Talking About Sex Without Shame

We were in the car after a day with friends when Immy said;

“I really don’t want another baby”

This wasn’t unexpected, it is something we have discussed before with both of our children having reservations regarding adding to our family. But then she followed;

“But it might happen anyway”

What followed was our first conversation relating to the mechanics of procreation focused sexual intercourse and the available contraception options for preventing pregnancy. Informed about the reality that conceiving is a choice, she was reassured that as we were all in agreement that our family is complete, that is how we intended for things to remain.

The conversation regarding sex is ongoing, sex shouldn’t be confined to one talk just as you wouldn’t expect to learn everything there is to know about food or volcanoes or dinosaurs in one go. Sex is an immense and diverse topic that is built upon gradually beginning with support to understand the concepts of consent and bodily autonomy and transitioning through different information as a child’s awareness, understanding and interest shifts. Through this all I want to be mindful to avoid the antiquated cliches that would leave space for shame to develop in the variables unspoken.

Talking about sex with our children can feel uncomfortable. Perhaps this can be traced back to the ways we ourselves were introduced to the topic. Often the manner in which the topic has traditionally been discussed communicate unintentionally; there is sex that is acceptable and anything that doesn’t fit within those confines is not.

I think sometimes what people actually feel uncomfortable about is acknowledging that sex is something we enjoy and the varied situations in which this occurs, even to themselves. In so many ways, we were handed down conditions surrounding sex and so making choices that disregard them (as often eventuates because it is actually completely natural) feels shameful. This feeling tempts us to use similar distancing language with our children, wanting to avoid discussing the realities we are embarrassed by; unfortunately this only continues the cycle of shame.

I do not want my children to ever feel shame associated with their sexuality or preferences. I wanted to be mindful to not fall into the same traps that pigeon hole sex as being for one purpose between specific people who feel a particular emotion.

Sex is so very personal and as long as it is between informed and consenting parties; completely acceptable. I want my children to know this very clearly before they are in a position of investing in their sexuality so that it is a satisfying experience and not one of self-reproach. I also want my kids to know they can talk to me about sex and not only within a narrow context of it.

The misguided adages we need to stop investing in;

Sex is for Procreation

Whilst sex is one way in which an egg can become fertilised and grow to be a human, it is not the only way in which this occurs. Advancements in biological science have brought increased access to parenthood and this is relevant information.

Humans can come to exist through different manners and it should not be shameful to acknowledge this.

Sex is also something undertaken for other reasons; in fact, most of the time sex is related to creating pleasure, not humans. Sex, in all its forms, should be a  gratifying experience (even when you’re attempting to create a baby). It is important for children to understand that so when they are consenting adults, they are open to that experience and also aware that when it doesn’t feel good that is a sign to reassess.

Sex is something enjoyable and it should not be shameful to acknowledge this.

Sex is for Love

Conflating sex with love can actually be really confusing for a child growing into an understanding of the various forms of love. Romantic love is a difficult concept to explain to somebody who has no experience of it.

And more importantly; sex can be a component of love but not all sexual relationships involve love and not all love involves a sexual relationship.

While contributing sex to love is something parents often share in order to protect their child from making ‘dangerous’ or ‘regrettable’ choices; this works because it is creates limitations and boundaries regarding sex should be for the individual to decide, not their parent.

Let’s consider: what is it that we are actually afraid of? Is it love that provides this security? Another option for encouraging healthy sexual dynamics that acknowledges the varied reality of sexual encounters is to explain that sex is something one does with a person they feel attraction towards and safe with. Whilst it is important to have sex with somebody you can trust to keep you informed so that you can make choices free from manipulating influence and to hear your preferences including if you want to stop, this does not require love.

Sex is something we enjoy with people we feel safe with, this can involve love but it doesn’t necessarily and it should not be shameful to acknowledge this. Love can also exist in a worthwhile way without a sexual component and it should not be shameful to acknowledge this.

Sex is for a Male and Female

Sex is for consenting adults, full stop. Whilst sex that results in a baby requires the combination of sperm and egg, sex in general has no conditions outside of consent. Restricting our discussions of sex to that between a male and a female implies that other dynamics are not appropriate even if we genuinely feel otherwise. People should feel accepted for who they are attracted to as long as it is pursued consensually and this begins with our language. Aim to be thoroughly inclusive.

Sex is something that can happen between any consulting adults and it should not be shameful to acknowledge this.


When we confront our own shame and dismantle its misguided origins, we prevent it from being passed on. We can help empower children into a healthy understanding of sex by being honest, with ourselves and with them.

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2 Comments

  1. As a parent we are so comfortable with this type of sex education, we have a stiff drink afterwards due to our own imposed shame. What i find the hardest, as a teacher of primary aged children is to divert when they ask a question, an honest question, a question i know the answer too but parents may get upset.

    Sigh, hopefully my kids will tell the truth i have given them.

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