Children Look to Parents as Sexual Role Models

In spite of what we might think, according to this study, 45% of teenagers consider their parents to be their sexuality role models. Only 32% looked to their friends and just 15% took inspiration from celebrities.

So what does that mean for us as parents? It’s our job to portray healthy sexuality if we want to make sure our children don’t grow up with the hang-ups and hold-backs that many of us did. So many of us seem to think that sex is something we just shouldn’t discuss with our children outside of “the talk.” We fear that we’re going to embarrass them or ourselves, stimulate them to be hypersexual if we talk about it too much, give them a complex, and land them in therapy.

But the truth is that, unless we model healthy sexuality for our children, we’re going to land them in therapy one way or another. Or put them at risk for problems later on, which can lead to divorce, depression, the inability to orgasm, decreased libido, unsafe sexual behaviors, and other outcomes we surely want to help our children avoid.

My Role Models

My parents modeled a strange hybrid sort of sexuality. I was raised in a very religious home, so it was made very clear to me early on that sex was reserved for marriage, and until then, it was a sin to even think about it. (In fact, I was taught that thinking about it was just as bad as having it, so I figured, what the hell? Might as well go all the way…)  So on one level, I grew up very repressed. I remember the first time a boy touched my boob, and it felt so good, but I also felt so guilty and shamed, and I definitely could never tell my mother.  And the first time I had sex? Forget it. We weren’t married, so I had to hide it and felt guilty for years, even though I was in college and definitely old enough to make my own choices by then.

On another level, my parents were great role models for healthy sexuality within the confines of marriage.  They were virgins when they got married, but after that, they apparently went at it like bunnies and weren’t shy about letting us know this fact.  They made out in the kitchen, we found their sexy hiding spot for fun accoutrements, and I’ll spare you the details of how my brother and I would know when they had had sex- but we did. And we kept track. Thinking back, it was impressive.

So I grew up with a mixed bag. Have great sex and have it often because married people are supposed to be sexual, but don’t even think about it until then. Personally, I found it hard to flip the switch.

Sleeping Arrangements

Now, as a parent, I’m faced with trying to model healthy sexuality for my daughter. My hubby and I have been challenged regarding this issue. When our daughter was three, we moved into a three-storied house that had a giant two-level master bedroom on the top floor and all the other bedrooms were down three flights of stairs on the bottom floor. We felt Siena was just too little to sleep down three flights of stairs in a strange new house, so we set up her room in the lower level of the master bedroom, which is separated from us by a half wall, but no door.

Needless to say, while this has been good for Siena’s sense of safety and attachment, it has sucked for our sex life. Fortunately, she’s a sound sleeper who never wakes up once she’s asleep. But forget pleasure moans, much less orgasmic screams. Not to mention, there’s always that bit of hesitation that Siena will wake up and catch us in the act.

And what if she did? Would it scar her for life or demonstrate something positive – that her parents actually have sex and are still passionate for each other after nine years together?

I’m not sure, but I’d prefer not to find out.

Sexuality At Home

While I’d rather not have my 5 year old witnessing her father and I in the act, we do make efforts to model healthy sexuality around the home.  Matt and I engage in our share of PDA. We kiss and hug openly and invite her to join us when we do (family hug fest!)  We all walk around naked without shame in the mornings when we’re getting ready and at night when we’re bathing. Siena knows the names of her girly parts and mine, and she asks about things like when she’s going to get hair on her vulva and when she’s going to get boobies like mine.

For years, Siena said, “First, I was a twinkle in your eye, then you swallowed me. Then I grew in your belly, and finally, I popped out of your stomach.” Now she knows a very tame version of the birds and the bees and was a little horrified to discover that some babies don’t come out of tummies (I had a  C-section) and that most come out of vaginas. (She has since decided that coming out of a vagina is better than getting cut open. Smart girl!)

We’ve also talked about periods and she knows the day will come that blood will come out of her vagina, and it will herald her ability to have a baby, even if she’s not really old enough or ready emotionally.

My goal is to raise my child with as few sexual hang-ups as possible so she can one day be unapologetically Siena in the bedroom and in life.

What About You?

Do you model healthy sexuality for your children? How do you balance modesty and comfort with your body and sexual life? How young is too young to talk about sex? Have you healed your own views of healthy sexuality if need be? Share your experiences here.

Trying to raise a healthy child,


Lissa Rankin, MD: Founder of OwningPink.comPink Medicine Revolutionarymotivational speaker, and author of What’s Up Down There? Questions You’d Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend and Encaustic Art: The Complete Guide To Creating Fine Art With Wax.

Learn more about Lissa Rankin here.


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Kiana Siino
Kiana S.4 years ago

Great article Lissa. It's such a difficult subject. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

David Ross
David Ross4 years ago

These are amazing themes found here... Very interesting. Thanks a lot for the share.and very beautiful....
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Lika S.
Lika S.4 years ago

Well, we've already done phase one of "the talk" a little over a year ago, and we're getting ready to do phase two.

The subject of rape came up, and my son asked. So I was honest, that it's a power thing, to make the victim feel shame. I explained that sex is supposed to be fun, and while we should never force it upon people, nor should we rush into it, the enjoyment is what is the important part, to help bond humanity... But to be very careful.

Anyway, we'll talk more on that soon enough, and I'm trying to be a good example, and to be open about communication. So, the 32% who rely on friends? I want my son to be able to give them the same wise advice I give him... It's not just for my child, but to spread throughout.

Nancy Mayer
Nancy Mayer4 years ago

Well written article--- I was never as deliberate as this article says. then again I only had boys so I never had the chance to educate a girl.

Helle H.
Helle H.4 years ago


Tana D.4 years ago

I don't have kids yet, but I'm a bit conflicted on this. I certainly don't want to be like my parents. Dad said nothing about it until I was 18-19 and then he was drunk and said way too much. My mother...oh boy. Started my period at 10, prior to that (think 6 mths when I was getting cramps and my body was preparing), all I got was a "you'll start your period and then you'll be able to have a baby". Nothing about sex until I was 16 and she was chewing my ass out for flirting with a guy, who I subsequently lost my virginity to because of the fact that she sat there and lectured me for 2 hrs and I just wanted to rebel. Had she been more cool and open about our harmless teenage flirting I can guarantee I wouldn't have had sex with him. Needless to say, I don't want to be anything like my parents were, but have no idea exactly what I'll do as I don't have anything to go by. It will certainly be interesting. All I know is I'd like for them to wait longer than I did, but be able to come to me and talk openly regardless of when they start having sex so I can help them take the necessary precautions.

Treii W.
Treii H.4 years ago

great article! I would rather have my future kids know about sex from me rather than their friends.

Gloria H.
Gloria H.4 years ago

I wish I had seen my parents cuddle more. I have come out of the closet as a cuddler.Making up for lost time.

Victoria M.
Past Member 4 years ago


Matilda H.
Past Member 4 years ago