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Bonus Podcast AMA with Jena Curtis, EdD: How to Talk About Sex with Your Kids

During this week’s AMA, we had Jena Curtis, EdD, who is THE EXPERT when it comes to talking with your kids about sex, sexual health, gender, identity, and intimate relationships. She is a professor of gender and sexuality at SUNY Cortland. After years of being on the main stage for HIV/AIDS advocacy, Jena turned to academia, where she teaches classes on public health, health education, and gender & sexuality.

We had an amazing AMA, where parents asked questions about how to repair relationships when "the talk" doesn't go well, where to find the best resources for sexuality and gender for yourself and your kids, and how to communicate honestly, lovingly, and clearly when the topic might be super uncomfortable.

Listen here

Show notes

Click here to listen to The Family Thrive Podcast Ep. 3 featuring Jena, and to see the Cheat Sheet from Jena’s first talk with The Family Thrive Podcast, click here. You can also view other questions Jena answered via the app here.

  • 01:55 - Question 1: “My daughters are now 26 and 24, and I often reflect back on “the talk” my oldest and I had when she was in third grade. I felt pressure to get it done quickly as the teacher had warned us of increased playground talk on the topic of sex. I researched and thought about it for weeks, set up the perfect platform and did my best. At the end of the talk I asked if she had any questions. She responded with, “Is the tooth fairy real?” It stuck with me forever and I often wondered if I just broached the subject too early for her. What do you think about that? It was crushing to me in a way, as I felt her innocence slipping away.
  • 13:13 - Question 2: “I'm curious what resources you recommend for parents preparing to approach the sex, sexuality, gender identity, conversation with their kids that might not feel equipped with the info they need. Are there forms, podcasts, educators, books, etcetera that parents can use to keep on top of the conversation as their kids mature?”
  • 17:50 - Question 3: “What is the best way to support kids I know with close-minded families when it comes to sexuality and gender identity?”
  • 33:08 - Question 4: “What resources does Jena recommend for toddlers, preteens, adolescents, and emerging adults in understanding their sexuality?”
  • 36:35 - Question 5: “What does Jena recommend for parents to do when preparing for talking with their own children, especially for parents who have never experienced the talk themselves?”  
  • 44:40 - Question 6: “How do we help decrease the feelings of shame around this important and sometimes difficult topic? And so there's embarrassment, there's shame. And parents feel this is not, you know, like all that stuff, you know, it's coming from us. And so how do we deal with this?”
  • 49:40 - Question 7: “Would it be beneficial to start thinking about talking about sex in many different ways? I think coming from like a hetero normative perspective, you know, we think when we have to talk about sex, we're like talking about like heterosexual man and woman in a very specific anatomical way. Could we be broadening our conversations around this?”

Justin: Hey Family Thrivers, welcome to this bonus Ask Me Anything podcast episode with one of our amazing Family Thrive experts. Each week we record an AMA live in The Family Thrive app, where we take members’ questions and ask the experts directly. Members submit questions throughout the week and can even ask their questions live on the show. In the future, these AMA's will only be available to subscribers. So if you like what you hear, learn something new and want to be a part of future AMA’s in The Family Thrive, then head on over to The Family Thrive dot com and sign up today.

All right Jena, so we only have you for an hour and we want to get all of your amazing information. We asked parents to write in questions and then we are going to ask them here live. And then if they want to continue to write in and to tune in live, they can follow up. Parents, listen to your podcast, and then they say, “Oh, my gosh, I want to ask the expert now, A, B, and C.” So that is what we're doing today.

So by now, everyone should know something about Jena Curtis. We had an amazing podcast with you. We did a Meet a Thrive expert in the app. And so everybody knows everything about you now.

Jena: Oh good.

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Jena’s always got something new going on.

Justin: Yeah. Right. Yes. You can never know everything about Jena Curtis. All right. So we're just going to dive straight in and just talk about the stuff. All right.

Jena: Cool.

Justin: Alright. So the first question we received this week was from a parent who messaged me directly is, can you ask Jena about this? And so the parent said, I have a question for Jena. My daughters are now 26 and 24, and I often reflect back on “the talk” my oldest and I had when she was in third grade. I felt pressure to get it done quickly as the teacher had warned us of increased playground talk on the topic of sex. I researched and thought about it for weeks. Set up the perfect platform and did my best. At the end of the talk I asked if she had any questions. She responded with, “Is the tooth fairy real?” It stuck with me forever and I often wondered if I just broached the subject too early for her. What do you think about that? It was crushing to me in a way, as I felt her innocence slipping away.

Jena: Oh, right. Well, first of all, wow, what a powerful feeling as a parent to feel like you may have done something to make your kid's childhood less idyllic, like none of us are aiming for that. And like lots of things I think we do to ourselves as parents. That's one interpretation of why she said that, right?

Maybe, but it wasn't that she decided that childhood was gone and it was time to put away imaginary things like the tooth fairy. Maybe the reason that question came up is because the child thought we're talking about things we don't talk about, I can ask anything now.

Justin: Right.

Jena: And here's the burning question I have, because third grade is not only the degree to which kids start to talk a lot about sex on the playground, but it's also the grade where if you still believe in the tooth fairy, Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, kids in your class saying “that's not real” and “your parents are lying to you.” It's just your mom and dad. Right.

So I would again, and I tell folks this all the time, and parents especially, it's never too early to have the talk. The question is always, what are you talking about and how you do it. So the first thing I encourage this mom to do is take a deep breath because I'm positive that this did not, even if the tooth fairy turns out not to be real, this conversation did not ruin anyone's childhood. And ended with something that she thinks about. I'm wondering what would happen if she raised it with her now adult kid and said, “Hey, you know, this thing came up. I was had this conversation or listen, this podcast about sex talk. And I keep thinking about this thing that happened when you were in third grade.”

Right. I'd be really curious to hear from the now-adult kid what the take was. And even if, worst fears realized, it turns out, yes, I wasn't ready. It was this gross thing, ew, ew, ew. You now get to have that conversation with your child and build connection around that. So now that you are an adult, how do we talk about this or you're right, when you were eight, I wasn't ready. And now that you're twenty three or twenty, you know, I still sometimes wonder if I should be talking to you more or checking in more. So if the mom feels like she could, I'd love for her to instead of, you know, asking me to interpret why this happened. Yeah, I have theories, but I can't be the expert at this time to check in with her kid.

Justin: Oh, so what comes up for me hearing that is something that I've heard in other contexts, but around parenting specifically, that repair is always possible. And yeah, like l, you know, we said something we regret, we did something we regret and then repair is always possible. And what I'm hearing from you is that repair is especially built on transparency and honesty and vulnerability.

Jena: Yeah. And the other thing that this brings up for me is the idea of the timing of the talk and how to start the talk. That's the thing that parents always want to know. When should I have the talk? How do I prepare for the talk? And whenever parents ask me about when to have the talk or how do I have the talk, one of the questions I'll ask is, is there something that's prompting this now? Right. Is there a specific thing?

So in this case, it was a teacher said kids are talking about sex on the playground. Often parents will come to me and say, oh, my gosh, I just thought porn on my 12 year old's computer. How do I talk to them about it? Or my kid's best friend just got a period. How do I, right?? So if there's a specific thing…

Audra: Like an event trigger.

Jena: Yes.

Justin: Yeah. Right.

Audra: For me, like I watch Bridgton with my daughter, so.

Justin: Oh, is there stuff in Bridgton?

Audra: Was there stuff in Bridgerton?

Jena: So much stuff in Bridgerton!

Audra: We fast-forwarded through some things that might not have been comfortable. But you know, it did bring up. I still haven't had the talk, though, I mean, there have been many talks of like, “Hey, you know, what do you think about, you know, what's going on here?” Like just trying to like, open it up. And she'd be like, “well, I know all about this stuff. Don't worry about it.”

Justin: Oh no, we've had the talk.

Audra: Oh, you had it?

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: The talk.

Justin: Oh, my God. Yes. She was in the car with me. No. This had happened…

Audra: I didn’t know. I'm still like, gearing up to be like, all right. And I'm like, “OK, so what do you know?” Like just trying to like, enter.

Justin: This is all, See this is real, real and authentic, real-time happening right now. Yeah, it was a couple of years ago, we were in the car and…

Audra: I thought that was TikTok.

Justin: And Max asked a question and then I was like, “Oh, I guess we're having a talk.” And she was in the back and I was like, oh, man. But she's in the back. And so I just, I remember hearing from someone somewhere that like you just answer the questions you're asked. And I think, Jena, you said that as well in your podcast, but I had heard that. And so I was like, “well, I guess I'm just going to talk about it now.” And then Max just had like one question. And so we talked about it. And then Maesie had like six or seven.

Audra: How old was she at the time?

Justin: It was a couple of years ago. It was definitely when we were still in…

Audra: She was like nine?

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Ok. Cool.

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Nice.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: And that's exactly the way to do it. Know that you have answered the questions sufficiently when they run out of questions or they get bored. Really, and to the extent that you can have that vibe of, “Oh, yeah, that's an interesting thing. Let me tell you all that I know about it” or answer all your questions about it the same way that you would hold forth on any other interesting topic.

Because the fact that, you know, your daughter felt that she kind of honed in on Max's question and conversation really suggests that she felt pretty comfortable in that environment. And that's a good thing. And if the talk is being prompted by a specific thing, an event, a concern, when I had a daughter in middle school, when the school sent home a letter to all of the parents saying that a seventh-grade boy had been inappropriately sexually touching the girls in the school. Right.

Audra: Yeah.

Jena: Yikes.

Audra: That's a big...

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: The first time I heard about it is, I got a letter from the school. Yeah. Any time that there's a. So what I did is I said, “Oh, my gosh, I just got this letter from the school and I'm a little freaked out about it. I wonder what you know.” Or for the third-grader, “your teacher called and said kids are talking about sex on the playground. And I'm wondering if you heard that and what you think about it.”

Justin: Yeah. Yeah.

Audra: Man, I want Jena's questions.

Justin: That's brilliant.  

Audra: Like these questions are just gold.

Justin: Yeah, what I'm hearing is that these I mean, these types of questions are really connected. It's like you're not coming in with an agenda. You know, it's like really connected. Like this thing is happening when you think about it.

Audra: And you trust them.

Jena: Yep. And you can own your own vulnerability about this. Yeah. Like I said to Tory when I got the letter was like the first thing that I thought was, “oh, my gosh, did this happen to my kid?” Right. And so I started by saying I got this letter and I'm a little freaked out and I want to know, you know, what's going on.

Justin: One last follow-up here. How concerned should parents be about playground talk about sex? I mean, what's…

Audra: Is that a thing?

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Does it happen?

Jena: Right. So again, I always want more answers and I always have more questions. So for me, it's about what kind of playground talk, right. Are we talking...I was in first or second grade when Lonell Loomis, because this is subscribers only, so I’m gonna name names. Now, when Lonell Loomis told me how babies were made. Right. And I was shocked and horrified. And I refused to believe her because it was too gross. But her dad had magazines and there was photographic evidence that this happened. And so. Right. That’s…

Justin: Scenes of women giving birth?

Jena: Of people having sex. That was pretty hardcore. And this was the ‘70s.

Justin: But not giving birth though…

Jena: No, no, no.

Audra: That’s a specialty ...

Jena: ...my dad. Like whatever was like slightly more hardcore than Hustler. Oh, yeah. Was actually like people having sex. Like, that's a really typical thing. And if I found, if I were parenting seven-year-old me, I'd be concerned and I'd have a conversation with my seven-year-old about I don't like you looking at pictures of naked people having sex because that's an adult thing. I don't like you doing that at your friend's house because that's not our family rules and that's not the kind of behavior I expect.

Audra: Mm-hmm.

Jena: I wouldn't be really, really, I wouldn't like it. Like, that's not what I expect my seven-year-old to be doing at a friend's house. I would not be as concerned about that once I'd explained our family values around it and why I didn't think that was great behavior.

As I would be if, for instance, people were talking sexually about another child. And middle school, elementary school is a little bit early for this, at third grade especially, but kids get sexualized really early. Writes of the sex talk on the playground is about somebody's breasts.

Audra: Right.

Jena: Or who is, if somebody's gay. If it's about somebody's identity, somebody's body, then I am much more concerned about it than if it is about bodies in general or sex in general or, you know, girls have this hole the babies come out of.

