NYC-Parents in Action Two-Part Series: Your Child, Sex and Self-Esteem: Starting the Conversation, Fostering Trust

Lindsay Fram on “Raising Sexually Smart Kids” – October 14th, 2021 Webinar

By Melanie Wells

How do you bridge the awkwardness gap and start talking confidently to your young children about sex?

Humor helps! That was the message from Lindsay Fram, a NYC-based sexuality educator, who has been striving to make the world a sexually smarter and sexually safer place for over 20 years, at NYC-PIA’s October 14 “lunch and Learn webinar.  Lindsay works with kids from Kindergarten to college, and with the parents and caregivers who care for them, giving children and adults support they need to communicate honestly, easily and often. Lindsay is co-author of Above the Waist: Sexuality Education Beginning with the Brain, and holds a Master’s degree in Public Health from Tulane University.

In a lively and engaging talk, filled with warmth, humor and practical tips, Lindsay began with an explanation of what she means by “sexually smart” kids: “Sexually smart kids are sexually safer, more sexually secure and secure enough to ask for help if they need it,” she said. As they get older, they are also secure enough to talk about sexual boundaries, and to hear “no” without becoming upset. Raising sexually smart kids must start early, Lindsay said, so they can become sexually smart teens and adults.

“Sexually smart kids are sexually safer, more sexually secure and secure enough to ask for help if they need it.”

Lindsay compared teaching about sexuality to teaching math: basics first. In math, you first teach kids to count so later they can learn to add and divide and eventually do algebra and  calculus. Teaching basics establishes a base to build gradually to more complex skills.

Before diving into specifics, Lindsay posed a question to the audience: On a scale 1-5, she asked,  how confident do you feel talking to your child about sexuality?

She shared an online interactive feature so parents could respond through their devices in real time. The answers came in quickly, as Lindsay wrangled the data to produce a result: a median score of 3.5.  She noted her goal was “for you to feel about +1 point higher by the end of this talk!”

The talk” is awkward for everyone, said Lindsay. Parents often ask for guidelines, like, which parent speaks with which kid? Moms with daughters and Dads with sons? Lindsay said families thrive with one parent or two parents of the same sex – and all can make it work. No rules, she assured the audience, except one: that the parent having the conversation be “caring, kind and ready to listen.”

She promised to give practical tips on having fruitful conversations, but first she shared a few videos depicting other parents having “the talk” and displaying typical awkwardness:


Q (Parents): Do you know where babies come from? Or, Do you know what intercourse is?
A (Kids): “Kids are made of water”; or “ Sperm and egg collide – I learned it from my brother,” or, “Does the baby come through the butt?” or, “Uh, they have sex. I told you Nick told me a lot of stuff.”

Once the parents take the plunge with the big reveal, the kids respond to the actual facts with giggles, suspicious expressions, or ‘eww.’ “Sperm comes out of your penis.” – Eww! “Daddy has to put his penis in the ‘pocket’.”- Eww!

Lindsay said there was “a lot you can learn from those parents – some things we want to be doing, some we want to avoid.” So, how can parents make sure they hit the high points and avoid the pitfalls? “Here are my 5 big tips,” said Lindsay:


1.) Laugh together – Acknowledge and embrace what is awkward and funny. Sexuality doesn’t have to be all serious; there can be serious outcomes, but mostly that’s “not what we’re talking about with young kids.”

She suggested one way to normalize sexuality is to be casual, a little irreverent – don’t be afraid to laugh together as you talk.

“If you are not super comfortable talking about it that’s totally fine,” added Lindsay, “but TELL your kids you feel a little weird, and ask, how about you?” She suggested “celebrating” together that, though uncomfortable, you’re going ahead and talking anyway. This way kids can learn that when they’re older, communication is still possible and they needn’t avoid conversation just because it’s awkward.

2) Be Honest – Let the truth in, Lindsay said, adding an example: “The truth is, when young people ask about gay people, they’re asking about love, not sex.” “All you need to say is some girls love girls and some boys love boys.” The bottom line should be, “everyone deserves to be loved.”

She also advocated sticking to truth in danger areas: “Violence is never how we show love: the truth,” and advised parents that kids should know “the truth about how babies are made by Kindergarten.”

She suggested saying, “You can ask me anything; even if I don’t feel comfortable I’ll give you an honest answer.”

3.)  Meet them where they are. Questions can set off panic. Parents may just ignore hard questions, or may ask, “Where did you hear THAT?” to avoid answering what feels too difficult. However, the child may not be asking as much as you think. Lindsay advised first finding out how much kids already know, and what they want to know – they may not need full detail yet. She advised buying time before answering. Smile, and say, “Now, that is a great question,” and give yourself “a little time to think” while you frame an answer. If you get a question you can’t answer in the moment, like, “What’s an orgasm?” when you’re standing in the grocery store line, she advises saying, “That’s a great question and I’ll be sure to answer it later.”

