A Parent’s Guide to Using the Internet for Sex Ed

Children’s curiosity is ok.  As they grow, it’s important to mindfully attend to what things they are interested in and then, as their parent, guide them as best you can.  Here are a couple examples.

Recently, my friend Jean’s daughter Kelly has had a bit of a fixation on breasts. A few times she’s asked to see mine. Other times she just wants to touch my breasts. Personally, I am a little shy and uncomfortable with showing other mom’s kids my boobs. I don’t know¦ call me crazy. 🙂 Sometimes when she asks me it calls to mind the SNL skit of Helen Mirren’s Magical Bosoms (here’s an excerpt)

I didn’t want to shame or embarrass Kelly for asking but I wanted to make sure I modeled holding firm boundaries (and no, “boundaries” is not a euphemism for my boobs). I gently told her that I was uncomfortable with her touching my breasts but that was my feeling and there was nothing wrong with her curiosity.

Jean and I sat down and talked about an approach to address her curiosity about breasts without showing requiring me to show her mine. We did not want to shame her curiosity “ after all, that’s a natural thing for a kid.  Where can one find pictures of human breasts?  Where is the first place a kid would think to go these days?  The internet: YouTube, Google, etc.  But approaching this situation requires a little more preparation and planning to implement.  If you sit down together to do a Google search with no advance preparation¦well, you never know what kinds of images a Google search will generate and you might subject yourself to a really awkward situation.

(I searched “boobs and “breasts for research purposes and it wasn’t pretty; the images that appear are neither “normative nor look like what most women have.  No wonder we get such messed up impressions of what is “normal. )

The approach we came up with was this: What about trying a Google search to look for some classic art paintings of the female form and not just “boobs. I figure it’s better to focus on the woman as a whole and not just the breasts, after all, they are just one part of a whole person.  Finding some of these images in advance and THEN sitting down together seems like a safer approach.  Sitting down with your child to discuss their interest and going over it in a format they’re comfortable with is meeting them where they are, right? Isn’t this what kids would do absent a parent’s direct involvement anyway? Only now YOU have taken some power to help guide your son or daughter in a healthy, informed, and positive manner.

One of our next trips with Jean and Kelly will be to go to a museum to look at the paintings there (I’ll let you know how that goes).  Again, something we can do together and talk about the images we see.  Processing real time and bringing it up again in an open forum.

Kids are interested in the human body yet not many people walk around the house naked.  Where are kids supposed to see the things in which they are interested?

And it’s not just breasts kids are interested in at this age.  Just the other day I got this email from a girl friend of mine who lives in the Midwest.  Her daughter Madison is 8 years old, in the 2nd grade, and loves animals. She’s a smart, resourceful girl¦just like her mama.  The email from my friend the mom went like this:

“Ok, just had a talk with Madison b/c I borrowed her iTouch and saw that she had been on YouTube searching “an animals penis.”

As I prepared for our conversation, I totally thought of you – so I told her it was fine to be curious, but that she broke our rules about using YouTube, so she has to have consequences.  But since she was so honest about what she’d done and didn’t blame anyone else, it was much less severe.  So, my question is, what do I do about her curiosity?”

I called my friend immediately and congratulated her on what I thought was a perfect response.  In my opinion, Madison was simply curious about something and, picking up on the cultural/playground cues of the word “penis being whispered and/or being used to shock adults, probably presumed this wasn’t something to ask openly.  I suggested they try sitting down together, acknowledge her curiosity and look for penises online together.  Initially I my friend and I discussed the classic art idea but I couldn’t think of any images of  penises in classic art paintings. The closest thing I could come up with was the statue of David. Then I remembered Madison was looking for animal penises. The best series I know of that talks about the reproductive habits of animals is the one by Isabella Rossellini on Sundance.com called “Green Porno.  Here is a YouTube synopsis of the series (28 episodes so far):

There are plenty of examples of various animal penises there.  This series is scientifically accurate and wildly entertaining.  I’ve learned quite a bit about animal copulation myself (given that I haven’t studied this in my human sexuality studies).  Ms. Rosselini is throughly entertaining as she singularly explains each animal and their courtship, mating and sexual behaviors through paper costumes, puppetry, and marionette play.  They are very humorous, informative, and if you can suspend your own parental embarrassment (remembering your embarrassment is not your child’s embarrassment), they are fascinating to watch together.  I suggested my friend and her daughter check some of these out together.

