring.    One thing is for sure, people tend to exaggerate the degree of their sexual engagements and definitely the quality.”


3.         Help your child think about what they are ready for.  I have a standard tactic, having grown up in the south on a steady diet of Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner, I do use exaggeration to make a point.  So, for me, I might say, “I know I can’t control what you do.  If I had my way, you would never drive a car, not move out of the house, stay wrapped up in bubble wrap and never ever have sex – no tattoos on that perfectly made body and for the love of your grandmother Broderick (this is for you Jeremiah Jones) you would never get on a motorcycle.  Once they sign the necessary paperwork to have me committed because this is total lunacy talking, then we continue with something just a tad more….rational:  “But, I know I cannot control these things.  So I will say what IS important to me is that you do some thinking about what you are ready for in terms of sexual intimacy.  How you will know when you are ready, what you are ready for and how will you decide that this particular person is a good person to share that experience with?”  They will not have well formed answers, but it opens a dialog and sends the message that sex is not like the movies where you walk into a room and start kissing and clothes magically fall off your body.  It takes some work, some negotiating, some figuring out what goes where (where DOES one place one’s arm when lying on one’s side?)


4.         Be clear and specific.   “Here’s the deal honey.  I love you.  I like the person that you are.  I do not want to drop you off at Duke like my parents did, with no information.  You will make good decisions.  I trust that.  If you feel like you have not made a good decision, you can talk to me.  I promise not to judge you (if you promise this, my friend, you gotta deliver).  I know you are not 5 years old anymore and I cannot protect you from everything, but there are two things I am really clear must be present if you are going to engage in sexual intimacy with another person:    First, you must be able to talk to them ahead of time about what you need and want from the experience (condoms, birth control, privacy) and second, you must ask them what they want from the experience.  And be crystal clear that they are enthusiastically consenting to this and not doing something to “get it over with” or to keep you interested or because they are afraid you will get mad or offended.  And to do this, you must be sober or it’s not going to work.”


Sober….talking….do no harm to self or other.  And, seriously, Jeremiah….a motorcycle??  DUUUUUDE!  Ya kelling yer dear ol ma.