If you do feel ready to answer, ask, “Can you tell me a little about what you already know? Or tell me about why you are asking me this question?” This will give you an idea where to start. First share just a little, and see if there’s a follow-up question. Avoid sharing more than they actually want to know.

Lindsay addressed more difficult scenarios: “What if you found porn on their computer or phone screen?” You can say, “I want to talk to you about something. I saw naked people on your video – what do you know about that?”

For the kid who doesn’t want to talk or says “I already know all about that” – you can say “Okay but there are a few things I want you to hear directly from me.” Lindsay suggests setting a timer and saying, “this is important to me, and I want you to hear this information from me. I’ll set the timer 3 minutes, then it’ll be over and you can ask questions for as long as you like.” (And if there are no questions, then stop after the promised three minutes. Keep your word.)

Finally, sugar can help the conversation go down – you can serve treats when you talk!

4). Use “Classroom Words” Words like vulva, vagina, clitoris, penis. Metaphors and slang words  are not as good, Lindsay said, because “we use them for shameful and secretive” things.  She added, “Genitals may be PRIVATE, but they’re not a secret. We know everyone has them.” Slang and euphemism are associated with shame. The ideal is for healthy sexuality to be associated with joy, not shame.

She specifically addressed girls’ genitalia: Teach your child the word vulva, not just vagina, she said. She showed a diagram of the female external genitalia and talked about function: “With penises we talk about everything a penis does – urination, ejaculation” but when we talk about a vagina, we only talk about reproduction, not urination, nor the “primary pleasure source – the clitoris, which often goes unnamed.” If the clitoris is “never named,” the pleasure piece is left out.

5.) Share your values:  If you aren’t certain what your values are, think about it. What do you believe about sexual matters? What do you hope your child will or won’t do? Know how to finish these key sentences:

In this family we believe….. (fill in the blank)

I hope you will………..(share your hopes for them)

On the subject of consent, be clear. Say, “No one can touch your body without your consent,” but be sure you live by that value in all situations. Don’t make your children accept a kiss or hug from a relative if they do not want to. Don’t sacrifice their boundaries for the sake of possible hurt feelings of an adult.

On the subject of consent, be clear. Say, “No one can touch your body without your consent,” but be sure you live by that value in all situations. Don’t make your children accept a kiss or hug from a relative if they do not want to. Don’t sacrifice their boundaries for the sake of possible hurt feelings of an adult.

Lindsay noted that your values can make a difference in your child’s behavior. If teens are asked why they’ve decided not to have sex, they usually say family beliefs are part of the decision. Your input does make a difference.

Lindsay offered one last interactive exercise, asking, “What are the words you want your kids to use about sex when they’re older (teens, adults?)” Audience answers flew in, creating a word cloud of lovely images: Comfortable, safe, joyous, healthy, trusting, amazing, happy, fulfilling, safe, enjoyable, connected, meaningful, pleasurable, respectful. Lindsay praised the list.

“With these words in mind,” she said, and with “a goal of raising sexually safe and secure kids,” please do remember that “they may forget what you said but will never forget how you made them feel.” If you approach sexuality conversations with that word cluster in mind, your kids will remember, she said.

Lindsay then took a few questions:

Q: I’m resigned to the fact my son will be exposed to porn – what can I do to prepare him?

A: Usually at first a child accidentally stumbles on something, or a friend shows them on a phone.
If you do not want your kids watching porn, say it’s for adults. Although it’s for entertainment, porn often acts as an educational tool for kids. You don’t want that.

Lindsay suggested saying, “You may already know what I’m talking about but I want to talk to you about sex on the internet.” This is a good time to share your values, even as you validate their curiosity. Say, “It’s normal to be curious about sex and other people’s bodies, so if you see something you don’t understand, you can talk to us, it’s perfectly fine. But in our family, we believe watching porn is for adults, not for kids, and we don’t want you to watch it.”

Lindsay sounded a warning: CLEAR YOUR BROWER HISTORY. Sometimes kids see porn because an adult was using the same device and forgot to clear browsing history.

Q: Should I lock the bathroom door when bathing?

A: As soon as it’s safe for kids not to be in the bathroom with you, it’s a matter of your family’s values and what feels comfortable for everyone. Some families are happy to shower together. If you’re comfortable with your child around you when you’re naked, fine. But as soon as someone wants privacy, respect their right to it. If you want it, it’s your right. Lindsay noted the opportunity to share values. Say, “In this family, we respect everyone’s privacy, and I’d like privacy while I shower.” Ask your kids what privacy they would like. You might agree to knock before entering their bedrooms.

Q: What do we say when asked about people dating others of same gender?
A: When young people ask about same sex relations, they’re asking about love, not sex. With respect to a heterosexual couple, you wouldn’t assume kids are asking for details of the couple’s sex life. “We don’t share that about same sex couples either.” Instead, say that “some people love boys, some love girls, some love their same sex and some just love people and are happy to be with any person they really like.” The message is that “everyone deserves to be loved, and be in love.”

It was a sweet note to end on, and one we can all heartily wish for our own dear children.

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