Anya Manes - Talking About Sex - San Francisco CA

What exactly is “Not An Ostrich” about?

Why we’re committed to everyday conversations with our kids about sex and relationships

To some, it seems like NOT talking about sex is the way to protect our children’s innocence.  I understand why you might think so.  However, research consistently shows that more conversations (not less!) produce the best outcomes.

Here’s why:

We want to protect them from sexual abuse.

Current research shows it’s 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 12 boys who are sexually abused.  We don’t need to scare our children with actual descriptions of sexual abuse.  Everyday conversations about how things should be are just as protective.

  • Casual conversations about body parts (using accurate anatomical names) communicates that there’s no shame in talking about genitals.
  • Guidelines about private parts – who gets to see or touch, how and why – teach our kids healthy social norms, and what to do when those rules are broken.
  • Explanations of sex and conception teach children that sex is not for them.
  • Informing children that sex is pleasurable for adults helps kids understand why our media is sex saturated, and why someone might mistakenly want to have sexual relations with them.
  • Acknowledging that porn exists allows us to give children a rule that porn is for adults only. We can then discuss what should happen if they are exposed.
  • Teaching our children to speak up when they are uncomfortable, to tell a trusted adult about any bad or confusing feelings, helps them defend their boundaries.

If our children have the vocabulary to talk about what happened with their genitals, understand about private parts, know sex and porn are not for them, and routinely defend their boundaries, they are not quiet, passive, confused or disempowered.  They are not easy victims for an abuser.

We want them to be able to distinguish fantasy from reality.

School-aged children are able to think critically about media messages if we help them understand how they are being influenced.  We can explain why drinking Coke doesn’t actually lead to happiness, why wearing American Apparel brand clothing doesn’t make you more attractive.

Older children are exposed to adult song lyrics, TV shows, movies, and online content.  There are strong messages about gender, power dynamics, and violence.  Children do not have the real-life experience to judge which of these ideas are true and which are false.  By talking it through, we can ground them in reality.

Many children are exposed to online porn.  One study found that current college students were exposed to porn at an average age of 13.  It is reasonable to assume that the average age of exposure for this generation is significantly younger, since mobile devices are more common.  Unfortunately, it is in the porn industry’s interests to reach young children.  The younger children are exposed, the more likely they will become users.  When we talk with kids about porn, we help them understand why the porn that is available to them is not actually healthy for them.

We want them to accept themselves and others.

Every parent is dismayed to hear about their child’s body image issues or to see them experiment with unhealthy eating patterns.

No one wants their child to be rejected because of how freely they express emotion, how they dress, what gender they feel they are inside, or who they’re sexually attracted to.

The rates at which teens self-harm are appalling.  Teaching them to accept their bodies and their individuality is protective.  Teaching them to celebrate themselves is joy.

We want their sexual exploration to be safe and healthy.

Our current standards for raising children asks them to tune out their body signals and conform to a group environment.  With that history, it’s difficult for them to tune into their bodies and speak up when something feels uncomfortable.  When they do begin exploring sexually with a partner, they’ll need this awareness and communication skills.  We can help them become more skillful at feeling and defending boundaries.

Our children might be better at defending their boundaries in person than they are online.  The anonymity we feel when posting to the internet and the loss of control over our words and images make it tricky to judge where the lines are.  We help our young people when we make the effort to discuss sexting and social media.

Teens have the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections, and our teen pregnancy statistics are higher than comparable countries.  Comprehensive sex education requires that we discuss contraception.  Anyone who is sexually active needs to know how to protect themselves and what to do if they have a health concern.

Our young people are new at relationships and they need our guidance.  Unhealthy relationships are common and are part of the learning curve.  An involved parent can be a mentor, helping their child stand up for themselves.

By talking about how sex should be, we give them a baseline understanding.  They won’t accept just any sexual experience.  They have a vision for themselves.  There’s a standard which must be met.

Most of all, we want to be there for them.

Our kids want this guidance.  It might not seem like it in the moment, but they long for deep connection with us.  They say so resoundingly in anonymous surveys.

We want these deep conversations.  We want to know that they’ve thought through their choices.  We want to know they have and internal compass guiding them well when they’re out of our sight.  We want to be confident that they are safe out in the world.

More than anything else, we want to normalize having these conversations in our families.  That will make it so much easier for our kids to come to us when they really need us.

For all of these reasons, we commit to everyday conversations about sex and relationships.

We commit to being aware of the “bad news” and talking about healthy ways to protect our kids.  We commit to this proactive parenting.  We refuse to have our heads in the sand, avoiding the issue for our own comfort, or pretending that it’s better for our kids if we don’t talk.

Not an Ostrich aspires to provide you with the facts and tools you need to have those everyday conversations, to parent differently than you were parented, to create open communication and lasting change for your kids and your community.