Think back to fifth or sixth grade. Remember that awkward spring afternoon when Mrs. So-and-So announced that the boys would be leaving the classroom with Mr. Teacher Man while the girls remained behind? Remember that man's voice narrating the video, how it was oddly formal, as if he were dictating a special report on the 6 o'clock news?
A few kids at the back of the classroom giggled as the short, outdated film about periods and babies and endocrine glands blinked from the screen. After the video, the teacher cleared her throat and approached the front of the classroom, asking if there were any questions. Remember how silent that room was? How you could see red crawling up the ears of a few classmates? Remember wanting to know more? To see more? To feel more, like holding someone's hand, or French kissing that kid you rode the bus with every day?
A couple years later, most of us experienced some variation of the dreaded sex-education class in middle school, but few of us were told how it really feels to be aroused or what kinds of emotions might come up when we really, really want to do it with Ralph Macchio or the lifeguard at the public pool. Mostly, we were told—with varying degrees of assertiveness—that all of the hot, raging, dizzying sexual desires of our youth should really just be saved for "later." In other words, for marriage.
Eventually, through sneaking copies of your brother's Playboy magazines and watching the pool house scenes from Fast Times at Ridgemont High and reading "How to Win a Man with Superior Blowjob Techniques" articles in your neighbor's sister's Cosmo, you fumbled your way into an active sex life, grew up and maybe had kids of your own. And you realized one night that Aw, shit. My kid will someday be doing it, too. Now what?
"It's important to incorporate into your everyday parenting the assumption that your kids are going to grow up and be sexually active, relationship-having people and you [should] treat their sexual health like you treat all of the other parts of their health," says sex-positive parenting expert Airial Clark.
According to Clark, sex-positive parenting is not just about lecturing our kids to use condoms so they don't get pregnant or infected with STIs—which, however, we absolutely should be doing (the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention reports that young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are infected with diseases like chlamydia and gonorrhea at a whopping rate four times higher than the rest of us). In fact, Clark says that talking to kids about safe sex happens to be the easiest aspect of having sex-related dialogue with our kids. But, she points out, there's much more that we should include in our conversations, regardless of how squeamish it makes us.