Sex Ed Is Every Day

Sex ed is not something we do once. It’s not something we talk about “when they’re old enough“. It’s really not something to leave exclusively to schools, or chance, or experiential learning.

Sex ed is every day.

Sex ed is teaching children, of any age, that their bodies are their own; it is making sure they know what bodily autonomy is (whether or not they know the word), and that they have it, and everyone else has it too.

Sex ed is answering their questions about pubic hair, and armpit hair, and facial hair, and breasts, and penises, and vulvas. (Sex ed is making sure they know words like breast and penis and vulva because they’re a part of your every day vocabulary.)

Sex ed is telling kids that most women have vulvas but some don’t, that most men have penises but some don’t. (Sex ed is telling them that penises and vulvas and men and women aren’t the only ways to be.)

Sex ed is telling them that pads and sponges and tampons and cups are for catching menstrual fluid; sex ed is telling them what menstrual fluid is.

Sex ed is knowing that when a kid is cranky and you need a moment’s respite, YouTube has abundant birth videos as well as cartoons.

Sex ed is setting boundaries around your body: “Yes, you may kiss my face, but please don’t lick my mouth; yes, you may pat my breasts but don’t brush my nipple; yes, you may watch me pee, but don’t touch my genitals.”

Sex ed is setting boundaries around behavior: “It’s fine to touch your penis/vulva/clitoris/testicles, but not while nursing/on the plane/in public/in front of your Grandparents.”

Sex ed is exposing children to the multitude ways of building a family: sex, and IVF, and adoption, and blending, and donors. It’s exposing children to the multitude variations of what family means: two parents of different genders or same, one parent, more parents, grandparents, others; families without children, families without blood relation, families without legal protection.

Sex ed is kissing: the way we kiss our kids, the way we kiss our partners, the way we kiss our parents; it’s the kissing they see in movies and the kissing they see on the streets and the kissing the see when we leave the door open, or they hear and wonder about in the dark. Sex ed is what we tell them about all the ways of kissing.

Sex ed is the other things they hear in the dark, and in the day time; sex ed is in where and how much and when we enact our sex lives, or not. Sex ed is the bed-side drawer we keep off limits (or don’t), and it’s the answers we give to what’s in there.

Sex ed is demonstrating that our bodies can give us pleasure; it’s hugs and back rubs and gentle touches. Sex ed is never teaching them to accept unwanted pain.

Sex ed is honoring their nos; sex ed is teaching them how to say yes.

Children are always learning; they are learning from what we say, and from what we don’t. If we say nothing, they are not learning nothing, they are learning that some things are unspeakable. Sex ed is not a one time course (though those can be great); sex ed is not a conversation to schedule, or put off, or plan out: sex ed is every day.

Do it well.


Sex and sexuality education resources. Learn, so you can teach your kids:

Scarleteen (highly recommended)

Go Ask Alice


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20 Responses to Sex Ed Is Every Day

  1. Incredibly well said. As usual!

  2. Well said, and thank you for being so inclusive!

  3. This is so well said. I just had a discussion with my 4 yr old the other day about my menstrual cup because she watched me change it. She got a bit concerned because of the blood, mostly because she knew I bled after her sister was born (She was there for the birth) She made the connection between my blood and babies all by herself.

  4. Well said! I use bath time as an opportunity to practice talking about different body parts with my son.

  5. This is so well said.

    I fear that I am not always doing this well. That I have too much shame that was instilled into me, and that’s negatively impacting the way that I talk to my kids. Or not so much negatively impacting, as leaving me without words. I really wish I didn’t find this so hard.

  6. Brilliantly said. The only thing, as a mother of daughters, that I’d add is: sex ed is talking about the cycles that most cis women’s bodies experience, and answering questions about it normally, naturally and without embarassment, whenever they ask. My almost-7 year old and 5 year old girls understand the full menstrual cycle and are not phased or frightened by the notion of it, because from the time they were old enough to notice and ask about pads, cups and bleeding (as I use both pads and a cup at different times), we have talked about menstruation, about why it happens, when it happens, about ovulation, and so forth.