I would want to use that opportunity to sort of reinforce our family values around sex and sexual behavior, which is it's not something for children. It's not something that we ever shame people about. It is a private thing. If you have any questions about it, you can always talk to me or your dad, or here are the other trusted adults.

Audra: Teachable moment. Yes.

Jena: Yep.

Justin: Yeah. Awesome. All right. So we have another question. And I just want to note for anyone in the app who is listening to this, Jena generously went through and answered a few of these questions and gave links. And so you can go into the event link for this event and then you can get these links. But Jena, we can elaborate. We can riff on them.

So one question here, Jena, I'm curious what resources you recommend for parents preparing to approach the sex, sexuality, gender identity, conversation with their kids that might not feel equipped with the info they need. Are there forms, podcasts, educators, books, etcetera that parents can use to keep on top of the conversation as their kids mature? So this one is particularly about identity.

Jena: Yeah. So I started answering questions in the app and then realized that I was going to have to just say it's complicated over and over again. And then people would think I was less of an expert. So some links are good. And the link I provided is SIECUS, which is the Sexuality Education Information Council of the United States.

And I love them. They do a lot of advocacy and education around sexuality and sexuality education. And their goal is really that everybody has access to evidence-based sexuality education and information, and that they use that to live their best, healthiest lives. And so I'm a huge fan of that. And they have how do pastors and other faith leaders talk to children about sex? How do teachers talk about sex? How to parent? For all ages, for all gender identities and orientations.

They link to lots of other really good things. And the reason that I like them so much is, one, they're very comprehensive, but also because they're evidence-based and they refused to shame anyone around identity. Right. There are behaviors that are unacceptable. And some of those we agree as a community or as a country like violence is unacceptable. And in other times families have values about what behaviors are ok and are not. But nobody gets shamed for who they are or how they feel. And that's super important to me.

Justin: So I just want to repeat this. So this is S I E C U S dot org.

Jena: Correct.

Justin: Ok.

Audra: I'm so grateful to learn about this, Jena. Thank you so much. And it just makes me so grateful for the amazing work that people are doing. Right.

Jena: And that's, that's the other really important part, too, because if you Google or you search, you know, my kid might be trans. You're going to get two billion links and some of them are going to be super, right. Like if you want to Covid vaccine information right now. Don't google that. Please go to the CDC.

Justin: Oh, well, now that's why we have The Family Thrive. If you Google pretty much anything, you're going to come across a lot of garbage.

Jena: Yeah, right. And just like The Family Thrive, all of these resources and all of these recipes and all of these experts to make sure they're really, really in alignment with your values and your brand and your idea of what wellness is. SIECUS does the same thing for sexuality education. So all of their links are evidence-based. They're not shaming anyone. And they're incredibly inclusive.

Justin: So this is like a one-stop-shop then for parents who are thinking, I need to figure out how to approach sexuality and identity with my kid. And I have no idea where to start.

Jena: This is where they are or I'm wondering about my baby or my pregnancy or myself and my own identity. Everything that you could possibly want is there. It is that good and that comprehensive.

Justin: Oh my gosh.

Audra: Yeah, we gotta get this up on it, I think it'd be great to get a resource, general resource page up.

Justin: Yes.

Jena: They also have curriculum guides, because I know that a lot of folks have alternative schooling arrangements for kids. Right. And so to sort of look and again, from faith-based perspectives, from all sorts of different ages, for all sorts of different topics, it's just a really great resource.

Justin: Awesome. Yeah. Our wonderful managing editor, Jordan, put together a cheat sheet. I don't know if you saw that on the app.

Jena: I saw that. It’s brilliant.

Justin: Yeah. So from the, and she did that just from your podcast. So what we'll do is we'll take additional resources from this AMA, and put that in the cheat sheet. So for any parents listening, you can just search Jena Curtis cheat sheet and you'll have all of the information...

Audra: Or DM us and we’ll tag you in it.

Justin: Oh, yeah, you can message us.

Audra: And I think we're going to ask Gina to make it into a like downloadable PDF version.

Justin: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. All right. So next question, what is the best way to support kids I know with close-minded families when it comes to sexuality and gender identity? And before I let you answer this one, I can say I have a number of friends over the years who I've talked to who have really great communication skills and really great relationships with their kids. But their kids have friends who are in situations that are not supportive. And so I think this is a really common one. Yeah.

Jena: This is and this was where I gave up trying to type answers, it’s complicated. Yeah. So here's like there's so many ways to come at this. And so let's talk about obviously the difference between support for kids and thriving and wellness versus health and safety.

Obviously, if I know of a child who is in an abusive situation, I'm reporting that through the appropriate authorities. I'm talking to the child's teachers, the child's doctors, other adults Right. So I don't think that's what this person is asking. I think what this person is asking is, how do I support my kids' friend who we think might be gay or might be or is gay or is trans or something else and whose parents are not supportive. That's how I read that. Is that's how you're reading it?

Audra: Yes.

Justin: Yes.

Jena: Ok, so we're not talking about kids who are being abused or neglected by their family. This is just my parents don't get me. My parents are conservative. Parents don't…

Audra: That's right.

Justin: Or yes. Or the kids have friends and the friends are trans or gay or whatever and. Right. And live in homes that either they have to hide who they are or they are just not supported in a variety of ways.

Audra: Being who they are. Right.

Jena: Right. So I'm going to break this down one more further step, because I think that lots of us have families where we are seeing nieces and nephews or we don't have a word for my siblings, kid who's nonbinary, but those kids, too.

Audra: Yes, yes.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: Right.

Justin: Right.

Jena: Like my sister's gender-queer kid. So, for family, it's a little bit different. I actually my family, my immediate family is very queer and very inclusive. And my extended family is pretty conservative. And I have nieces and nephews whose parents not only believed that marriage is only between a man and a woman, but that the husband is the head of the household because he is the man and that's the way it's supposed to be.

And when everybody's kids were really little, we had to have conversations that basically turned into negotiations of you don't give my kids Fisher-Price Noah's Ark, and I won't give your kids vulva puppets. Right. Like each of us are going to respect the other's family's values, even though we don't agree with them personally. Right. It's not my job to provide sexuality education to your children. It's not your job to provide religious education to my children.

Audra: Yes.

Jena: And I think that in families, to the extent that that conversation can be had, that's probably helpful for family members and friends and for the children, though, I think that whenever I get into disagreements with people about those values. Right, like who's the head of the household or can two women get married? Well, we already saw that one of them.

Whenever we get sort of disagreements, I like to take a step back to more universal shared values. Some of my family members and I completely agree on how respective nieces and nephews should be raised. We all agree that we love those kids and we all agree that we want those kids to be happy and healthy. For me, for my nieces and nephews, it's really important that I get to be in their lives and I get to be a supportive presence.

And if that means respecting the values of the family by not speaking out against them, I absolutely do that. And I will do that for my children's friends when they were children as well. Right. I'm not going to say, well, your mom should be Ok with gay marriage. Right?

Audra: Right, right.

Jena: And supporting or not going against other people's families' values doesn't mean that I am not modeling inclusion in my behavior, how I talk. This is true for other types of bias. Right. We all have friends and family members who are really unapologetically racist.

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Yeah. Right, right.

Jena: And it's not my job again to tell one of my nieces or nephews that their parent is racist. It is absolutely my job to challenge racist or homophobic ideas in my house. When they are expressed.

Audra: Yes.

Jena: And I do that by saying no, in our family we believe this.

Audra: Yeah, Jena. And in turn, you make your home a safe space.

Jena: Yes.

Audra: A brave space

Jena: And, exactly. And it's funny because when your entire family does this, it reinforces. So one of my nephews once asked a question, who is again, in this pretty conservative family, asked a question, something about science. And I answered it and he turned to me. He was maybe seven or eight. And he said, “No, you're a mom. Moms are not the people you ask when you want to know things. Moms are the people you talk to about feelings. If you want to know something, you ask a dad.”

Audra: Whoa.

Jena: And I was just like, and Tod quick as like, just he's like, “well, actually, your Aunt Jena has her doctorate from Columbia University, which is one of the best schools in the entire world. So I'm thinking she's a good person to ask what you want to know things too.”

Justin: Yeah. Right.

Jena: And it wasn't your mom and dad are teaching you bullshit.

Justin: Oh, yeah. Right, right.

Jena: It wasn't that patriarchal crap. It was just…

Audra: We see this differently.

Jena: Yeah. This is who we are. Or in our family, women change tires and sometimes dads make dinner. I'm not saying that other families aren't different. I'm just affirming that this is who we are.

Justin: Or sometimes dads can talk about feelings too.

Audra: Dads definitely talk about feelings.

Jena: Dads need to talk more about feelings, please.

Justin: Yes. Having grown up in a conservative family myself, there is, I do feel this urge because I'm just imagining when our kids have those friends, how I would want to, you know, protect them and I would want to be an important part of their lives. And just, but I'm hearing the wisdom in what you're saying of like, there's a line that you're drawing here that I'm trying to see more clearly around this is how we do things here. I'm not going to talk about your parents.

Audra: It's more like holding the space in many ways and like and your own modeling and not trying to kind of like do the same thing back. Of like, no, I'm going to teach you what we, you know, this is how it should be through our paradigm. No, it’s clarifying your values, revealing those values. You know how things work in your home and for your family. And then modeling the way.

Jena: Yeah. And just in for you, because I when my kids were little, especially again, my queer kids, I was so like, don't you dare, you know, like I will come and wreck your family.

Justin: Yes.

Jena: Right. Because that momma bear thing. Exactly. And what I recognized is no conversation that ever started with me saying any version of, let me explain to you how you need to be parenting your child because you're doing it wrong now. Has ever gone anyplace good.  

Audra: Yeah. Right.

Jena: Right.

Justin: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Audra: How do any of us feel, right?

Jena: And even, you know, when that is obviously the case. Right. Even when somebody is shaking their toddler in the grocery store and screaming at them.

Audra: Right.

Jena: Walking up to them and saying “you need to stop that right now because that's abuse” is so much less effective than, “Wow. You seem really frustrated.”

Justin: Yeah. What I'm seeing here is a parallel to some communication skills around, like just owning one's lane. And so in, you know, supportive, authentic communication, instead of saying, like, “you're making me feel this way” or, you know, “you're doing this,” I can say, “I'm feeling a tightness in my chest. I'm feeling some resistance around me.” And then just simply owning what's happening for me.

And so there's something similar here with maybe talking with these with the kids who are friends with your kids are saying, “I'm sorry that you're feeling this way. I'm sorry, that you're feeling, you know, misunderstood or rejected. And I want you to know that here, you know, this is how we feel.”

And I can now like I'm now starting to imagine this conversation without any, there's no need to say anything about the other parents. It's about, I'm sorry that you're feeling this way. Let me connect with how you're feeling. And then I want you to know how I am feeling and what this space is for you.

Jena: Right. And, you know, absolutely validating that it is completely frustrating and saddening or anger making or whatever those emotions are about not being supported and understood. And we really care about you and we'd like to support you. What would that look like for us and our family?

Audra: Oh yes. Well, what a beautiful question.

Jena: Absolutely. That's got to feel frustrating at home. What could we do that would be supportive here when you're here with us? Then the sticky part is, again, especially with family. There's got to be limits, right? So for kids, I had a good friend in grad school who had a, what I now understand to be a trans sib.

And she would joke about the fact that whenever her mother would go out, her mother would say to her younger sib, “Mikey, don't you dare wear any of my dresses while I'm out.” And one of the rules in this child's life was when they visited other people's houses, they weren't allowed to wear girl clothes because they were a boy. As a parent, letting that child wear girl clothes, I believe that thing exists, with the other parent understands it to be would be a violation of parenting rules. Right.

So some things like, the same way that driving someone else's 13-year-old to Planned Parenthood is probably, for me personally, too much of a thing.

Audra: Right Right.

Jena: So thinking about your own values around that.

Audra: It’s not yours to do, right.

Jena: And again, the difference between wellness and optimal parenting versus health and safety. Anybody's 13 year old who is having a medical emergency, I am going to support however they need to be supported.

But thinking about how can you, because here's the thing. As a parent who unapologetically believes that people get to be whatever sexual orientation and gender identity they are and that everybody gets to respect that, I would be really, really upset and just completely unhinged if, again, my family members have very different ideas, felt it was their job to explain that to my kid.

