“Mommy, what’s your job called again?” my nine-year-old asked me. When you’re a sex coach in a world where just the word sex can cause consternation, navigating conversations about your profession can feel like a minefield. Add children to the mix and we’re even more likely to feel anxiety about the topic. If you’re a sex coach in training, you may still be working on telling anyone what exactly you plan to do, so the idea of creating a child-friendly version may feel impossible. How do you talk to your kids about working as a sex coach? Maybe you should quit and become a dentist or something instead? (Just kidding!) Read on for ideas about how to talk to your children about your career.
Begin by identifying your fear
First, what are the fears or worries you have around this? If you can name your specific concerns, it’s much easier to determine how to approach the conversation. Plus naming your concern sometimes helps you to see a lack of logic in your fear. At the very least, you can fact-check yourself.
Your concerns will probably vary depending on the age(s) of your child(ren) and what level of understanding and communication you already have with them about sexuality. It also depends on your current comfort level talking to young people about complex and sensitive topics. Just because you’re a sex coach doesn’t mean you’re an expert at talking to kids about sex, and when it’s your own child it can be extra difficult. If you’d like more general information about talking to your child about sexuality, take a look at the following resources:
Our fears might be things like: people are going to think you’re a bad parent; that you have a lack of “morals;” that you engage in inappropriate talk (or worse, behavior) with children. Many parents fear that talking to kids about sexuality could somehow harm their innocence. We’re often so afraid we’re going to give them too much information too soon, that instead, we may end up not giving them any information, or giving them insufficient or even incorrect information.
When we don’t give them quality, honest, age-appropriate information, though, we run the risk of them arriving at their own conclusions—one of which is likely to be believing that what we do is something shameful that can’t be talked about. And if we lie to our kids in order to protect them, even when it’s something seemingly innocuous (things like, babies come from a stork for little ones, or only adults have sex), then we also set them up to not trust us once they discover the truth.
So how do you give them age-appropriate information about sexuality in general? You want to give them info that’s not false, and not too detailed or too complex for their age. The same guidelines are helpful for talking to your children about your work. I’ll give a couple of examples about sexuality questions and then specifically talking about your work.
What do your kids actually want to know about your career?
Are you sure you understood your child’s question? Do you know what brought that up? For example, if a child asks, “How old were you the first time you had sex?” They might not be asking because they really want to know about your experiences in detail. Rather they might be asking because they’re trying to figure out what is the “right” age/time for them.
If you’re a sex coach in training, maybe your child is asking what you’re studying because they want to know what’s taking up your time in the evenings sometimes. Or maybe your child is asking because at school the topic was jobs and they didn’t know what to say when someone asked about their parent’s job.
Ask them questions! It’s helpful if you can show you’re interested in what they have to say about the topic. And the more you can get a sense of what interest or motives they have related to the topic, the better the conversation is going to go.
What do they need to know, and how can you keep it clear and simple?
By “what they need to know,” I mean what degree of information can accurately answer their question in order to keep them safe and informed in the world, without completely overwhelming them.
For example, if a younger child is asking about where babies come from, you might say something like, “A sperm and an egg join together and grow inside of one parent. If you’d like, we can read a book about it to learn more.” Maybe their follow-up question is, “But how do the sperm and the egg get inside there!?”
If what they’re wanting to know is about how someone gets pregnant because they’re slightly concerned that it could happen to them, then you can customize your answer based on their age and maturity level. If they’re five years old, you might tell them pregnancy can only happen when people’s bodies are between certain ages. If that same question comes from a nine-year-old, then you might want to review the information you’ve discussed about puberty, and add that after puberty, just because a body could possibly carry a pregnancy, that doesn’t mean they’re going to suddenly wake up pregnant one day.
Then you have an opening to talk about how that does happen, if your child wants to know at that point. If not, you can assure them that you can talk about it another time when they get curious, or that they can look at a book about it, or they can always talk to Aunt So-and-So if they have questions and don’t want to talk to you.
When it comes to deciding what they need to know about your career, think about both their level of comprehension and what you want them to be able to say to others about your career.
If you have small children, keep in mind that unless you had the type of job that they’re very familiar with (like a teacher, babysitter, doctor, etc.), they probably don’t know or care much about what you actually do.
If you were an accountant, would you be wringing your hands trying to figure out how to explain tax codes to them? If they asked or if you wanted to tell them what you do beyond your job title as an accountant, you’d probably say something like, “I help companies with money.” And then they’re likely to say, “What are companies?” So either you’d come up with a simple explanation of companies, or maybe you would simplify it to, “I help people with money.” Then they still might think you go around handing people money or something similar, and that’s okay! They don’t need to fully understand.