    As for the boundaries issue, I personally think this is crucial. I think most people now understand the obvious problems associated with creating shame around touching genitals, but teaching children appropriateness and context is vital if they are to be able to negotiate the social norms of the world. I have a friend, for example, who, due to her own issues from her childhood, has declined to have any boundaries conversation with her boys (8, 5 and 2) and simply says, “Bodies are bodies, it’s not a big deal”. It’s starting to *be* a big deal for them socially, however, as the elder two are only now learning (painfully, at school) that it’s not generally socially acceptable to touch one’s genitals in class time, and that it’s not OK to touch an adult woman’s breasts simply because you want to and Mum has told you that no body parts, *your own or anyone else’s*, are off-limits.

  7. Scarleteen is a phenomenally awesome site; thanks for the links.

  8. There is an awesome sexuality curriculum called Our Whole LIves (which comes for all ages- K-12, young adult, and adult) developed and used by the Unatarian Universalist Church and the United Church of Christ. My kiddo is taking the first level for K-1, because, though we are confident that we’re doing it alright, sometimes it’s good for the kiddos to get the same message from someone who’s not “mommy” and “daddy”. We’re actually taking it with a church that’s not our home congregation, since we’re a smaller church, and I’m pretty sure many UU and UCC congregations would welcome people to join them for any OWL course they’re offering. The big church here in PDX offers it as a part of their sunday school curriculum, but, depending on the group size and teacher availability, it can be offered in a weekend, several weekends, or many weeks. For a perspective on time, the K-1 level is 8- 1.5 hr lessons, while the high school level is I believe 30 2hr lessons. More info can be found at

    Oregon law was recently revised to state that ALL students (k-12) are to receive age-appropriate comprehensive sexuality education.

    A good (not great, but good) curriculum that’s a free download, if you homeschool, can be found here:

    More good links for info on sex ed and LGBT advocacy within schools:

    I’ve also got a 2 page LGBT web resources document if anyone’s interested, I’d be happy to share.

  9. Another useful resource I like it the Irish Crisis Pregnancy Agency’s free booklet, Busy Bodies. They say it’s for 10-14 year olds and it would be fine for that but there’s something about the artwork that makes it exactly the right level for my 3-4 and 5-6 year olds. It’s not like the books aimed at preschoolers, which suits them well, but it’s not a biology textbook either (though they like Grey’s Anatomy).

  10. I really love this article. And I love that it came the day after my husband and three-year-old had a protracted conversation about testicles and how they had them and I didn’t, which my son did not believe. It was both a humorous and a refreshing conversation to me, and also completely matter of fact.

    I really love your talk about boundaries as well. I think there is a risk of trying to avoid prudery by swinging toward a laissez-faire attitude, but every person is entitled to choose what body parts are touched. I refuse to feel guilty — or, conversely, to shame my child for his requests — when I decline to let him twiddle my other nipple while nursing or wipe me after I pee. (He’s helpful; what can I say?) I feel like presenting these boundaries myself is a way of modeling for him how he can do the same with his body, and I do try to respect (as far as possible with a young child) his requests not to have me touch a body part or to touch it in a certain way.

  11. Very well said. Interestingly I have a post ready to post at The F Word about how I’m teaching Orion sex education and asking readers how they’re doing the same.

  12. Nicely put. We humans are sexual beings, and education in being human must include sexuality. Like the other commentors, I like the boundary-setting you include in your education. Some things are done in the bedroom, and some in the bathroom, that are not OK to be done in the living room or the kitchen (at least when other people are around).