Audra: Right.

Jena: The fact that I'm right and they're wrong.

Audra: Right.

Jena: As we all agree on this podcast, at least, right?

Audra: Right.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: It's tough. And that's why I couldn't type an answer, because I just want to say it's complicated here.

Audra: Okay, so Jena, in the dress example, right. So the parent, the other parents made it clear their way, what their understanding is, and what they value in their home and how they work, you know, gender identity and everything to be understood, whatever terms they use.

And you kid comes over, dress up is part of what you do. Dressing of any way anyone was is a part of what you do in your home. Let's just say that's something that that you value. We have clothes around. We like to play and we like to explore. That's what we do in our home. Right. So kid comes over and you now know this. And the kids want to have an exploration, whatever kind that they want to, you know.

Jena: Right.

Audra: Do you then share and say like, these are our values in this home. This is why we provide this open forum for exploration. We really care about this, but we have a difference of the way that we see things. Do you just kind of like are you just open about it?

Jena: Yep. Yep, you're right. So one of the agreements that I have. Right, you have sleepovers, right? I promised all your parents that everybody be in bed with the lights out at ten o'clock.

Audra: Right, no drinking vodka.

Jena: Right, there’s no soda in our house. I told and because somebody has this food requirement or this here's what we're doing. I would say, you know, in our house, kids can wear any clothes they want. And I would have this conversation privately with the child.

Audra: Mm-hmm.

Jena: But Mikey's parents have asked for this.

Audra: Hmm. Yup.

Justin: Ok, so there are next...

Audra: That's wonderful, Jena, thank you.

Justin: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

Jena: I wish there were a better answer, but that's the best one.

Justin: Oh, like well, what I'm hearing is that with each of these questions, like there are a lot of gray areas. And what I love is that it keeps coming back to authenticity, honesty, vulnerability, transparency. Yeah.

Audra: Communication. Openness.

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Votability. And why is it, the thing that makes this most challenging is that for some like tradition that's been passed down to all of us, and parenting is supposed to be black and white? We're supposed to have comebacks and everything is supposed to be very, very fast reactionary. Set in stone. Solid.

Jena: You know the answer...

Audra: Yeah. Yeah.

Jena: Your house, your rules.

Audra: Right, right.

Justin: So our next set of questions come from a parent who is actually with us here. So Alicia Wuth is our director of community. She is a clinical psychologist. She's a mom who is, actually will soon be a mother of two. And…

Audra: In about a month.

Justin: Yeah, she has questions and so. All right. So the first question that she asked is, what resources does Jena recommend for toddlers, preteens, adolescents and emerging adults in understanding their sexuality? So this is a wide, wide range. So I guess I mean, we're...

Audra: I’m hearing among ages.

Justin: Yeah. So, [are there] age-appropriate resources that are for the kids?

Jena: I'd go to SIECUS. There are others, but nobody does it as comprehensively or as well.

Audra: Ok, great. So…

Jena: Go back to that one.

Justin: Oh, she's here.

Audra: Hi Alicia!

Alicia: Hi. Sorry. I'm not sure why you couldn't hear me. But it’s good to be here.

Justin: All right. So I asked the first question for you, and the answer was basically SIECUS again, SIECUS dot org. So they don't just have material for parents, they have material for young people as well.

Alicia: Everybody.

Audra: All ages, everybody.

Jena: But Alicia, because I feel like I'm shortchanging you now that I'm actually hearing your voice and I'm an overachiever. Let me give you two other really great ones for adolescents and young adults, because a lot of sexuality education for them isn't just content knowledge, but it's also values and skills and thinking about like, that huge am I normal for thinking, feeling being this way?

So specifically for adolescents and emerging adults, Scarlet Teen, it's run by Rutgers and it's Scarleteen dot com. They have not only question and answer forums, they also have live chats. So teens and young adults who have urgent questions or two o'clock in the morning musings can find real, live, well-educated others to answer those.

Audra: Great.

Justin: What a great resource.

Jena: And then Advocates for Youth is that specifically for LGBTQ+ teens. They do all sexuality, but they really have a focus on equity around sexual orientation and gender identity. And again, it is very much a peer or near peer-led thing.

So SIECUS is people like me explaining sex in scientific evidence-based sometimes common language, but it's really the nuts and bolts and the content. Scarlet Teen and Advocates for Youth is a much more norming affirming, of course, this ... bizarre sort of thing. So for that age group, that would be really helpful.

Alicia: Great.

Audra: Great.

Jena: But SIECUS will have for younger kids like preschoolers. Here are great books about these things. And here are all of these other resources or here's a film. So lots of more broad stuff.

Alicia: Excellent. Thank you.

Justin: Alicia, do you want me to ask your second question or do you want to?

Alicia: You can go ahead and ask it, Justin, because I actually can't pull up the...

Justin: Oh, Ok. Not a problem. I will go ahead and ask it. And then if you just want to stay on the line for any follow-up. Well, I'm going to ask Alicia's questions because she's on her phone and she can't pull them up, but she'll stay on the line for any follow-up.

So the segment of what does Jena recommend for parents to do when preparing for talking with their own children, especially for parents who have never experienced the talk themselves? Right. So there are some parents are like, who like, man and…

Audra: Good or bad, never had any of it.

Justin: In my childhood, in my parents. Boy did it all together. And now here I am. I don't know what to do. So I'm imagining, is this SIECUS.org again?

Jena: It is not. I can do more than that, Justin. I really am an expert. So first thing, the first thing I recommend is reflecting a little bit on the parent's motivation. Right. Is this a talk you're having and as we discussed earlier, because some event has happened that you feel you need to address? Right.

You just watch the scandalous sex scene together and now you need to deconstruct it with and process it with your kid. Is it because you think they're about to hit puberty? So, first of all, what's prompting the talk for you as a parent and as a family? And then also, what are you hoping to achieve with this? What's your goal of the talk? Is this a checkbox? Because as a good parent, you have to explain the birds and the bees and periods and wet dreams.

Audra: Right.

Jena: Or is it because there's a behavior you're concerned about or a danger you want to warn your child about? What are you, what's motivating this and what are you hoping to get out of it? Because I think that if we don't, we have those motivations and we have hopes and fears. And if we don't explore them, we still have them.

But we don't know that we're acting on them. In our original podcast, I told you that my parents never really gave me a sex talk. They just gave me books because they didn't know how to do that. And that's not exactly true. When I was 15, my dad gave me what I think of in my own head as the don't be a slut talk.

Audra: Oh, yeah.

Jena: And again, my dad, I told you earlier in the podcast, my parents did so much right around sexuality education in that they unconditionally love me and each other and my sibs and my kids. And when it turned out people were queer or people were like, none of that mattered. They love us. We're family. Like they nailed that exactly right.

And when I was 15, I was having a sleepover with a bunch of my girlfriends, female friends, not any romantic anything. I had never been romantically involved with anybody at this point. And I don't know what happened. But somebody must have said or done something that made him worried. We were this wild group of hooligan girls. And like this is probably 1984. Like, think Madonna like a virgin.

Audra: Yes.

Jena: You know, in the bodice. And that's what my dad is picturing, right? Like that's his horror nightmare. And so I get pulled out of the sleepover.

Justin: Oh, wow.

Jena: At that moment. And sat down at the kitchen table to have him explain that boys and girls are very different about sex. And boys don't respect girls who wear makeup or who dress a certain way or who will have sex. You know, the thing about not buying cows when you get free milk.

It was really a don't be a slut talk. Again, you can't use skills you don't have. But if I could have scripted that, like I wish so much that my dad could have waited. And then the next day said, hey, I was listening to you, talk to your friends. And I freaked out a little bit because you were talking about boys and who had a cute ass. And I don't think of you like that, and I don't want you to be that kind of girl.

Audra: Right.

Jena: Right. Like I am worried that you're turning into a teenager that I would not respect or you're engaged in behaviors that I think are wrong. Again I'm freaked out about this. Let's talk about this, because here's how I want you to be. And, but because he didn't it just came out as this and it was this bizarre thing for me because I was trying to figure out, like what had happened and why now. And my friends were like Jena? So the first thing that parents might do in preparing for this is think about what's motivating it and what do they want to accomplish. Right?

Justin: So the first step is reflect on motivations. And then the second step is, what do I want to accomplish?

Jena: Right. What's the outcome? What's the best like best case scenario, what would this mean? And I would argue if I got to vote for your sex talk, I would say best case scenario is parent and child walk away feeling like that wasn't terrible and we could do it again if somebody had more questions or more concerns. But that's what I need from it. Not that everybody gets everything, but that people feel like they had a conversation. They understand what each other believe or they've addressed it.

Audra: And the doors.

Justin: And the doors opened.

Jena: The door is open for it because you don't have to do it all at once. Right. I want sex talks to be plural talks.

Audra: Talks, let's have the talks. Let's have talks. Let me...

Jena: Dialogue...

Audra: No, no, no the. No. The, you know, small talks.

Justin: Many talks.

Jena: And then the other thing that might happen with reflection about motivation is I think most parents, I absolutely believe that almost all parents really love and care for their kids. Right. The same way that I believe chocolate is delicious. I believe parents love their kids. Like you don't have to convince me.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: And what parents mostly want is for their kids to be happy and healthy. And here's where it gets tricky with sexuality and be good people. Yeah, right. Like we say, we want happy and healthy. But I have a twenty-five-year-old son, and if happy for him meant strip mining rainforests to be a billionaire. I'm disappointed.

Audra: Yeah.

Jena: Like, I don't just want happy and healthy, I want him to be a good person. And where we get tripped up with sexuality and where my dad had the freak out is around sex and gender and sexuality. A good person is easier to recognize when it is things that I am familiar with, if my kids grow up to be health professors, I recognize that that is a valuable contribution to society.

If my kid is a writer, maybe it's a little bit harder for me to understand that as the success that I would see something else as. As a parent, understanding that our children can have different ideas around sexuality, can have different gender identity or sexual orientation, and still be good people, takes a little bit of adaptation and ruminating.

Justin: Adaptation, yeah. Yeah, right, self-reflection.

Jena: And Alicia, are you like you're expecting a new baby like you've already got so many hopes, I'm sure. And so many fears and so many. Even before our children are born, we're thinking about who we would love them to be and what we think happy in a good life would look like for them.

Justin: Hmm. Beautiful.

Jena: ... sex. Yeah.

Justin: Alicia, how did all that land for you?

Alicia: It definitely resonates. Thank you so much Dr. Jena for sharing all of that. And you're and you're absolutely correct. I love the idea of it's not just one talk, but it's really an ongoing conversation. And how do we open the doors so our kids know they're always welcome to come to us and we want them to come to us. We want to hug them.

Jena: Yeah, I think that having worked for lots of different bosses who said my door is always open, I've noticed that for me that isn't nearly as effective. Having my boss sit behind a desk in an office with an open door as it is when she comes out to me and says, “Hey, Jena, I wanted to check in about this thing,” or, “Hey, I noticed you're doing this” rather than waiting for our children to notice that our door is open constantly.

Audra, you're talking about Bridgerton, right? Like, wow, I'm you know, “here's what I noticed” or “here's what I'm thinking,” or “that was a little bit embarrassing.”

Audra: Great conversation starter. I'll tell you what.

Justin: All right. So we only have a couple more minutes. So I want to get to Alicia's third question. So, Jena, you said the word embarrassing. And so Alicia's third question is, how do we help decrease the feelings of shame around this important and sometimes difficult topic?

And so there's embarrassment, there's shame. And parents feel this is not, you know, like all that stuff, you know, it's coming from us. And so how do we deal with this?

Audra: Oh, yeah. Well, I want to tag along with that, because I've been reflecting with my kids, like, on the shame component of it is like not assuming that the kids carry shame around it. Because you know, I remember watching Top Gun with my dad and grandma being mortified that I'm watching like the love scene with them and just being so, like, so ashamed.

And then our kids, we watched pretty much everything with them and they're like, “cool, cool.” Like, you know what? “I think this might be, you know, like maybe we're not ready for it yet. We should fast forward through this.” And they're like, “no, actually we're totally cool.” Like they’re totally fine with it.

Justin: Oh, I can't remember the show. But yeah, I remember we were watching some show all together as a family, and there was some scene, I don't know, I don't now remember what it was, but I remember Audra and I…

Audra: And I was like “Oh guys.”

Justin: Yeah. It's like, oh, and I remember we stop and I was like, “Hey, guys, what do you think of that?” Yeah. And I remember, and they're like, “That's fine.”

Audra: “We’re cool.”

Justin: It just didn't really register...

Audra: So, the shame around it was mine, not theirs.

Jena: Yeah.

Audra: That's the thing I wanted to share.

Jena: Yeah, that's awesome. And I want to kind of separate out shame from embarrassment.

Audra: Yes. Thank you.

Justin: Thank you.

Jena: Because it makes sense to me that parents are sometimes embarrassed talking to their children and vice versa around sex and sexuality. One of the things that will often happen when parents describe sexual intercourse, you know, penis and vagina stuff to children, is that young children will turn in horror and say, “you and dad do this?” Right.

I actually, again, when we were in grad school with a lot of our colleagues, came to me and said, you know, my 11-year-old just learned about this in sixth-grade health class and came home and said, “do you do this?”

Audra: Right.

Jena: And I was mortified. Of course you're embarrassed. It's a personal behavior that is private, that people don't typically talk up to 11-year-olds about. But it's not a shameful behavior because having sex with your partner is a good, healthy, fabulous thing that even in the context of a conservative, right.

Audra: Right.

Jena: So I think acknowledging that, you know, a little bit of embarrassment, maybe like my adult children will sometimes occasionally come to me with sexual health difficulties and I'll be like, oh, well. Right. Yeah, OK. I wasn't thinking about it that way. But, good to know.

Audra: It's a little uncomfortable. That's the line with embarrassed.

Justin: Even for Dr. Jena. All right. So that is really affirming. Thank you. Because I had an assumption that there was nothing that could make you kind of feel uncomfortable.

Jena: No actually, Zach, our twenty-five year old, we're doing something last week, and I made some comment and he thought it was like some smutty sex joke that I was making. Like he thought it was this really egregious like over share. I was like, “oh, no. I would never say that in front of you.”  That would be so gross. Yeah. A little bit of embarrassment is reasonable. It makes sense that, I think, everyone feels that. And again, I go back to. What's your motivation? Right. Of all the things that matter to you in your life. My suspicion is that intimacy and relationships and connection with other humans, whatever that looks like for people, are among some of the best and the most important. And talks are, and not just about sex and not just about intercourse, but about emotions and feelings and attraction and romance and dating and all of those talks is how we get to be good at the super important thing. So you know what? Teaching my kids to drive was freaking terrifying. It was also super important. So we spent a lot of time to get it right, and the fact that it wasn't a comfortable process for me didn't stop me from learning how to do it as well as I could.

Audra: Jena, I have a follow up question that is just popping up for me. We talked to Sofia earlier, we had a podcast recording today. We talked to Sofia and it was amazing. And one of the things that we were talking about is normalizing and creating, you know, creating, bringing you know, we're talking about diversity, equity, inclusion. We're talking about how we have conversations in the home and how we every single day bring in our biases and all of these things into the home.

So it made me think about having these talks and talks about sex. Would it be more, you know, something that would be beneficial to start thinking about talking about sex in many different ways? I think coming from like a hetero normative perspective, you know, we think when we have to talk about sex, we're like talking about like heterosexual man and woman in a very specific anatomical way. Could we be broadening our conversations around this?

Jena: Absolutely. Because, again, I don't think the talk is just great. If all we had to do when we had the talk was to teach people the mechanics of intercourse.

Audra: Yes.

Justin: Right.

Jena: Insert lever A into slot B, like that's five minutes.

Audra: Right.

Jena: You know, two minutes if you’re willing to show pictures. Right. So really what we're talking about is love and connection and feeling and attraction and all of these other things, which are both universal and really super complicated.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: So providing only one example, I'm thinking about the danger of a single story. Right. Like providing only one perspective on what love and relationships or marriage or a happy adult life looks like is really unhelpful.

Audra: And would it be helpful, let's say that's what you feel comfortable with, because that's what you know. Let's say you don't know about you know, you're just coming from your frame. Right.

Could you say, listen, I'm sharing this right now because this is just kind of what I know about and there's a lot I don't know about? And, you know, here are some examples from what I might think. And, you know, we could find some more resources to, you know, explore it further. But this is just kind of what I know. And it's one small bit. Even that revelation or admission, I would imagine is helpful.

Jena: And also acknowledging that you don't know things or that you have biases. I love what you said about talking about bias. Because like, for instance, when you were talking about watching Bridgerton with your kids.

One of my big personal undertakings right now is unlearning a lot of racism and working really hard to be anti-racist. And so one of the things that I noticed when I watched Bridgerton without any young children was the way that actors were cast. You know, the queen of England is black.

Audra: Yes.

Jena: And and there are interracial, and I caught myself noticing that because I grew up in a generation where everyone portrayed on TV, with the exception of The Cosby Show, was white.

Audra: Well, and Merchant Ivory films, they're all going to be all the period pieces. They're all white unless somebody is enslaved or, you know, in servitude.

Jena: Right. Exactly right. And so the same way that I would if I were watching that with my kids say, “wow, this is really interesting for me, because when I grew up, every single person in these films were white.” And to see actors of color was just, you know, in leadership roles as the monarch of England. The same way that if you're seeing, you know, the IKEA ad with two dads shopping for furniture, be like, “wow, you know, they're bickering the same way that your dad and I do.” And I'm not used to thinking of gay couples like that. Doing really mundane things.

Audra: Right. Because were typically sexualizing gay couples. I feel like it's all about the sex, not about the, all of the everything that is a relationship, right?

Jena: Exactly. And that's why people who don't understand this don't want us to talk to their children about sexual orientation because they think we're going to talk about, again, slot A…

Audra: And slot B.

Jena: And instead, we're talking about even if you disagree on couches versus recliners, you still need to be kind and loving to your person.

Audra: Right. Right.

Justin: I love it. Jena, thank you so much.

Audra: This is awesome.

Justin: Yeah, it is a wealth of information every time we talk. And yeah, we hope to have this conversation again with you. We consider you to be a central Family Thrive expert. And your approach is just so Life-Giving. Just the idea that, like what it really boils down to is communication, honesty, love, vulnerability. Yeah, it's beautiful.

Audra: I feel like a better person and a better parent. Like I can feel myself just like filling up whenever I talk to you. I'm like, oh, this is so life-giving is a great word for it, but so enriching for me, like I feel like, more empowered every single time I come out of a conversation with you and this is what I'm hoping that we're able to introduce other parents to as well.

Jena: Thank you. Thank you.

Audra: And to the world.

Jena: I’ve had thirty years of screw-ups to figure out some of this stuff. It’s a process.

Justin: And we get to benefit from it, from the knowledge.

Jena: Thank you, take care.

Justin: All right. Thank you, Jena.

Audra: Thank you so much. We’ll talk to you soon. Bye.

Jena: Bye.  

Bonus Podcast AMA with Jena Curtis, EdD: How to Talk About Sex with Your Kids

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Bonus Podcast AMA with Jena Curtis, EdD: How to Talk About Sex with Your Kids

Have more questions for sex-ed expert Jena Curtis, EdD? Take a listen to this bonus Ask Me Anything episode!

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During this week’s AMA, we had Jena Curtis, EdD, who is THE EXPERT when it comes to talking with your kids about sex, sexual health, gender, identity, and intimate relationships. She is a professor of gender and sexuality at SUNY Cortland. After years of being on the main stage for HIV/AIDS advocacy, Jena turned to academia, where she teaches classes on public health, health education, and gender & sexuality.

We had an amazing AMA, where parents asked questions about how to repair relationships when "the talk" doesn't go well, where to find the best resources for sexuality and gender for yourself and your kids, and how to communicate honestly, lovingly, and clearly when the topic might be super uncomfortable.

Listen here

Show notes

Click here to listen to The Family Thrive Podcast Ep. 3 featuring Jena, and to see the Cheat Sheet from Jena’s first talk with The Family Thrive Podcast, click here. You can also view other questions Jena answered via the app here.

  • 01:55 - Question 1: “My daughters are now 26 and 24, and I often reflect back on “the talk” my oldest and I had when she was in third grade. I felt pressure to get it done quickly as the teacher had warned us of increased playground talk on the topic of sex. I researched and thought about it for weeks, set up the perfect platform and did my best. At the end of the talk I asked if she had any questions. She responded with, “Is the tooth fairy real?” It stuck with me forever and I often wondered if I just broached the subject too early for her. What do you think about that? It was crushing to me in a way, as I felt her innocence slipping away.
  • 13:13 - Question 2: “I'm curious what resources you recommend for parents preparing to approach the sex, sexuality, gender identity, conversation with their kids that might not feel equipped with the info they need. Are there forms, podcasts, educators, books, etcetera that parents can use to keep on top of the conversation as their kids mature?”
  • 17:50 - Question 3: “What is the best way to support kids I know with close-minded families when it comes to sexuality and gender identity?”
  • 33:08 - Question 4: “What resources does Jena recommend for toddlers, preteens, adolescents, and emerging adults in understanding their sexuality?”
  • 36:35 - Question 5: “What does Jena recommend for parents to do when preparing for talking with their own children, especially for parents who have never experienced the talk themselves?”  
  • 44:40 - Question 6: “How do we help decrease the feelings of shame around this important and sometimes difficult topic? And so there's embarrassment, there's shame. And parents feel this is not, you know, like all that stuff, you know, it's coming from us. And so how do we deal with this?”
  • 49:40 - Question 7: “Would it be beneficial to start thinking about talking about sex in many different ways? I think coming from like a hetero normative perspective, you know, we think when we have to talk about sex, we're like talking about like heterosexual man and woman in a very specific anatomical way. Could we be broadening our conversations around this?”

During this week’s AMA, we had Jena Curtis, EdD, who is THE EXPERT when it comes to talking with your kids about sex, sexual health, gender, identity, and intimate relationships. She is a professor of gender and sexuality at SUNY Cortland. After years of being on the main stage for HIV/AIDS advocacy, Jena turned to academia, where she teaches classes on public health, health education, and gender & sexuality.

We had an amazing AMA, where parents asked questions about how to repair relationships when "the talk" doesn't go well, where to find the best resources for sexuality and gender for yourself and your kids, and how to communicate honestly, lovingly, and clearly when the topic might be super uncomfortable.

Listen here

Show notes

Click here to listen to The Family Thrive Podcast Ep. 3 featuring Jena, and to see the Cheat Sheet from Jena’s first talk with The Family Thrive Podcast, click here. You can also view other questions Jena answered via the app here.

  • 01:55 - Question 1: “My daughters are now 26 and 24, and I often reflect back on “the talk” my oldest and I had when she was in third grade. I felt pressure to get it done quickly as the teacher had warned us of increased playground talk on the topic of sex. I researched and thought about it for weeks, set up the perfect platform and did my best. At the end of the talk I asked if she had any questions. She responded with, “Is the tooth fairy real?” It stuck with me forever and I often wondered if I just broached the subject too early for her. What do you think about that? It was crushing to me in a way, as I felt her innocence slipping away.
  • 13:13 - Question 2: “I'm curious what resources you recommend for parents preparing to approach the sex, sexuality, gender identity, conversation with their kids that might not feel equipped with the info they need. Are there forms, podcasts, educators, books, etcetera that parents can use to keep on top of the conversation as their kids mature?”
  • 17:50 - Question 3: “What is the best way to support kids I know with close-minded families when it comes to sexuality and gender identity?”
  • 33:08 - Question 4: “What resources does Jena recommend for toddlers, preteens, adolescents, and emerging adults in understanding their sexuality?”
  • 36:35 - Question 5: “What does Jena recommend for parents to do when preparing for talking with their own children, especially for parents who have never experienced the talk themselves?”  
  • 44:40 - Question 6: “How do we help decrease the feelings of shame around this important and sometimes difficult topic? And so there's embarrassment, there's shame. And parents feel this is not, you know, like all that stuff, you know, it's coming from us. And so how do we deal with this?”
  • 49:40 - Question 7: “Would it be beneficial to start thinking about talking about sex in many different ways? I think coming from like a hetero normative perspective, you know, we think when we have to talk about sex, we're like talking about like heterosexual man and woman in a very specific anatomical way. Could we be broadening our conversations around this?”

During this week’s AMA, we had Jena Curtis, EdD, who is THE EXPERT when it comes to talking with your kids about sex, sexual health, gender, identity, and intimate relationships. She is a professor of gender and sexuality at SUNY Cortland. After years of being on the main stage for HIV/AIDS advocacy, Jena turned to academia, where she teaches classes on public health, health education, and gender & sexuality.

We had an amazing AMA, where parents asked questions about how to repair relationships when "the talk" doesn't go well, where to find the best resources for sexuality and gender for yourself and your kids, and how to communicate honestly, lovingly, and clearly when the topic might be super uncomfortable.

Listen here

Show notes

Click here to listen to The Family Thrive Podcast Ep. 3 featuring Jena, and to see the Cheat Sheet from Jena’s first talk with The Family Thrive Podcast, click here. You can also view other questions Jena answered via the app here.

  • 01:55 - Question 1: “My daughters are now 26 and 24, and I often reflect back on “the talk” my oldest and I had when she was in third grade. I felt pressure to get it done quickly as the teacher had warned us of increased playground talk on the topic of sex. I researched and thought about it for weeks, set up the perfect platform and did my best. At the end of the talk I asked if she had any questions. She responded with, “Is the tooth fairy real?” It stuck with me forever and I often wondered if I just broached the subject too early for her. What do you think about that? It was crushing to me in a way, as I felt her innocence slipping away.
  • 13:13 - Question 2: “I'm curious what resources you recommend for parents preparing to approach the sex, sexuality, gender identity, conversation with their kids that might not feel equipped with the info they need. Are there forms, podcasts, educators, books, etcetera that parents can use to keep on top of the conversation as their kids mature?”
  • 17:50 - Question 3: “What is the best way to support kids I know with close-minded families when it comes to sexuality and gender identity?”
  • 33:08 - Question 4: “What resources does Jena recommend for toddlers, preteens, adolescents, and emerging adults in understanding their sexuality?”
  • 36:35 - Question 5: “What does Jena recommend for parents to do when preparing for talking with their own children, especially for parents who have never experienced the talk themselves?”  
  • 44:40 - Question 6: “How do we help decrease the feelings of shame around this important and sometimes difficult topic? And so there's embarrassment, there's shame. And parents feel this is not, you know, like all that stuff, you know, it's coming from us. And so how do we deal with this?”
  • 49:40 - Question 7: “Would it be beneficial to start thinking about talking about sex in many different ways? I think coming from like a hetero normative perspective, you know, we think when we have to talk about sex, we're like talking about like heterosexual man and woman in a very specific anatomical way. Could we be broadening our conversations around this?”

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Justin: Hey Family Thrivers, welcome to this bonus Ask Me Anything podcast episode with one of our amazing Family Thrive experts. Each week we record an AMA live in The Family Thrive app, where we take members’ questions and ask the experts directly. Members submit questions throughout the week and can even ask their questions live on the show. In the future, these AMA's will only be available to subscribers. So if you like what you hear, learn something new and want to be a part of future AMA’s in The Family Thrive, then head on over to The Family Thrive dot com and sign up today.

All right Jena, so we only have you for an hour and we want to get all of your amazing information. We asked parents to write in questions and then we are going to ask them here live. And then if they want to continue to write in and to tune in live, they can follow up. Parents, listen to your podcast, and then they say, “Oh, my gosh, I want to ask the expert now, A, B, and C.” So that is what we're doing today.

So by now, everyone should know something about Jena Curtis. We had an amazing podcast with you. We did a Meet a Thrive expert in the app. And so everybody knows everything about you now.

Jena: Oh good.

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Jena’s always got something new going on.

Justin: Yeah. Right. Yes. You can never know everything about Jena Curtis. All right. So we're just going to dive straight in and just talk about the stuff. All right.

Jena: Cool.

Justin: Alright. So the first question we received this week was from a parent who messaged me directly is, can you ask Jena about this? And so the parent said, I have a question for Jena. My daughters are now 26 and 24, and I often reflect back on “the talk” my oldest and I had when she was in third grade. I felt pressure to get it done quickly as the teacher had warned us of increased playground talk on the topic of sex. I researched and thought about it for weeks. Set up the perfect platform and did my best. At the end of the talk I asked if she had any questions. She responded with, “Is the tooth fairy real?” It stuck with me forever and I often wondered if I just broached the subject too early for her. What do you think about that? It was crushing to me in a way, as I felt her innocence slipping away.

Jena: Oh, right. Well, first of all, wow, what a powerful feeling as a parent to feel like you may have done something to make your kid's childhood less idyllic, like none of us are aiming for that. And like lots of things I think we do to ourselves as parents. That's one interpretation of why she said that, right?

Maybe, but it wasn't that she decided that childhood was gone and it was time to put away imaginary things like the tooth fairy. Maybe the reason that question came up is because the child thought we're talking about things we don't talk about, I can ask anything now.

Justin: Right.

Jena: And here's the burning question I have, because third grade is not only the degree to which kids start to talk a lot about sex on the playground, but it's also the grade where if you still believe in the tooth fairy, Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, kids in your class saying “that's not real” and “your parents are lying to you.” It's just your mom and dad. Right.

So I would again, and I tell folks this all the time, and parents especially, it's never too early to have the talk. The question is always, what are you talking about and how you do it. So the first thing I encourage this mom to do is take a deep breath because I'm positive that this did not, even if the tooth fairy turns out not to be real, this conversation did not ruin anyone's childhood. And ended with something that she thinks about. I'm wondering what would happen if she raised it with her now adult kid and said, “Hey, you know, this thing came up. I was had this conversation or listen, this podcast about sex talk. And I keep thinking about this thing that happened when you were in third grade.”

Right. I'd be really curious to hear from the now-adult kid what the take was. And even if, worst fears realized, it turns out, yes, I wasn't ready. It was this gross thing, ew, ew, ew. You now get to have that conversation with your child and build connection around that. So now that you are an adult, how do we talk about this or you're right, when you were eight, I wasn't ready. And now that you're twenty three or twenty, you know, I still sometimes wonder if I should be talking to you more or checking in more. So if the mom feels like she could, I'd love for her to instead of, you know, asking me to interpret why this happened. Yeah, I have theories, but I can't be the expert at this time to check in with her kid.

Justin: Oh, so what comes up for me hearing that is something that I've heard in other contexts, but around parenting specifically, that repair is always possible. And yeah, like l, you know, we said something we regret, we did something we regret and then repair is always possible. And what I'm hearing from you is that repair is especially built on transparency and honesty and vulnerability.

Jena: Yeah. And the other thing that this brings up for me is the idea of the timing of the talk and how to start the talk. That's the thing that parents always want to know. When should I have the talk? How do I prepare for the talk? And whenever parents ask me about when to have the talk or how do I have the talk, one of the questions I'll ask is, is there something that's prompting this now? Right. Is there a specific thing?

So in this case, it was a teacher said kids are talking about sex on the playground. Often parents will come to me and say, oh, my gosh, I just thought porn on my 12 year old's computer. How do I talk to them about it? Or my kid's best friend just got a period. How do I, right?? So if there's a specific thing…

Audra: Like an event trigger.

Jena: Yes.

Justin: Yeah. Right.

Audra: For me, like I watch Bridgton with my daughter, so.

Justin: Oh, is there stuff in Bridgton?

Audra: Was there stuff in Bridgerton?

Jena: So much stuff in Bridgerton!

Audra: We fast-forwarded through some things that might not have been comfortable. But you know, it did bring up. I still haven't had the talk, though, I mean, there have been many talks of like, “Hey, you know, what do you think about, you know, what's going on here?” Like just trying to like, open it up. And she'd be like, “well, I know all about this stuff. Don't worry about it.”

Justin: Oh no, we've had the talk.

Audra: Oh, you had it?

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: The talk.

Justin: Oh, my God. Yes. She was in the car with me. No. This had happened…

Audra: I didn’t know. I'm still like, gearing up to be like, all right. And I'm like, “OK, so what do you know?” Like just trying to like, enter.

Justin: This is all, See this is real, real and authentic, real-time happening right now. Yeah, it was a couple of years ago, we were in the car and…

Audra: I thought that was TikTok.

Justin: And Max asked a question and then I was like, “Oh, I guess we're having a talk.” And she was in the back and I was like, oh, man. But she's in the back. And so I just, I remember hearing from someone somewhere that like you just answer the questions you're asked. And I think, Jena, you said that as well in your podcast, but I had heard that. And so I was like, “well, I guess I'm just going to talk about it now.” And then Max just had like one question. And so we talked about it. And then Maesie had like six or seven.

Audra: How old was she at the time?

Justin: It was a couple of years ago. It was definitely when we were still in…

Audra: She was like nine?

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Ok. Cool.

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Nice.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: And that's exactly the way to do it. Know that you have answered the questions sufficiently when they run out of questions or they get bored. Really, and to the extent that you can have that vibe of, “Oh, yeah, that's an interesting thing. Let me tell you all that I know about it” or answer all your questions about it the same way that you would hold forth on any other interesting topic.

Because the fact that, you know, your daughter felt that she kind of honed in on Max's question and conversation really suggests that she felt pretty comfortable in that environment. And that's a good thing. And if the talk is being prompted by a specific thing, an event, a concern, when I had a daughter in middle school, when the school sent home a letter to all of the parents saying that a seventh-grade boy had been inappropriately sexually touching the girls in the school. Right.

Audra: Yeah.

Jena: Yikes.

Audra: That's a big...

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: The first time I heard about it is, I got a letter from the school. Yeah. Any time that there's a. So what I did is I said, “Oh, my gosh, I just got this letter from the school and I'm a little freaked out about it. I wonder what you know.” Or for the third-grader, “your teacher called and said kids are talking about sex on the playground. And I'm wondering if you heard that and what you think about it.”

Justin: Yeah. Yeah.

Audra: Man, I want Jena's questions.

Justin: That's brilliant.  

Audra: Like these questions are just gold.

Justin: Yeah, what I'm hearing is that these I mean, these types of questions are really connected. It's like you're not coming in with an agenda. You know, it's like really connected. Like this thing is happening when you think about it.

Audra: And you trust them.

Jena: Yep. And you can own your own vulnerability about this. Yeah. Like I said to Tory when I got the letter was like the first thing that I thought was, “oh, my gosh, did this happen to my kid?” Right. And so I started by saying I got this letter and I'm a little freaked out and I want to know, you know, what's going on.

Justin: One last follow-up here. How concerned should parents be about playground talk about sex? I mean, what's…

Audra: Is that a thing?

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Does it happen?

Jena: Right. So again, I always want more answers and I always have more questions. So for me, it's about what kind of playground talk, right. Are we talking...I was in first or second grade when Lonell Loomis, because this is subscribers only, so I’m gonna name names. Now, when Lonell Loomis told me how babies were made. Right. And I was shocked and horrified. And I refused to believe her because it was too gross. But her dad had magazines and there was photographic evidence that this happened. And so. Right. That’s…

Justin: Scenes of women giving birth?

Jena: Of people having sex. That was pretty hardcore. And this was the ‘70s.

Justin: But not giving birth though…

Jena: No, no, no.

Audra: That’s a specialty ...

Jena: ...my dad. Like whatever was like slightly more hardcore than Hustler. Oh, yeah. Was actually like people having sex. Like, that's a really typical thing. And if I found, if I were parenting seven-year-old me, I'd be concerned and I'd have a conversation with my seven-year-old about I don't like you looking at pictures of naked people having sex because that's an adult thing. I don't like you doing that at your friend's house because that's not our family rules and that's not the kind of behavior I expect.

Audra: Mm-hmm.

Jena: I wouldn't be really, really, I wouldn't like it. Like, that's not what I expect my seven-year-old to be doing at a friend's house. I would not be as concerned about that once I'd explained our family values around it and why I didn't think that was great behavior.

As I would be if, for instance, people were talking sexually about another child. And middle school, elementary school is a little bit early for this, at third grade especially, but kids get sexualized really early. Writes of the sex talk on the playground is about somebody's breasts.

Audra: Right.

Jena: Or who is, if somebody's gay. If it's about somebody's identity, somebody's body, then I am much more concerned about it than if it is about bodies in general or sex in general or, you know, girls have this hole the babies come out of.

I would want to use that opportunity to sort of reinforce our family values around sex and sexual behavior, which is it's not something for children. It's not something that we ever shame people about. It is a private thing. If you have any questions about it, you can always talk to me or your dad, or here are the other trusted adults.

Audra: Teachable moment. Yes.

Jena: Yep.

Justin: Yeah. Awesome. All right. So we have another question. And I just want to note for anyone in the app who is listening to this, Jena generously went through and answered a few of these questions and gave links. And so you can go into the event link for this event and then you can get these links. But Jena, we can elaborate. We can riff on them.

So one question here, Jena, I'm curious what resources you recommend for parents preparing to approach the sex, sexuality, gender identity, conversation with their kids that might not feel equipped with the info they need. Are there forms, podcasts, educators, books, etcetera that parents can use to keep on top of the conversation as their kids mature? So this one is particularly about identity.

Jena: Yeah. So I started answering questions in the app and then realized that I was going to have to just say it's complicated over and over again. And then people would think I was less of an expert. So some links are good. And the link I provided is SIECUS, which is the Sexuality Education Information Council of the United States.

And I love them. They do a lot of advocacy and education around sexuality and sexuality education. And their goal is really that everybody has access to evidence-based sexuality education and information, and that they use that to live their best, healthiest lives. And so I'm a huge fan of that. And they have how do pastors and other faith leaders talk to children about sex? How do teachers talk about sex? How to parent? For all ages, for all gender identities and orientations.

They link to lots of other really good things. And the reason that I like them so much is, one, they're very comprehensive, but also because they're evidence-based and they refused to shame anyone around identity. Right. There are behaviors that are unacceptable. And some of those we agree as a community or as a country like violence is unacceptable. And in other times families have values about what behaviors are ok and are not. But nobody gets shamed for who they are or how they feel. And that's super important to me.

Justin: So I just want to repeat this. So this is S I E C U S dot org.

Jena: Correct.

Justin: Ok.

Audra: I'm so grateful to learn about this, Jena. Thank you so much. And it just makes me so grateful for the amazing work that people are doing. Right.

Jena: And that's, that's the other really important part, too, because if you Google or you search, you know, my kid might be trans. You're going to get two billion links and some of them are going to be super, right. Like if you want to Covid vaccine information right now. Don't google that. Please go to the CDC.

Justin: Oh, well, now that's why we have The Family Thrive. If you Google pretty much anything, you're going to come across a lot of garbage.

Jena: Yeah, right. And just like The Family Thrive, all of these resources and all of these recipes and all of these experts to make sure they're really, really in alignment with your values and your brand and your idea of what wellness is. SIECUS does the same thing for sexuality education. So all of their links are evidence-based. They're not shaming anyone. And they're incredibly inclusive.

Justin: So this is like a one-stop-shop then for parents who are thinking, I need to figure out how to approach sexuality and identity with my kid. And I have no idea where to start.

Jena: This is where they are or I'm wondering about my baby or my pregnancy or myself and my own identity. Everything that you could possibly want is there. It is that good and that comprehensive.

Justin: Oh my gosh.

Audra: Yeah, we gotta get this up on it, I think it'd be great to get a resource, general resource page up.

Justin: Yes.

Jena: They also have curriculum guides, because I know that a lot of folks have alternative schooling arrangements for kids. Right. And so to sort of look and again, from faith-based perspectives, from all sorts of different ages, for all sorts of different topics, it's just a really great resource.

Justin: Awesome. Yeah. Our wonderful managing editor, Jordan, put together a cheat sheet. I don't know if you saw that on the app.

Jena: I saw that. It’s brilliant.

Justin: Yeah. So from the, and she did that just from your podcast. So what we'll do is we'll take additional resources from this AMA, and put that in the cheat sheet. So for any parents listening, you can just search Jena Curtis cheat sheet and you'll have all of the information...

Audra: Or DM us and we’ll tag you in it.

Justin: Oh, yeah, you can message us.

Audra: And I think we're going to ask Gina to make it into a like downloadable PDF version.

Justin: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. All right. So next question, what is the best way to support kids I know with close-minded families when it comes to sexuality and gender identity? And before I let you answer this one, I can say I have a number of friends over the years who I've talked to who have really great communication skills and really great relationships with their kids. But their kids have friends who are in situations that are not supportive. And so I think this is a really common one. Yeah.

Jena: This is and this was where I gave up trying to type answers, it’s complicated. Yeah. So here's like there's so many ways to come at this. And so let's talk about obviously the difference between support for kids and thriving and wellness versus health and safety.

Obviously, if I know of a child who is in an abusive situation, I'm reporting that through the appropriate authorities. I'm talking to the child's teachers, the child's doctors, other adults Right. So I don't think that's what this person is asking. I think what this person is asking is, how do I support my kids' friend who we think might be gay or might be or is gay or is trans or something else and whose parents are not supportive. That's how I read that. Is that's how you're reading it?

Audra: Yes.

Justin: Yes.

Jena: Ok, so we're not talking about kids who are being abused or neglected by their family. This is just my parents don't get me. My parents are conservative. Parents don't…

Audra: That's right.

Justin: Or yes. Or the kids have friends and the friends are trans or gay or whatever and. Right. And live in homes that either they have to hide who they are or they are just not supported in a variety of ways.

Audra: Being who they are. Right.

Jena: Right. So I'm going to break this down one more further step, because I think that lots of us have families where we are seeing nieces and nephews or we don't have a word for my siblings, kid who's nonbinary, but those kids, too.

Audra: Yes, yes.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: Right.

Justin: Right.

Jena: Like my sister's gender-queer kid. So, for family, it's a little bit different. I actually my family, my immediate family is very queer and very inclusive. And my extended family is pretty conservative. And I have nieces and nephews whose parents not only believed that marriage is only between a man and a woman, but that the husband is the head of the household because he is the man and that's the way it's supposed to be.

And when everybody's kids were really little, we had to have conversations that basically turned into negotiations of you don't give my kids Fisher-Price Noah's Ark, and I won't give your kids vulva puppets. Right. Like each of us are going to respect the other's family's values, even though we don't agree with them personally. Right. It's not my job to provide sexuality education to your children. It's not your job to provide religious education to my children.

Audra: Yes.

Jena: And I think that in families, to the extent that that conversation can be had, that's probably helpful for family members and friends and for the children, though, I think that whenever I get into disagreements with people about those values. Right, like who's the head of the household or can two women get married? Well, we already saw that one of them.

Whenever we get sort of disagreements, I like to take a step back to more universal shared values. Some of my family members and I completely agree on how respective nieces and nephews should be raised. We all agree that we love those kids and we all agree that we want those kids to be happy and healthy. For me, for my nieces and nephews, it's really important that I get to be in their lives and I get to be a supportive presence.

And if that means respecting the values of the family by not speaking out against them, I absolutely do that. And I will do that for my children's friends when they were children as well. Right. I'm not going to say, well, your mom should be Ok with gay marriage. Right?

Audra: Right, right.

Jena: And supporting or not going against other people's families' values doesn't mean that I am not modeling inclusion in my behavior, how I talk. This is true for other types of bias. Right. We all have friends and family members who are really unapologetically racist.

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Yeah. Right, right.

Jena: And it's not my job again to tell one of my nieces or nephews that their parent is racist. It is absolutely my job to challenge racist or homophobic ideas in my house. When they are expressed.

Audra: Yes.

Jena: And I do that by saying no, in our family we believe this.

Audra: Yeah, Jena. And in turn, you make your home a safe space.

Jena: Yes.

Audra: A brave space

Jena: And, exactly. And it's funny because when your entire family does this, it reinforces. So one of my nephews once asked a question, who is again, in this pretty conservative family, asked a question, something about science. And I answered it and he turned to me. He was maybe seven or eight. And he said, “No, you're a mom. Moms are not the people you ask when you want to know things. Moms are the people you talk to about feelings. If you want to know something, you ask a dad.”

Audra: Whoa.

Jena: And I was just like, and Tod quick as like, just he's like, “well, actually, your Aunt Jena has her doctorate from Columbia University, which is one of the best schools in the entire world. So I'm thinking she's a good person to ask what you want to know things too.”

Justin: Yeah. Right.

Jena: And it wasn't your mom and dad are teaching you bullshit.

Justin: Oh, yeah. Right, right.

Jena: It wasn't that patriarchal crap. It was just…

Audra: We see this differently.

Jena: Yeah. This is who we are. Or in our family, women change tires and sometimes dads make dinner. I'm not saying that other families aren't different. I'm just affirming that this is who we are.

Justin: Or sometimes dads can talk about feelings too.

Audra: Dads definitely talk about feelings.

Jena: Dads need to talk more about feelings, please.

Justin: Yes. Having grown up in a conservative family myself, there is, I do feel this urge because I'm just imagining when our kids have those friends, how I would want to, you know, protect them and I would want to be an important part of their lives. And just, but I'm hearing the wisdom in what you're saying of like, there's a line that you're drawing here that I'm trying to see more clearly around this is how we do things here. I'm not going to talk about your parents.

Audra: It's more like holding the space in many ways and like and your own modeling and not trying to kind of like do the same thing back. Of like, no, I'm going to teach you what we, you know, this is how it should be through our paradigm. No, it’s clarifying your values, revealing those values. You know how things work in your home and for your family. And then modeling the way.

Jena: Yeah. And just in for you, because I when my kids were little, especially again, my queer kids, I was so like, don't you dare, you know, like I will come and wreck your family.

Justin: Yes.

Jena: Right. Because that momma bear thing. Exactly. And what I recognized is no conversation that ever started with me saying any version of, let me explain to you how you need to be parenting your child because you're doing it wrong now. Has ever gone anyplace good.  

Audra: Yeah. Right.

Jena: Right.

Justin: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Audra: How do any of us feel, right?

Jena: And even, you know, when that is obviously the case. Right. Even when somebody is shaking their toddler in the grocery store and screaming at them.

Audra: Right.

Jena: Walking up to them and saying “you need to stop that right now because that's abuse” is so much less effective than, “Wow. You seem really frustrated.”

Justin: Yeah. What I'm seeing here is a parallel to some communication skills around, like just owning one's lane. And so in, you know, supportive, authentic communication, instead of saying, like, “you're making me feel this way” or, you know, “you're doing this,” I can say, “I'm feeling a tightness in my chest. I'm feeling some resistance around me.” And then just simply owning what's happening for me.

And so there's something similar here with maybe talking with these with the kids who are friends with your kids are saying, “I'm sorry that you're feeling this way. I'm sorry, that you're feeling, you know, misunderstood or rejected. And I want you to know that here, you know, this is how we feel.”

And I can now like I'm now starting to imagine this conversation without any, there's no need to say anything about the other parents. It's about, I'm sorry that you're feeling this way. Let me connect with how you're feeling. And then I want you to know how I am feeling and what this space is for you.

Jena: Right. And, you know, absolutely validating that it is completely frustrating and saddening or anger making or whatever those emotions are about not being supported and understood. And we really care about you and we'd like to support you. What would that look like for us and our family?

Audra: Oh yes. Well, what a beautiful question.

Jena: Absolutely. That's got to feel frustrating at home. What could we do that would be supportive here when you're here with us? Then the sticky part is, again, especially with family. There's got to be limits, right? So for kids, I had a good friend in grad school who had a, what I now understand to be a trans sib.

And she would joke about the fact that whenever her mother would go out, her mother would say to her younger sib, “Mikey, don't you dare wear any of my dresses while I'm out.” And one of the rules in this child's life was when they visited other people's houses, they weren't allowed to wear girl clothes because they were a boy. As a parent, letting that child wear girl clothes, I believe that thing exists, with the other parent understands it to be would be a violation of parenting rules. Right.

So some things like, the same way that driving someone else's 13-year-old to Planned Parenthood is probably, for me personally, too much of a thing.

Audra: Right Right.

Jena: So thinking about your own values around that.

Audra: It’s not yours to do, right.

Jena: And again, the difference between wellness and optimal parenting versus health and safety. Anybody's 13 year old who is having a medical emergency, I am going to support however they need to be supported.

But thinking about how can you, because here's the thing. As a parent who unapologetically believes that people get to be whatever sexual orientation and gender identity they are and that everybody gets to respect that, I would be really, really upset and just completely unhinged if, again, my family members have very different ideas, felt it was their job to explain that to my kid.