Situations like both of these instances with my friends and their kids are happening everyday in households all around the country.  I think parents need to be more attentive to their children and what these kids are NOT saying out loud.  I’m not saying you need to read their minds but you should be looking for opportunities to ASK THEM what’s happening in their lives; stay aware. Also, remember your experiences are not their experiences.  Children do not generally have the embarrassment that their parents have (although they do certainly learn that behavior quickly).  Most importantly, do not punish them for their curiosity. Stop, breathe, think about what they are trying to figure out, and ask them.

When kids are searching online or in magazines is when they’re curious. It’s a good time to sit down together and search together. You never know what might pop up if they do a Google search on their own and you’re not there to help guide things.  You may need to do a little lesson planning or stacking the deck in your favor in advance, but the payoffs are rewarding.


The MamaSutra

The MamaSutra

Mother of two girls. Holds a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) and a Certificate in Women's Studies from UW-Madison. Graduate of IASHS as Master of Human Sexuality. The articles you read here have goals in two main areas. 1) I strive to normalize conversations about sex and sexuality between parents and their children. To me this means helping parents accept and nurture their daughters' budding sexuality so they grow and learn to respect their bodies and accept their whole selves as they grow into strong, beautiful, powerful and healthy women. 2) Female Sexual Empowerment. Women deserve to learn about and explore the pleasure that can be felt through a full sexual life - however each of us may define that - without guilt, shame, or embarrassment.

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5 Responses

  1. Puck says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. I get a vicarious thrill whenever I see parenting done right. It reminds me that I don’t have to have kids in order to rear a good new generation. Awesome people like you are doing it already. 🙂

  2. Tom Jones says:

    Like many other children, I was very curious about the genitals of the opposite sex. It was baffling that I wasn’t allowed to see pictures of them, because they were described as “obscene”. Yet I could watch the documentaries on TV about the holocaust whose images I thought were also “obscene” (and gave me nightmares).
    So I found out about genitals via pornography, a bit like learning about politics from watching South Park (quite enjoyable, but with a complete lack of context and accuracy).
    So we have generations of kids who grow up with a completely distorted view of their bodies (and others), where adults pretend that “reproduction” is the same as sex education, that is completely devoid of values and social context.
    When did you last hear of sex education teaching about slut-shaming (a lesson on respect, values, bullying), oral sex, porn, how religion(s) view sex, etc etc.

  3. These are two good examples of what kids might be curious about — because it’s never what you think they might be curious about, and you also never know precisely when they will be curious about something.
    Recently my 8.5 yo daughter said, ‘Mom, I have something I’ve been wanting to ask you for a long time. When will I know it’s time to have sex? Will you tell me?” First, I had to process that, at eight, she was waiting “a long time” to ask that question! (What? Since when you were 5??) Then, I had to realize that she wasn’t asking me a technical question — like is it time to have sex after you’ve been kissing, etc.
    She was asking if I would be giving her permission to do so and when — like when we’ve told her she can be alone at the house at 11, or begin driving at 16. I thought about it and my answer was, Yes. Yes, I’ll let you know when you’re ready — because, for now, that is the best answer I could give and it’s the truth. I’ll be guiding her along as she goes through puberty and as her impulses and desires develop, and I will help her know when it’s the best time.
    I did tell her that Trust was the most important thing to consider when choosing a sexual partner, more important than love.

  4. Sandra G says:

    Tough topic, however necessary discussion to address a child’s natural curiosity.  i say well handled in both situations.  Great opportunity to discuss anatomy with your children.  

    Being open & addressing the questions off the bat, makes it more likely your child will come back to you with their questions again.  Especially when it comes to the topics of sex or drug or alcohol. You’d rather they gain that info from you where you can be as best prepared for those topics as possible rather than the answers coming from their friends.


  1. 04/01/2012

    […] other day, as I wrote the post to help parents with using online content to talk to your kids, I made a reference to Isabella Rossellini’s series “Green Porno”. While I was […]