  13. I am curious about what you say when Boychick asks, “Why?” such as, “Why can’t I brush/twiddle/etc your nipple?” etc. Do you go into details? Samara is not very verbal yet, but I just wonder how far to go in explaining when she does start asking ‘why?’ or for specifics. Right now, if she touches my nipple, I tell her, “Mommy doesn’t like that” and redirect her. That may or may not work forever…

    I am so sad for the way sex is made into a shameful thing. When I was a child, curious about my body, my parents told me that we only touch our bodies in private, and it was fine. Then when I was 8, they became christians and began to make it into a shameful thing…something bad girls do, was the jist of it, really. So I struggled against this, feeling SO much guilt and shame, for years and years…ended up having sex far before I really wanted to, simply because I was bursting with curiosity, along with having many other really screwed up ideas about sex…then they refused to put me on birth control when I got up the nerve to ask, and instead proceeded to put me under lock and key for years, up until I was 20 years old and moved out of the house. I was having sex while I lived with them, but I was sneaking around and lying and feeling horrible about it constantly. I also denied that I was attracted to women as well as men, for years. I hate that I had (and still have a bit of) this guilt and shame associated with sex, and it seems so common, especially among those who grew up in religious households.

    All of this was brought back to me in the most painful way recently, when a little girl I nanny for was touching herself, and her dad told in front of me, “Ladies don’t do that, honey. You need to stop.” It filled me with such revulsion and the memories of being a little girl and told much the same thing…I almost wept in these people’s living room. I must do things differently for my daughter.

    Needless to say, this was a timely post, and I shared it on Facebook…although my conservative, puritan-minded family & old friends will not enjoy it, perhaps it will speak to someone else.

    Thanks, as always, Arwyn, for the wonderful post.

  14. “Why?” in our house is answered with “Because my body is my body and I get to decide.” Correspondingly, their bodies are their bodies and they get to decide. It’s somewhat tricky around nappy changes but hasn’t been a problem with, eg, doctor visits yet.

  15. I will say, from a nanny’s point of view, that I find “girl parts” and “boy parts” or even “private parts” to be perfectly acceptable euphemisms when caring for someone else’s children. Otherwise, yes, I agree.

    I currently care for a 6-year old girl who had a few comments about some photographs of a lesbian couple. It led to a conversation about family. I thought her statement, “But they can’t make babies together,” was so funny and true and perfectly six, but also shows just how much she knows about people (and animals) reproduction and how comfortable she is talking about it.

  16. Ailbhe, so they choose whether or not they want to go to the doctor and such?

    I try to give my daughter as much bodily autonomy as I can. For example, when she is resisting getting into her car seat, I sit beside her until she is ready to sit (instead of forcing her to sit, buckling her while she arches her back & yells.) But sometimes I don’t know how to manage that. The little boy I nanny for whom, when he has had a bowel movement, doesn’t want me to clean his bottom, & can’t do it himself either, for example.

    I was raised very, very differently from this, and still learning, obviously.

  17. Pingback: Thinking too much « Navelgazing

  18. For doctors, so far we’ve been ok with making them *go* to the doctor but not forcing them to allow the doctor to touch them. For carseats, we have usually done brute force if they refused, I think, but since car use is extremely rare in our lives it hasn’t arisen for a long, long time, and anyway they’re old enough now to understand that the straps keep them safe – same with injections; they’ve seen me have needles done (mainly blood tests) to help me keep well, and they apply the same logic to their own necessary procedures, as far as I can tell.

    Bottom-cleaning is the one I find most difficult to deal with. It’s not so bad with boys but little girls really can’t have feces sitting around near their mucus membranes for too long; it’s tricky. The only thing worse for *me* is forcing infants to have medicine, in terms of the distress it can cause the child.

  19. Beautifully said. I concur.

    And also I hope that my 4-year old stops telling people about how our dog sometimes licks other dog’s pee-nuses at the dog park.

  20. Beautifully said and I concur. I have oh so many stories about our son and daughter that would support our shared approach to sex ed, but sharing them here would not be cool. I feel certain this is one aspect of parenting we’ve done well, but I’m pretty sure all the credit goes to my children for their good sense. Will definitely share this.

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