Fostering Healthy, Safe, and Shame-Free Sexuality in Your Kids

As a parent, it’s up to you to educate your child on how the world works. Most of us have no problem teaching our kids about manners, hygiene, responsibility, cooking, and any number of essential life skills. And then there's sex… the topic that makes many parents cringe in dread. 

Sex has always been a very taboo topic between children and parents. Due to this, many children are left to figure everything out on their own, sometimes with disastrous results. Worse, some children are made to feel ashamed for being curious about sex or for having sexual desires. Many parents today know that they don’t want their children to be ignorant about sex or feel shame around it, but they have no idea how to go about creating a sex-positive environment.

In this blog post, we'll provide guidance on fostering an open conversation, addressing questions, setting boundaries, and promoting a positive approach to sexuality that lays the foundation for emotionally healthy and informed individuals.

Start early: Age-appropriate conversations

Open discussions about sexuality should start early and evolve as children grow. Age-appropriate conversations are key to introducing children to the concept of their bodies, boundaries, and intimate relationships. Use simple language and provide factual information. Address their questions sincerely and avoid shaming or dismissing their curiosity. Remember that creating a safe space for communication builds trust and encourages children to come to you with their concerns.

Below are some examples of possible age-appropriate discussions around sex and sexuality:

Preschool (Ages 3-5):

Early Elementary (Ages 6-8):

Pre-adolescence (Ages 9-12):

Early Adolescence (Ages 13-15):

Late Adolescence (Ages 16-18):

Remember, these conversations should be ongoing and adapted based on your child's maturity and level of understanding. The goal is to create a safe and supportive space where they feel comfortable asking questions and discussing their thoughts and feelings about sexuality. If your child ever asks a question that makes you too uncomfortable to answer on the spot, be careful not to display anger, discomfort, or judgment. Instead, tell them that you’re not sure how to answer and you’ll need to do some thinking/research and get back to them.

Use correct terminology

Using accurate and age-appropriate terminology for body parts helps normalize discussions about sexuality. When children know the correct names for body parts, they can better communicate their feelings and concerns. Avoid using euphemisms or nicknames, as they may hinder clear communication and send the message that certain body parts are shameful or embarrassing.

Address curiosity with non-judgment

Children are naturally curious about their bodies and sexuality. Encourage their questions and let them know that it's normal to be curious. Offer answers that are truthful and age-appropriate. Avoid shaming or dismissing their curiosity, as this can create barriers in future discussions.

Younger children may touch their private parts in front of others, not realizing that this is not socially acceptable. Do not punish or shame them, as doing so may communicate that there is something shameful about their body parts or about touching their own body. Instead, educate them. Teach them that there is nothing wrong with exploring their body, but because private parts are private, they must do so in the privacy of their own room. You can also teach them to wash their hands before and after if you are concerned about hygiene.

Teach about boundaries and consent

Respect your child's boundaries and teach them to respect others' boundaries as well. Teach them that their body belongs to them, and no one should touch them inappropriately. Encourage them to communicate if they feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Additionally, respect their need for privacy, especially as they enter adolescence. This helps foster a sense of autonomy and reinforces their right to personal boundaries.

Teaching children about consent from a young age empowers them to understand their rights and boundaries. Explain the concept of consent in age-appropriate ways, such as asking for permission before hugging someone or playing with their toys. As they grow older, discuss the importance of enthusiastic and ongoing consent in romantic relationships.

Be a role model

Your attitudes and behaviors surrounding sex and relationships greatly influence your child's perception of sexuality. Be a positive role model by demonstrating healthy relationships, open communication, and respect. Show your child what it means to have mutual consent, emotional connection, and support in a partnership.

Promote media literacy

Media plays a significant role in shaping perceptions of sexuality. Help your child develop media literacy skills to critically analyze the messages they receive from various sources. Discuss the portrayal of relationships and sexuality in movies, TV shows, and social media, and guide them to recognize healthy portrayals from unrealistic or harmful ones.

Be prepared for pornography

Pornography is everywhere on the internet, and chances are that your child will stumble across it (or look for it) at some point. To prevent this from happening early, monitor their usage of the internet and do not give them unrestricted, unsupervised access to devices like smartphones or computers. Be careful with apps like YouTube, which may allow them to find and view inappropriate videos.

If you discover that your child has seen pornography, it is crucial that you discuss it with them. Again, this should be an age-appropriate conversation; an 8-year-old stumbling across pornography is very different from a 15-year-old actively searching for it.

For younger children:

Let them know that they are not in trouble and that they can always come to you with this kind of thing. Stay calm and find out where and how they saw it. Let them know that you are sorry they had to see that and that such images are not good for kids. If they were looking for it, reiterate that it’s natural for them to be curious and you understand why they were looking. Then, ask them if they have any questions about what they saw. Make space for their feelings - they might be feeling disturbed, guilty, or just plain weird. This conversation will give you a good idea of how the experience affected your child. If you are concerned that they suffered trauma, you can take them to a therapist for help.

If your child was looking for the material, set the rule that they should not be looking for things like that online because there is a lot of harmful content out there. Instead, they should come to you with questions. Offer to get them an age-appropriate book illustrating bodies or how sex works if they are curious.

For older children:

If your older child was actively seeking pornography, your first instinct might be to shame them for doing something they knew you wouldn’t approve of. This will backfire, as it will make them less likely to talk to you about difficult issues. It could also cause them to go to greater lengths to hide their online activity.

Instead, approach the topic calmly. Your child will likely be feeling an immense amount of embarrassment, fear, or shame. Let them know that it’s natural to be curious and to feel desire. Explain your concerns around their viewing of porn. Chief among them could be that porn can give children an unrealistic view of sex, since it is fiction. Real sex and relationships rarely function the way they do in porn. It can perpetuate sexist views, since mainstream porn centers the man’s experience and may portray women being treated poorly. Certain types of porn may also glorify a lack of consent. While an adult viewing such porn (hopefully) understands that such behavior is not acceptable in real life, a child might form a dangerous and unhealthy idea of what is and isn’t normal.

Then, establish or rehash rules around online activity with your child. This should be a collaborative effort; work to come up with a system that your child can agree with. This might involve leaving their phone in a common area at night, random phone checks, screen time limits, or web filters. As you establish these rules, make sure that your child understands that the purpose is not to punish them but to protect them.

Turn to a professional for help

Raising sex-positive kids involves creating an open and supportive environment where children can safely explore and understand their sexuality without shame or judgment. At Medens Health, we believe in empowering parents to initiate and nurture a healthy and shame-free dialogue about sexuality with their children. Our team of caring mental health professionals can assist you in navigating this difficult area with your child. If you are looking for family or child therapy in California or Nevada, get in touch by phone or text at (833) 624-5400 or send us a message using our online contact form.


The information provided in this blog is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Reliance on any information provided in this blog is solely at your own risk. Always seek the advice of your physician or a qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding your medical or mental health. If you don’t currently have a therapist, we can connect you with one who is qualified to give you safe, professional, and ethical advice regarding your mental health.

If you or someone you are responsible for is experiencing a medical emergency, is considering harming themselves or others, or is otherwise in imminent danger, you should call 9-1-1 and/or take them to the nearest emergency room.