7 Experts On Raising Sex-Positive Children

For each developmental stage, there is a sex-positive lesson to be learned by children.


Let me start by saying: hear me out! Read until the end because I know some of you may be reeling off the headline alone. "Sex-positive, who?" — that's what you're shouting to your computer screen and that's what you're gearing up to type in the comments section. But sex-positive and healthy guidelines don't equate to sexualizing your child. Shame, however, does.

Raising sex-positive children will help your child navigate a lifetime of sexual situations, from closing the orgasm gap to receiving and comfortably giving consent. Raising a sex-positive child rather than simply chanting "no means no" as a crash course on sexual assault actually helps them conceptualize what that "no" may look like. It creates awareness so that they create and respect boundaries. In fact, for each developmental stage, there is a sex-positive lesson to be learned by children.

Children have their first lessons in being sexualized via parents' shame.

When we tell them they can't walk around the house in certain clothes or pop their little hands for masturbating (because, yes, it begins well before puberty) — despite the fact that young toddlers and children don't view it as sexual, they simply know it feels good and they feel happy. Hell, consent starts with things as small as not tickling your child after they've asked you to stop (regardless of the laughter that may be present). While we may think it doesn't matter, all of that messaging remains with us and can mystify our view of our bodies, our sexuality, and our sex life in adulthood. And the entire experience begins right at home.

Though it may not be easy, it is worth it. So I asked 7 experts for some simple but extremely helpful ways for parents to raise sex-positive children and here's what they had to say.

1. Affirm pleasure and honor consent.

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"My first tip would be for parents to affirm pleasure and honor consent. Children are walking erogenous zones; they have a developmental imperative to experience happiness and joy, and to be supported in that through loving boundary-setting. They also have the right to say 'yes' or 'no' to an experience they do or do not want. If they don't want to be touched in that moment, affirm their capacity to know what feels right or wrong to them in any given moment.

"My final tip would be to heal anything that would keep you from showing up fully for your child's sexual development. Whether it's previous abuse, misuse, racial stereotyping, and/or sexual negative or erotophobic messaging, do the work to heal the effects of that on you so you don't project that into them." - Dr. Tracie Gilbert, founder of Thembi Anaiya LLC

2. Normalize body parts as early as possible.

"Start to normalize body parts including genitals and their function as early as possible. My book does this: These are My Eyes, This is My Nose, This is My Vulva, These are My Toes. Also, this normalization includes having firm discussions with family members and educational institutions so that you and your child are not flagged as 'endangerment' and so that language is not 'corrected' in other places.

"Children as young as one can say and identify a vulva, penis, and anus at least and can learn how to clean them, their functions, and grow to understand about urethra and clitoris as well. Further, it helps in preventing grooming behaviors with minor-attracted people and those who seek out to use sexual power over children." - Dr. Lexx Brown-James

3. Know the difference between being a sexual being and being sexually active.

"As a Christian Sexologist, I recognize that sex positivity is often a conversation that people of faith are left out of. Being a sex-positive parent and a Christian sometimes feels oxymoronic. I teach comprehensive sex education to youth and caregivers as well as offer intimacy coaching to help believers reconcile their faith with their beliefs about sexuality. When doing so, I help the people I work with to see how comprehensive sex education is actually honoring God more than many of the pervasive shameful teachings about sexuality and our bodies.

"God and the Bible are inherently sex-positive even if the values system includes certain timeline regulations."

"As well, in a practical sense with many believers opting for abstinence, I speak with them about the vital difference between being a sexual being and being sexually active, as well (for caregivers) how studies show youth who receive comprehensive sex education are more likely to delay sexual initiation. And most importantly are better equipped to make sound, safer decisions. I also find that many caregivers didn't receive sound sexuality education themselves which can hinder their efforts with their young people. My e-guide Understanding Intimacy, helps adults who believe in Jesus come to understand God's heart for intimacy, sexuality, and relationships." - Brittany Broaddus-Smith, LSW, MEd

4. Be the giver of all info when it comes to sex and sexuality.

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"My main tip is: there is no such thing as a 'sex talk', we are having a 'whole life talk'. And this is an ongoing conversation. Use opportunities as they arise to learn what your kids know and think. Challenge them to think on a broader scale as necessary. But remind them and yourself, that their body belongs to them and they get to make decisions. Be the giver of all info, or encourager of research, and give them opportunities to choose and make good decisions for themselves. It will extend itself to sex and sexuality if you let it. Just keep the door open." - Dr. Donna Oriowo

5. Teach sexual education and/or abstinence without shame.

"If you are going to teach sexual education/abstinence, do so without shame. Children should not be learning to be ashamed of themselves and what physical urges they are or will experience. Helping your child celebrate the changes that occur during puberty (i.e. period party) is a great way to normalize the physical and emotional changes they are occurring. Take this opportunity to teach your child about healthy and unhealthy practices, as well as the risks and benefits that come with each choice. It's OK if the child feels uncomfortable during the conversation. Keep them emotionally safe by validating their feelings." - Beverly Andre, LMFT

6. Create a culture that encourages the exploration of the child’s curiosities.

"The first place to start is increasing awareness around one's parenting style. Parents that are authoritarian in nature take on the 'children are to be seen and not heard...my house, my rules' approach to parenting. Parents with an authoritative parenting style are more inclined to partner healthy boundaries and standards in the home while being willing to explain and even incorporate children in decision-making. This helps create a culture in the home that encourages the child to explore topics out of curiosity rather than practicing avoidance and minimizing how they're experiencing the world.

"Parents can also consider taking them to age-appropriate local events like the Vagina Monologues or Walk a Mile in Her Shoes so that they can be exposed to sex-positive community gatherings. In addition, parents can even start on a smaller scale by promoting sex-positive language, challenging victim-blaming that may come up in the media, and shedding light on the history of marginalized populations like trans persons and sex workers. Practicing the usage of the appropriate pronouns can help as well." - Sierra Hillsman, M.Ed., APC, NCC, CCTP

7. Emphasize pleasure as much as you can and normalize alternative lifestyles.

"Put an emphasis on pleasure as much as you can, including self-love. Self-love and self-pleasure is a huge part of this process that is often neglected due to discomfort on both the caretaker's and the kid's parts. If you find yourself a bit uncomfortable discussing the benefits of masturbation, then you may need to explore your own ideas on masturbation before starting up this talk with your kids. You don't need to give details on how it's done, but at least let them know it's totally natural, totally OK and best done in private since that's not something that everyone around them consented to being a part of."

"Linking love and sex is incredibly common but can lead to some confusion down the line as hormones kick in. The potential benefit of loving someone before you decide to have sex can be presented, but it shouldn't be portrayed as the only way to enjoy sex. You can also let them know that they can choose to wait until they are ready to have sex, which only they can really know for sure."

"Make efforts to normalize alternative relationship styles, gender expressions and sexualities. Back in the day, the only families you ever saw on TV were a husband and wife with their biological children. Nowadays, families are incredibly diverse and it can be very beneficial for children to see all kinds of different families including same-sex couples, open or poly relationships, families with adopted or foster children, blended families, and family members that are part of the LGBTQIA+ community." - Praia Westerband-Otero, Remote Sex and Relationship Therapist

Featured image by Shutterstock

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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