Parents are the first sexuality educators

By Amy Johnson, Sex in the Suburbs

“Sex in the City” is one thing, but what’s a parent in the suburbs to do about the subject of sex? What do we say? How much do we reveal? When do we start? Where do we turn for help?

Most parents agree that their kids need to know the basics about sex — the “plumbing lesson,” so to speak.

Insightful parents realize their kids need a lot more. These are not always easy conversations to have with children and teens, even though we know they are important.

Many of us grew up in homes where sexuality was not a topic open for discussion. Here is some information that will help you as you embark on this important parenting journey.

As parents, you are your children’s first and primary sexuality educators, whether you are talking about sexuality or not. Either way, you give a loud message to your child. They will learn from you whether or not it is OK to talk about all parts of bodies and their functions, and whether that is embarrassing and shameful or natural and normal.

When children are infants, they often discover their genitalia at some point during the diaper-changing process. What is your reaction? Is it matter of fact? Do you give them the name for that body part (penis, vulva) like you would if they found their nose? If you’re past this stage and wished you’d done it differently, no worries.

The great thing about parenting is that issues come up again and again in different ways, so we get lots of practice to grow into how we want to be.

Toddlers and preschoolers are often curious about their body parts and what they do. There are some books that can help with discussions, especially if you are uncomfortable saying words like penis and vagina with your young child. One is “Belly Buttons are Navels” by Mark Schoen, which discusses differences and similarities in boys’ and girls’ anatomies from noses to genitalia.

Families are often having a second or subsequent child around the time they have a toddler in the home, so a natural opportunity for discussion arises. “So That’s How I Was Born” by Dr. Robert Brooks is a book about explaining reproduction to young children. For more resources for young children and also for preteens and teens, go to

The important thing is to acknowledge any discomfort you may have, find some good resources that help you feel more comfortable, and begin the discussion in some way with your children.

Next time, I will address the issues of media, and some myths and facts about influences on teen sexual behavior.

Amy Johnson, MSW, is a professional life and parent coach in Federal Way. She also facilitates faith and sexuality classes for youth and can be reached via e-mail at

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Oct 21
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates