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Ask the Therapist: SM and Kids

February 1992

Copyright © 1992 by William A. Henkin
Posted with the author's permission

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Dr. William Henkin is the co-author of Consensual Sadomasochism, Bodywise, and The Psychic Healing Book, and editor of But I Know What You Want.


<Q> How do you know when your children are ready to discuss SM, and how do you do it?

<A> Which children? How old are they? What is their level of sexual experience? And most important of all, why do you want to tell them in the first place? Have they found some toys they want you to explain? Have they seen adults at play through open doors? Do you want to tell them because they need to know? Or do you want to tell them to calm your own nerves, assuage your own guilt, or because you're just bursting to tell someone? How do you tell your children about sex at all?

Children usually learn about sex on a need-to-know basis. When they are ready to learn about any aspect of sexuality, they explore it on their own, and they ask their adults if they feel safe doing so.

When very young children ask about sex they rarely want or need to know about all the ins and outs: they usually just need to hear that it's a grown-up way of having fun. Later, when they want to know where babies come from, or what their genitals have to do with this adult game, they deserve clear, truthful answers in language and concepts they can comprehend. You can say, for example, "Touching your genitals can be lots of fun and there's nothing wrong with doing it; however, it is a private activity in our society, and you should do it in your bedroom with the door closed."

By the time you move from "Babies come from Mommy's belly" to "Babies are sometimes made when a man puts his penis in a woman's vagina," (or "when a woman takes a man's penis into her vagina"), you should also be prepared to provide basic information about birth control, disease prevention, consensuality, communication, and negotiation. "Yes means yes, no means no," is a good place to start; also, "I like this, I don't like that," and "No genital contact without barrier protection." Although I don't know of any SM-education books for kids – the market is probably pretty small – some of the best general sex education books available, both for kids and for parents who want help talking to kids about sex, can be obtained by mail through The Sexuality Library at Open Enterprises, 938 Howard Street, San Francisco, CA 94103.

SM is a sophisticated area of sexuality, and it is unlikely a child will ask about it unless he or she has some inkling that SM exists, and has some vague sense of what it entails. If your child has reached this stage of asking, find out what he or she already knows and where the information came from. Then you can fill in the gaps, clear up misinformation, and, if necessary and appropriate, explain what you know from your own experience. SM sex is still sex, remember, and there is some information words just won't convey. That is the information your children should get on their own, when they're ready. Your job is to make sure they are ready, and that the get their information safely and accurately.


Related Article: Please see also How to tell your children from the POWERotics Foundation.