For most of us doing the parenting thing, making sure our kids grow up safe, healthy and happy is tops on the priority list. It makes sense that when the conversation rolls around to sex, many of us take a cautionary approach. We warn them about the risks of sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancy. We might encourage them to put off partnered sex until they’re ready - often until they’ve reached a particular age, life stage or rite of passage that we associate with adulthood.
But there’s a part of sexuality that some of us forget to teach kids about. Something pretty important, that I think kids — particularly those approaching adolescence — should know.
Sex feels great!
Not a news flash, I know. Still, sexual pleasure and sexual desire aren’t topics many of us think about when it comes to educating our kids. It may sound like an odd concept, but I hope you’ll bear with me, because I do think it’s a valuable, necessary topic to broach — especially with adolescents.
(Note: For the purposes of this post when I say “sex,” I’m mostly talking about sex with other people).
Now when I say it’s important to teach kids about sexual pleasure, I’m not talking about getting into explicit descriptions about technique or anything like that. What I mean is that as important as it is to let them know about the potential negative consequences of sex, it’s equally important to emphasize the positive, enjoyable aspects of sex as well. Yes, people definitely have consensual sex for baby-making, money-making and other practical reasons. But a lot of the time, a lot of us are having sex because it’s fun and we like the way it makes us feel. I think it’s okay for kids to know that. And here’s why:
Make With The Happy.
The rockin-rollin’, loin-raging, blood-pumping, happy-making part of sex might seem super obvious. So obvious that it may seem like there’s not much about it. After all, adolescence is the time of raging hormones. Why would we need to talk to kids about sexual desire and pleasure? They’re living it.
I think we should teach our kids about pleasure, because we want them to be happy. Not only can sex be fantastic physically, it can also be a fun, powerful manifestation of self-confidence, trust, joy, love, pride, strength, intimacy, care, creativity, affection, compassion, and more.
Feeling good in our bodies makes us happy. Making other people feel good in their bodies can make us happy. Some day, when they’re ready for it, sex is something that can make our kids very happy. And in the same way we teach them to look forward to a future career, falling in love or perhaps having children of their own, I believe we can also help them look forward to the many joys of sex.
Sex is like SCUBA diving
I was talking about all of this with my husband, who came up with a pretty rad analogy for all of this. He said, “It’s kind of like SCUBA diving. When you take SCUBA diving lessons, they teach you about the risks and they make sure you understand how to dive safely. But they also talk to you about what an amazing experience diving is. And they want you to have that experience.” I love that guy. And I love his analogy. Instructors don’t teach new divers about risks to discourage them from trying it. They do it to support them in exploring a fun activity safely.
Similarly I think it is important to teach youth about sexual risks, not necessarily as way to stop them from having sex, but as a way of supporting them in being able to have good sex. And I think it’s okay to let them know, that when they are ready to test the sexual waters, there are exciting, amazing adventures to be had.
I wrote earlier about encouraging youth to wait until the appropriate time to have sex. Individual beliefs about what “appropriate” means vary a great deal. Our feelings about when “it’s okay” for our children to become sexually active, depend on things like our family circumstances, our ethics, morals cultural norms, and religious traditions.
But something I think most parents do agree on, is that we hope our kids won’t have sex if they don’t feel ready for it. And here again, lessons about the pleasure of sex are important. If we’ve taught our kids that ideally, sex is supposed to feel good for them, it may give them pause if they find themselves in a sexual situation that doesn’t feel great.
I don’t want to idealize all sexual encounters. It is natural to have some mixed emotions, especially if you’re with a new partner and especially if you’re just new at partnered sex altogether. But I think it’s helpful for youth to understand that sexual desire is a real thing. The emotional allure and physical urge to get with someone are real and valuable signals that our bodies give us. If we encourage youth to develop an appreciation of sexual desire — that it’s an important component of sexual readiness, we can also teach them to be aware when that desire is absent and to be curious about why that is.
I think teaching about desire is also important, in terms of teaching youth how to be safe consensual partners. Hey kids, not only is sexual pleasure important for you, it’s super-important for the people you’re sleeping with! Know what it looks like, know what it feels like and know how to check-in and make sure you’re partner is feeling it too. Good times for all!
Let’s talk and talk and talk with your kids about safer-sex, responsible sex and healthy sex. But let’s also make sure to tell them that when they’re ready sex is something that they can enjoy, and look forward to.