Audra: Right.

Jena: The fact that I'm right and they're wrong.

Audra: Right.

Jena: As we all agree on this podcast, at least, right?

Audra: Right.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: It's tough. And that's why I couldn't type an answer, because I just want to say it's complicated here.

Audra: Okay, so Jena, in the dress example, right. So the parent, the other parents made it clear their way, what their understanding is, and what they value in their home and how they work, you know, gender identity and everything to be understood, whatever terms they use.

And you kid comes over, dress up is part of what you do. Dressing of any way anyone was is a part of what you do in your home. Let's just say that's something that that you value. We have clothes around. We like to play and we like to explore. That's what we do in our home. Right. So kid comes over and you now know this. And the kids want to have an exploration, whatever kind that they want to, you know.

Jena: Right.

Audra: Do you then share and say like, these are our values in this home. This is why we provide this open forum for exploration. We really care about this, but we have a difference of the way that we see things. Do you just kind of like are you just open about it?

Jena: Yep. Yep, you're right. So one of the agreements that I have. Right, you have sleepovers, right? I promised all your parents that everybody be in bed with the lights out at ten o'clock.

Audra: Right, no drinking vodka.

Jena: Right, there’s no soda in our house. I told and because somebody has this food requirement or this here's what we're doing. I would say, you know, in our house, kids can wear any clothes they want. And I would have this conversation privately with the child.

Audra: Mm-hmm.

Jena: But Mikey's parents have asked for this.

Audra: Hmm. Yup.

Justin: Ok, so there are next...

Audra: That's wonderful, Jena, thank you.

Justin: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

Jena: I wish there were a better answer, but that's the best one.

Justin: Oh, like well, what I'm hearing is that with each of these questions, like there are a lot of gray areas. And what I love is that it keeps coming back to authenticity, honesty, vulnerability, transparency. Yeah.

Audra: Communication. Openness.

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Votability. And why is it, the thing that makes this most challenging is that for some like tradition that's been passed down to all of us, and parenting is supposed to be black and white? We're supposed to have comebacks and everything is supposed to be very, very fast reactionary. Set in stone. Solid.

Jena: You know the answer...

Audra: Yeah. Yeah.

Jena: Your house, your rules.

Audra: Right, right.

Justin: So our next set of questions come from a parent who is actually with us here. So Alicia Wuth is our director of community. She is a clinical psychologist. She's a mom who is, actually will soon be a mother of two. And…

Audra: In about a month.

Justin: Yeah, she has questions and so. All right. So the first question that she asked is, what resources does Jena recommend for toddlers, preteens, adolescents and emerging adults in understanding their sexuality? So this is a wide, wide range. So I guess I mean, we're...

Audra: I’m hearing among ages.

Justin: Yeah. So, [are there] age-appropriate resources that are for the kids?

Jena: I'd go to SIECUS. There are others, but nobody does it as comprehensively or as well.

Audra: Ok, great. So…

Jena: Go back to that one.

Justin: Oh, she's here.

Audra: Hi Alicia!

Alicia: Hi. Sorry. I'm not sure why you couldn't hear me. But it’s good to be here.

Justin: All right. So I asked the first question for you, and the answer was basically SIECUS again, SIECUS dot org. So they don't just have material for parents, they have material for young people as well.

Alicia: Everybody.

Audra: All ages, everybody.

Jena: But Alicia, because I feel like I'm shortchanging you now that I'm actually hearing your voice and I'm an overachiever. Let me give you two other really great ones for adolescents and young adults, because a lot of sexuality education for them isn't just content knowledge, but it's also values and skills and thinking about like, that huge am I normal for thinking, feeling being this way?

So specifically for adolescents and emerging adults, Scarlet Teen, it's run by Rutgers and it's Scarleteen dot com. They have not only question and answer forums, they also have live chats. So teens and young adults who have urgent questions or two o'clock in the morning musings can find real, live, well-educated others to answer those.

Audra: Great.

Justin: What a great resource.

Jena: And then Advocates for Youth is that specifically for LGBTQ+ teens. They do all sexuality, but they really have a focus on equity around sexual orientation and gender identity. And again, it is very much a peer or near peer-led thing.

So SIECUS is people like me explaining sex in scientific evidence-based sometimes common language, but it's really the nuts and bolts and the content. Scarlet Teen and Advocates for Youth is a much more norming affirming, of course, this ... bizarre sort of thing. So for that age group, that would be really helpful.

Alicia: Great.

Audra: Great.

Jena: But SIECUS will have for younger kids like preschoolers. Here are great books about these things. And here are all of these other resources or here's a film. So lots of more broad stuff.

Alicia: Excellent. Thank you.

Justin: Alicia, do you want me to ask your second question or do you want to?

Alicia: You can go ahead and ask it, Justin, because I actually can't pull up the...

Justin: Oh, Ok. Not a problem. I will go ahead and ask it. And then if you just want to stay on the line for any follow-up. Well, I'm going to ask Alicia's questions because she's on her phone and she can't pull them up, but she'll stay on the line for any follow-up.

So the segment of what does Jena recommend for parents to do when preparing for talking with their own children, especially for parents who have never experienced the talk themselves? Right. So there are some parents are like, who like, man and…

Audra: Good or bad, never had any of it.

Justin: In my childhood, in my parents. Boy did it all together. And now here I am. I don't know what to do. So I'm imagining, is this SIECUS.org again?

Jena: It is not. I can do more than that, Justin. I really am an expert. So first thing, the first thing I recommend is reflecting a little bit on the parent's motivation. Right. Is this a talk you're having and as we discussed earlier, because some event has happened that you feel you need to address? Right.

You just watch the scandalous sex scene together and now you need to deconstruct it with and process it with your kid. Is it because you think they're about to hit puberty? So, first of all, what's prompting the talk for you as a parent and as a family? And then also, what are you hoping to achieve with this? What's your goal of the talk? Is this a checkbox? Because as a good parent, you have to explain the birds and the bees and periods and wet dreams.

Audra: Right.

Jena: Or is it because there's a behavior you're concerned about or a danger you want to warn your child about? What are you, what's motivating this and what are you hoping to get out of it? Because I think that if we don't, we have those motivations and we have hopes and fears. And if we don't explore them, we still have them.

But we don't know that we're acting on them. In our original podcast, I told you that my parents never really gave me a sex talk. They just gave me books because they didn't know how to do that. And that's not exactly true. When I was 15, my dad gave me what I think of in my own head as the don't be a slut talk.

Audra: Oh, yeah.

Jena: And again, my dad, I told you earlier in the podcast, my parents did so much right around sexuality education in that they unconditionally love me and each other and my sibs and my kids. And when it turned out people were queer or people were like, none of that mattered. They love us. We're family. Like they nailed that exactly right.

And when I was 15, I was having a sleepover with a bunch of my girlfriends, female friends, not any romantic anything. I had never been romantically involved with anybody at this point. And I don't know what happened. But somebody must have said or done something that made him worried. We were this wild group of hooligan girls. And like this is probably 1984. Like, think Madonna like a virgin.

Audra: Yes.

Jena: You know, in the bodice. And that's what my dad is picturing, right? Like that's his horror nightmare. And so I get pulled out of the sleepover.

Justin: Oh, wow.

Jena: At that moment. And sat down at the kitchen table to have him explain that boys and girls are very different about sex. And boys don't respect girls who wear makeup or who dress a certain way or who will have sex. You know, the thing about not buying cows when you get free milk.

It was really a don't be a slut talk. Again, you can't use skills you don't have. But if I could have scripted that, like I wish so much that my dad could have waited. And then the next day said, hey, I was listening to you, talk to your friends. And I freaked out a little bit because you were talking about boys and who had a cute ass. And I don't think of you like that, and I don't want you to be that kind of girl.

Audra: Right.

Jena: Right. Like I am worried that you're turning into a teenager that I would not respect or you're engaged in behaviors that I think are wrong. Again I'm freaked out about this. Let's talk about this, because here's how I want you to be. And, but because he didn't it just came out as this and it was this bizarre thing for me because I was trying to figure out, like what had happened and why now. And my friends were like Jena? So the first thing that parents might do in preparing for this is think about what's motivating it and what do they want to accomplish. Right?

Justin: So the first step is reflect on motivations. And then the second step is, what do I want to accomplish?

Jena: Right. What's the outcome? What's the best like best case scenario, what would this mean? And I would argue if I got to vote for your sex talk, I would say best case scenario is parent and child walk away feeling like that wasn't terrible and we could do it again if somebody had more questions or more concerns. But that's what I need from it. Not that everybody gets everything, but that people feel like they had a conversation. They understand what each other believe or they've addressed it.

Audra: And the doors.

Justin: And the doors opened.

Jena: The door is open for it because you don't have to do it all at once. Right. I want sex talks to be plural talks.

Audra: Talks, let's have the talks. Let's have talks. Let me...

Jena: Dialogue...

Audra: No, no, no the. No. The, you know, small talks.

Justin: Many talks.

Jena: And then the other thing that might happen with reflection about motivation is I think most parents, I absolutely believe that almost all parents really love and care for their kids. Right. The same way that I believe chocolate is delicious. I believe parents love their kids. Like you don't have to convince me.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: And what parents mostly want is for their kids to be happy and healthy. And here's where it gets tricky with sexuality and be good people. Yeah, right. Like we say, we want happy and healthy. But I have a twenty-five-year-old son, and if happy for him meant strip mining rainforests to be a billionaire. I'm disappointed.

Audra: Yeah.

Jena: Like, I don't just want happy and healthy, I want him to be a good person. And where we get tripped up with sexuality and where my dad had the freak out is around sex and gender and sexuality. A good person is easier to recognize when it is things that I am familiar with, if my kids grow up to be health professors, I recognize that that is a valuable contribution to society.

If my kid is a writer, maybe it's a little bit harder for me to understand that as the success that I would see something else as. As a parent, understanding that our children can have different ideas around sexuality, can have different gender identity or sexual orientation, and still be good people, takes a little bit of adaptation and ruminating.

Justin: Adaptation, yeah. Yeah, right, self-reflection.

Jena: And Alicia, are you like you're expecting a new baby like you've already got so many hopes, I'm sure. And so many fears and so many. Even before our children are born, we're thinking about who we would love them to be and what we think happy in a good life would look like for them.

Justin: Hmm. Beautiful.

Jena: ... sex. Yeah.

Justin: Alicia, how did all that land for you?

Alicia: It definitely resonates. Thank you so much Dr. Jena for sharing all of that. And you're and you're absolutely correct. I love the idea of it's not just one talk, but it's really an ongoing conversation. And how do we open the doors so our kids know they're always welcome to come to us and we want them to come to us. We want to hug them.

Jena: Yeah, I think that having worked for lots of different bosses who said my door is always open, I've noticed that for me that isn't nearly as effective. Having my boss sit behind a desk in an office with an open door as it is when she comes out to me and says, “Hey, Jena, I wanted to check in about this thing,” or, “Hey, I noticed you're doing this” rather than waiting for our children to notice that our door is open constantly.

Audra, you're talking about Bridgerton, right? Like, wow, I'm you know, “here's what I noticed” or “here's what I'm thinking,” or “that was a little bit embarrassing.”

Audra: Great conversation starter. I'll tell you what.

Justin: All right. So we only have a couple more minutes. So I want to get to Alicia's third question. So, Jena, you said the word embarrassing. And so Alicia's third question is, how do we help decrease the feelings of shame around this important and sometimes difficult topic?

And so there's embarrassment, there's shame. And parents feel this is not, you know, like all that stuff, you know, it's coming from us. And so how do we deal with this?

Audra: Oh, yeah. Well, I want to tag along with that, because I've been reflecting with my kids, like, on the shame component of it is like not assuming that the kids carry shame around it. Because you know, I remember watching Top Gun with my dad and grandma being mortified that I'm watching like the love scene with them and just being so, like, so ashamed.

And then our kids, we watched pretty much everything with them and they're like, “cool, cool.” Like, you know what? “I think this might be, you know, like maybe we're not ready for it yet. We should fast forward through this.” And they're like, “no, actually we're totally cool.” Like they’re totally fine with it.

