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What is sex education?

When it comes to asking what is sex education, I’m not surprised that we get confused!

sex education… sex ed… sexuality education… sexuality and relationships education… the talk… the birds and the bees… comprehensive sex education… respectful relationships… abstinence only education… virginity pledges…

For something that has been happening for a long time, we call it a lot of things.

Today though, I am going to talk about what sex education is ie the sex education that occurs in the home. The type that happens when parents talk about sexuality with their kids.

You see, sex education is all about sexuality. And despite having ‘sex’ in its name, sex is just a small part of it.

You’ll find more information about sex education in my Sex Education 101 page.

Sex or Sexuality?

what is sex education

To understand what sex education is all about, it is important to understand the difference between sex and sexuality.

Sex is pretty simple. It can be seen as sexual intercourse (or sex) and gender (I am a boy or a girl or…).

Sexuality is big. It is a bit like the ‘tip of the iceberg’ ie there is a lot more to it than you think. It is more than sexual intercourse and reproduction. It is also about body awareness, relationships, our sexual identity, intimacy, sexual health and reproduction. Sexuality influences how we view ourselves and our bodies, how we interact with each other, how we fit into the world and how we express ourselves as individuals. It’s a dynamic process and changes as we learn and grow.

What is sex education?

When asking what is sex education, we know that it is a lifelong process of acquiring information and forming attitudes, beliefs, and values.

For kids, that means learning about things like bodies, babies, growing up, being a boy or a girl, love and closeness, sexual feelings, sexual expression, personal values and relationships. Kids build their understanding of these things a little at a time as they grow and mature.

Ultimately, sex education is about helping kids to  learn the skills theyto learnform strong friendships and to have healthy loving relationships throughout their life. Pretty important stuff, huh?

Sex education begins at home

The best sex education for kids is when Daddy pats Mommy on the fanny when he comes home from work.

William Masters.

Parents have long been recognised as a child’s first source of information about sexuality. But before you start talking, it is a good idea to know what sex education is first.

From the moment your child is born, you are teaching them about love, touch, and relationships. As they grow from a baby to a toddler to a preschooler, you are teaching them as you talk to them, dress them, show affection, and teach them the names of the parts of their bodies. As they reach puberty and grow into teenagers, they’ll continue to receive messages from you about sexual behaviours, attitudes, and values.

But kids don’t just learn about sexuality from you in the home. As they grow older, they begin to have more and more contact with the outside world. Your kids will also learn about sexuality from other sources such as friends, television, music, books, advertisements and the Internet. And depending on what school they go to, they may learn about sexuality through planned classes in school.

The role of the parent

Chances are that if you’re not talking to your kids about sex, their sexual education is more like a junk food diet; they’re picking up whatever they can from movies, commercials, TV, video games, and online porn.

Al Vernacchio, Author of ‘For Goodness Sex’


As a parent, your role is to let your child know what sex education is all about. As your child’s first source of information about sexuality, it’s important to talk about more than just the facts, and to also share your feelings, values, attitudes and beliefs, and to explain why you feel the way you do.

There are a number of ways that you can do this. The approach that is recommended today is based on making sexuality a natural part of our everyday parenting. This means that we take advantage of the daily opportunities to chat, provide comments, answer their questions, and even ask questions ourselves.

All of this helps to make you an askable parent. By askable, I mean that your kids see you as being approachable and open to questions about sexuality. This can be difficult  as most adults received little or no information about sex in their own childhood. It isn’t all that surprising that most parents find sexuality an embarrassing and difficult subject to talk about.

If you want to learn more about how to get comfortable with sex education, keep on reading these blog posts, as that topic is coming up!

And remember, when asking the question, what is sex education, remember that it isn’t just about sex.

You are giving your kids the skills to form strong friendships and to have healthy loving relationships throughout their life! This is one of the greatest gifts that you can give your kids. The gift of a happy, fulfilled life.

As a parent, it doesn’t get much better than that! What do you think?

About the Author Cath Hakanson

I'm Cath, a sex educator living in Australia with my husband and 2 kids. I help parents to talk about sex (with less cringe and more confidence) and to empower their child to make smart sexual decisions. You can join my online parent support group here and visit my shop for helpful resources.

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