What Do I Tell My Child About Sex Toys?

I recently got the following email. Since I’m not a parent, I thought I’d ask a couple of our Sexy Mama writers for their insight. Check out their replies below.

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My seven-year old noticed that I had a Good Vibrations sweatshirt, and she asked me, “What’s Good Vibrations, Mama?” I stammered something like, “It’s an adult toy store.” “Oh! What are adult toys?”

She’s asked me this several times, and I have no idea how to respond.  We’ve talked about all the parts of her body, we’ve talked about masturbation and how it feels good but that it needs to be done in  private. She knows where her clitoris is. 😉 She knows about menstruation, and that babies grow in the mother’s uterus and come out  through the vagina, but she doesn’t know how the baby gets there yet.

I managed to tell her that one “adult toy” was a massager that a woman  uses on her clitoris to make it feel good, and she wanted to know more. I need words to tell her age-appropriate information without making anything too complicated. Help!

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From Quizzical Mama

My goal has always been to encourage my daughter (who is now three) to feel good about all parts of her body, including her genitals. I provide her with children’s sexuality education books that offer accurate and as comprehensive information as she can comprehend based on her age. What’s the Big Secret: Talking about Sex With Girls and Boys for example, gives age-appropriate information about masturbation among other subjects; I discuss this book at Love, Sex, and Family here. And I respond to all her questions in a natural, positive voice with the information she’s looking for, and with neither more nor less, since too much too soon can confuse her. But if she keeps asking, I’ll keep answering until she’s satisfied, for the time being.

When my newest Good Vibrations vibrator arrived recently in the mail, I told her it was a vibrator for mama, so the “adult toy question did not come up. And even with its bright pink color, this vibrator did not receive much interest from her. If it had, I would have told her that a vibrator or a sex toy is something adults can use to help their genitals feel good, for instance by touching one’s genitals with it. This is an answer that would make sense to her at this point, because while we’ve read sexuality education books that include information about conception, pregnancy, and birth (e.g. It’s NOT the Stork and It’s SO Amazing; both of which I discuss in my article at Show Off Books: Empowering young children to nurture a positive relationship with their genitals), her focus has been more on the baby in the womb and on how it comes out through the vagina, and not so much, or at all, on how the penis enters the vagina.

We have, however, talked about how genital touching feels good. “ When I began to notice her doing it, which is usually when she’s tired before nap or night, I would say to her: “that feels good, huh; to touch your genitals. And she is very proud of the fact that she can point out her labia, and she knows that her vulva has a clitoris and a vagina too. “ Here I go by the advice offered in From Diapers to Dating: A Parent’s Guide to Raising Sexually Healthy Children From Infancy to Middle School (2008) by sex educator Debra W. Haffner who emphasizes the importance of providing children with the accurate terms for all parts of the body, and who also stresses that genital touching is a natural behavior for babies and toddlers, exploring and learning more about their body. And that it is crucial not to shame the small child for this. (Haffner has been a human sexuality educator for more than twenty-five years, and served for twelve years as president of SIECUS“the country’s largest clearinghouse of sexuality education.) In any case, since we’ve talked about how genital touching feels good, telling my daughter that a sex toy such as a vibrator can be used to touch the genitals with and in this way enhance the good feeling would make sense to her.

If she were already into the game of Playing Doctor, which as Haffner points out is a common sex play between children from their preschool years, indicating “expected and natural childhood sexual curiosity and not a desire for “erotic fulfillment (56-57), I might have told her how sex toys also can feel good to use for adults when they have sex together.

If she were to ask for more details down the road about how a sex toy, say a vibrator, can be used with which to touch one’s genitals, I would show her how it vibrates and let her feel it on, say, her arm, and then tell her that using it to massage the area of the vulva, including the clitoris and the labia, and perhaps inserting it into the vagina too, can feel really good, and that it can feel good for me to do that both when I’m enjoying myself on my own or when I’m with her dad.

If she at one point were to ask if she can have a sex toy too, I would consider her age, maturity, and toy request. E.g. a strap-on toy would be out of the question until she’s reached the legal age of consent. But once her genital touching has taken on the more purposeful characteristic of masturbation, I would be fine with letting her have her own sex toy, especially a vibrator once she’s in her teens, as sex therapist Dr. Berman recommends.


From Jezebelle Jay

I think the best way to do it is just to say it. But also, I think it’s good to have a foundation about where babies come from, including how it gets into the uterus. That it makes it easier to say something like this:

Kid: “Oh! What are adult toys?”
Me: “So you know, this is adult stuff and its all gonna sound kinda gross to you right now. You still wanna know?”
Kid: “yes” (IF they do say this)
Me: “Well, you know how mommy told you that it feels good to have the clitoris massaged? AND you know how mommy said that a baby is made by a man putting his penis into her vagina? Well, it all sounds kinda icky to you right now, but to adults, it feels really good. And sometimes we are alone and want to have those same good feelings. So adult toys are made to touch the genitals in all kinds of ways that feel good for men and women.”

And probably the kid will either get really grossed out at that point and yell “EWWWWWWW!!!!”, or listen raptly and nod like they understand. OR they might stop you mid conversation and say they don’t want to hear any more. And then you stop. And say, “Well, if you want me to tell you more sometime in the future, just ask again.”

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Dr. Charlie Glickman

Charlie Glickman is the Education Program Manager at Good Vibrations. He also writes, blogs, teaches workshops and university courses, presents at conferences, and trains sexuality educators. He’s certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, and loves geeking out about sex, relationships, sex-positivity, love and shame, communities of erotic affiliation, and sexual practices and techniques of all varieties. Follow him online, on Twitter at @charlieglickman, or on Facebook.

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