As a sex coach, no matter what job title you decide to share with your little one(s), it’s ideal to have a very simplified explanation about what you do. For example, you can talk about any element of what you do, using simple key words like health, coach, teach, help, bodies, etc. You might say something like, “I help people learn about and feel good in their bodies.” For an extra simplified version, perhaps for a very young child, you might say something like, “I teach people about health.” When they’re a little older, you could expand to, “I teach people about sexual health,” and go on to explain your age-appropriate definition of “sexual.” Other suggestions could include:
- I talk to people about bodies and relationships.
- I learn about and teach people about health.
- I help people with things related to sexual health.
At some ages or in some situations, you might need to keep it completely bland and call yourself something like a health coach or even a health educator or teacher. As far as I’m concerned, this is different from lying; you’re not inventing something completely unrelated, you’re just changing the details to make your title more palatable, either for your child or for the general public. While it’s important for us as sex coaches to educate the public and reduce stigma about human sexuality, it’s not our children’s job to do all that when Ms. Molly’s kindergarten class is talking about firefighters and secretaries.
Even if your child is older, understands your title and the basics of your job, you still may want to help them decide when or if they might want to use a different title, if they talk about your job at all. Not because your job is shameful and not because sex is shameful—be clear about that. But your children need to know that other people’s parents don’t always have these conversations with them, and other people may feel embarrassed or uncomfortable about the topic.
Be realistic about the fact that we don’t live in a very sex-positive world, but that we want to. One of the tactics that I use the most with my kids is acknowledging what other people might believe or say while emphasizing what I believe and think, or what our family values about the topic may be. For example, I might say,
“You know how our rule is that touching your own vulva or penis is okay, but we do it in the bathroom or the bedroom, right? Well, some people don’t think that’s something okay to do at all. That’s okay for them to believe, but this is what I believe and why…”
When my kids were very little and my son liked to wear dresses, I said things like,
“In this family, we know that boys can wear dresses and girls can wear pants, right? People can wear what they want, right? But some people don’t think that, so when your brother wears his dress, people might say something different.”
Or sometimes we just need to give our kids a heads-up that other people think differently:
“We know sex (or penis, or vulva) isn’t a bad word, but if you’re using that word at school, some people may act like it’s a bad word.”
I also tell my kids that if people (especially adults) have questions about my job, then that person can ask me about it directly, so my kids know it’s not their responsibility.
Defining sex, sexual, relationships
With my kids, who are currently six and nine, the subject of sex as in sexual activity has mostly only come up so far with their pregnancy/baby questions. But we’ve talked about what sex means in relation to my work, where the description I give is usually about bodies, what people do with them, and how they think and feel about it. You might recognize this from Dr. Patti’s description of sexology as “the study of what people do sexually, and how they think and feel about it.”
Sometimes, especially when I talk about being a sex and relationship coach, we talk about what “relationship” means. We talk mostly about family, friendships, and how the way you feel about and treat yourself is a relationship, too. We also talk about different family/dating/marital relationships. For example, my best friend and his boyfriend just got engaged, so that was a great time to talk with my kids about how some people get married and some people don’t. Using the people you know, as well as other teachable moments from movies, songs, etc., is a great way to keep the conversation natural and ongoing.
If your child is a teenager, you’re probably already having conversations with them where you use the word sex more openly, and they probably already have a definition of what that is. That doesn’t mean that you can’t give them a better, more complex definition as you describe your work. Just like some adults may hear the title “sex coach” and picture someone with a whistle critiquing a couple in their bedroom, so may your teen. That’s probably not the image you want them to have. So your explanation might sound something like,
“I talk with (your client audience) about their sexual health and pleasure. Lots of times we talk about things like ways to feel better in their bodies, ways to communicate better with a partner, or how to figure out what interests them or feels good for them sexually. What questions do you have about that?”
How much of these conversations do your children understand and take in? It’s hard to know, because they don’t always repeat or reflect back about it—as you can see from my daughter’s question when she didn’t remember my job title. My kids (and maybe yours too) mostly know that Mommy has clients and meetings and sometimes works more than they’d like me to.
Regardless of your child’s age, you know best how to parent and talk with your child. Follow their lead, trust yourself, and above all, just stay open and curious. Be in this learning process together with them.