Justin: Oh, I can't remember the show. But yeah, I remember we were watching some show all together as a family, and there was some scene, I don't know, I don't now remember what it was, but I remember Audra and I…

Audra: And I was like “Oh guys.”

Justin: Yeah. It's like, oh, and I remember we stop and I was like, “Hey, guys, what do you think of that?” Yeah. And I remember, and they're like, “That's fine.”

Audra: “We’re cool.”

Justin: It just didn't really register...

Audra: So, the shame around it was mine, not theirs.

Jena: Yeah.

Audra: That's the thing I wanted to share.

Jena: Yeah, that's awesome. And I want to kind of separate out shame from embarrassment.

Audra: Yes. Thank you.

Justin: Thank you.

Jena: Because it makes sense to me that parents are sometimes embarrassed talking to their children and vice versa around sex and sexuality. One of the things that will often happen when parents describe sexual intercourse, you know, penis and vagina stuff to children, is that young children will turn in horror and say, “you and dad do this?” Right.

I actually, again, when we were in grad school with a lot of our colleagues, came to me and said, you know, my 11-year-old just learned about this in sixth-grade health class and came home and said, “do you do this?”

Audra: Right.

Jena: And I was mortified. Of course you're embarrassed. It's a personal behavior that is private, that people don't typically talk up to 11-year-olds about. But it's not a shameful behavior because having sex with your partner is a good, healthy, fabulous thing that even in the context of a conservative, right.

Audra: Right.

Jena: So I think acknowledging that, you know, a little bit of embarrassment, maybe like my adult children will sometimes occasionally come to me with sexual health difficulties and I'll be like, oh, well. Right. Yeah, OK. I wasn't thinking about it that way. But, good to know.

Audra: It's a little uncomfortable. That's the line with embarrassed.

Justin: Even for Dr. Jena. All right. So that is really affirming. Thank you. Because I had an assumption that there was nothing that could make you kind of feel uncomfortable.

Jena: No actually, Zach, our twenty-five year old, we're doing something last week, and I made some comment and he thought it was like some smutty sex joke that I was making. Like he thought it was this really egregious like over share. I was like, “oh, no. I would never say that in front of you.”  That would be so gross. Yeah. A little bit of embarrassment is reasonable. It makes sense that, I think, everyone feels that. And again, I go back to. What's your motivation? Right. Of all the things that matter to you in your life. My suspicion is that intimacy and relationships and connection with other humans, whatever that looks like for people, are among some of the best and the most important. And talks are, and not just about sex and not just about intercourse, but about emotions and feelings and attraction and romance and dating and all of those talks is how we get to be good at the super important thing. So you know what? Teaching my kids to drive was freaking terrifying. It was also super important. So we spent a lot of time to get it right, and the fact that it wasn't a comfortable process for me didn't stop me from learning how to do it as well as I could.

Audra: Jena, I have a follow up question that is just popping up for me. We talked to Sofia earlier, we had a podcast recording today. We talked to Sofia and it was amazing. And one of the things that we were talking about is normalizing and creating, you know, creating, bringing you know, we're talking about diversity, equity, inclusion. We're talking about how we have conversations in the home and how we every single day bring in our biases and all of these things into the home.

So it made me think about having these talks and talks about sex. Would it be more, you know, something that would be beneficial to start thinking about talking about sex in many different ways? I think coming from like a hetero normative perspective, you know, we think when we have to talk about sex, we're like talking about like heterosexual man and woman in a very specific anatomical way. Could we be broadening our conversations around this?

Jena: Absolutely. Because, again, I don't think the talk is just great. If all we had to do when we had the talk was to teach people the mechanics of intercourse.

Audra: Yes.

Justin: Right.

Jena: Insert lever A into slot B, like that's five minutes.

Audra: Right.

Jena: You know, two minutes if you’re willing to show pictures. Right. So really what we're talking about is love and connection and feeling and attraction and all of these other things, which are both universal and really super complicated.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: So providing only one example, I'm thinking about the danger of a single story. Right. Like providing only one perspective on what love and relationships or marriage or a happy adult life looks like is really unhelpful.

Audra: And would it be helpful, let's say that's what you feel comfortable with, because that's what you know. Let's say you don't know about you know, you're just coming from your frame. Right.

Could you say, listen, I'm sharing this right now because this is just kind of what I know about and there's a lot I don't know about? And, you know, here are some examples from what I might think. And, you know, we could find some more resources to, you know, explore it further. But this is just kind of what I know. And it's one small bit. Even that revelation or admission, I would imagine is helpful.

Jena: And also acknowledging that you don't know things or that you have biases. I love what you said about talking about bias. Because like, for instance, when you were talking about watching Bridgerton with your kids.

One of my big personal undertakings right now is unlearning a lot of racism and working really hard to be anti-racist. And so one of the things that I noticed when I watched Bridgerton without any young children was the way that actors were cast. You know, the queen of England is black.

Audra: Yes.

Jena: And and there are interracial, and I caught myself noticing that because I grew up in a generation where everyone portrayed on TV, with the exception of The Cosby Show, was white.

Audra: Well, and Merchant Ivory films, they're all going to be all the period pieces. They're all white unless somebody is enslaved or, you know, in servitude.

Jena: Right. Exactly right. And so the same way that I would if I were watching that with my kids say, “wow, this is really interesting for me, because when I grew up, every single person in these films were white.” And to see actors of color was just, you know, in leadership roles as the monarch of England. The same way that if you're seeing, you know, the IKEA ad with two dads shopping for furniture, be like, “wow, you know, they're bickering the same way that your dad and I do.” And I'm not used to thinking of gay couples like that. Doing really mundane things.

Audra: Right. Because were typically sexualizing gay couples. I feel like it's all about the sex, not about the, all of the everything that is a relationship, right?

Jena: Exactly. And that's why people who don't understand this don't want us to talk to their children about sexual orientation because they think we're going to talk about, again, slot A…

Audra: And slot B.

Jena: And instead, we're talking about even if you disagree on couches versus recliners, you still need to be kind and loving to your person.

Audra: Right. Right.

Justin: I love it. Jena, thank you so much.

Audra: This is awesome.

Justin: Yeah, it is a wealth of information every time we talk. And yeah, we hope to have this conversation again with you. We consider you to be a central Family Thrive expert. And your approach is just so Life-Giving. Just the idea that, like what it really boils down to is communication, honesty, love, vulnerability. Yeah, it's beautiful.

Audra: I feel like a better person and a better parent. Like I can feel myself just like filling up whenever I talk to you. I'm like, oh, this is so life-giving is a great word for it, but so enriching for me, like I feel like, more empowered every single time I come out of a conversation with you and this is what I'm hoping that we're able to introduce other parents to as well.

Jena: Thank you. Thank you.

Audra: And to the world.

Jena: I’ve had thirty years of screw-ups to figure out some of this stuff. It’s a process.

Justin: And we get to benefit from it, from the knowledge.

Jena: Thank you, take care.

Justin: All right. Thank you, Jena.

Audra: Thank you so much. We’ll talk to you soon. Bye.

Jena: Bye.  

Justin: Hey Family Thrivers, welcome to this bonus Ask Me Anything podcast episode with one of our amazing Family Thrive experts. Each week we record an AMA live in The Family Thrive app, where we take members’ questions and ask the experts directly. Members submit questions throughout the week and can even ask their questions live on the show. In the future, these AMA's will only be available to subscribers. So if you like what you hear, learn something new and want to be a part of future AMA’s in The Family Thrive, then head on over to The Family Thrive dot com and sign up today.

All right Jena, so we only have you for an hour and we want to get all of your amazing information. We asked parents to write in questions and then we are going to ask them here live. And then if they want to continue to write in and to tune in live, they can follow up. Parents, listen to your podcast, and then they say, “Oh, my gosh, I want to ask the expert now, A, B, and C.” So that is what we're doing today.

So by now, everyone should know something about Jena Curtis. We had an amazing podcast with you. We did a Meet a Thrive expert in the app. And so everybody knows everything about you now.

Jena: Oh good.

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Jena’s always got something new going on.

Justin: Yeah. Right. Yes. You can never know everything about Jena Curtis. All right. So we're just going to dive straight in and just talk about the stuff. All right.

Jena: Cool.

Justin: Alright. So the first question we received this week was from a parent who messaged me directly is, can you ask Jena about this? And so the parent said, I have a question for Jena. My daughters are now 26 and 24, and I often reflect back on “the talk” my oldest and I had when she was in third grade. I felt pressure to get it done quickly as the teacher had warned us of increased playground talk on the topic of sex. I researched and thought about it for weeks. Set up the perfect platform and did my best. At the end of the talk I asked if she had any questions. She responded with, “Is the tooth fairy real?” It stuck with me forever and I often wondered if I just broached the subject too early for her. What do you think about that? It was crushing to me in a way, as I felt her innocence slipping away.

Jena: Oh, right. Well, first of all, wow, what a powerful feeling as a parent to feel like you may have done something to make your kid's childhood less idyllic, like none of us are aiming for that. And like lots of things I think we do to ourselves as parents. That's one interpretation of why she said that, right?

Maybe, but it wasn't that she decided that childhood was gone and it was time to put away imaginary things like the tooth fairy. Maybe the reason that question came up is because the child thought we're talking about things we don't talk about, I can ask anything now.

Justin: Right.

Jena: And here's the burning question I have, because third grade is not only the degree to which kids start to talk a lot about sex on the playground, but it's also the grade where if you still believe in the tooth fairy, Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, kids in your class saying “that's not real” and “your parents are lying to you.” It's just your mom and dad. Right.

So I would again, and I tell folks this all the time, and parents especially, it's never too early to have the talk. The question is always, what are you talking about and how you do it. So the first thing I encourage this mom to do is take a deep breath because I'm positive that this did not, even if the tooth fairy turns out not to be real, this conversation did not ruin anyone's childhood. And ended with something that she thinks about. I'm wondering what would happen if she raised it with her now adult kid and said, “Hey, you know, this thing came up. I was had this conversation or listen, this podcast about sex talk. And I keep thinking about this thing that happened when you were in third grade.”

Right. I'd be really curious to hear from the now-adult kid what the take was. And even if, worst fears realized, it turns out, yes, I wasn't ready. It was this gross thing, ew, ew, ew. You now get to have that conversation with your child and build connection around that. So now that you are an adult, how do we talk about this or you're right, when you were eight, I wasn't ready. And now that you're twenty three or twenty, you know, I still sometimes wonder if I should be talking to you more or checking in more. So if the mom feels like she could, I'd love for her to instead of, you know, asking me to interpret why this happened. Yeah, I have theories, but I can't be the expert at this time to check in with her kid.

Justin: Oh, so what comes up for me hearing that is something that I've heard in other contexts, but around parenting specifically, that repair is always possible. And yeah, like l, you know, we said something we regret, we did something we regret and then repair is always possible. And what I'm hearing from you is that repair is especially built on transparency and honesty and vulnerability.

Jena: Yeah. And the other thing that this brings up for me is the idea of the timing of the talk and how to start the talk. That's the thing that parents always want to know. When should I have the talk? How do I prepare for the talk? And whenever parents ask me about when to have the talk or how do I have the talk, one of the questions I'll ask is, is there something that's prompting this now? Right. Is there a specific thing?

So in this case, it was a teacher said kids are talking about sex on the playground. Often parents will come to me and say, oh, my gosh, I just thought porn on my 12 year old's computer. How do I talk to them about it? Or my kid's best friend just got a period. How do I, right?? So if there's a specific thing…

Audra: Like an event trigger.

Jena: Yes.

Justin: Yeah. Right.

Audra: For me, like I watch Bridgton with my daughter, so.

Justin: Oh, is there stuff in Bridgton?

Audra: Was there stuff in Bridgerton?

Jena: So much stuff in Bridgerton!

Audra: We fast-forwarded through some things that might not have been comfortable. But you know, it did bring up. I still haven't had the talk, though, I mean, there have been many talks of like, “Hey, you know, what do you think about, you know, what's going on here?” Like just trying to like, open it up. And she'd be like, “well, I know all about this stuff. Don't worry about it.”

Justin: Oh no, we've had the talk.

Audra: Oh, you had it?

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: The talk.

Justin: Oh, my God. Yes. She was in the car with me. No. This had happened…

Audra: I didn’t know. I'm still like, gearing up to be like, all right. And I'm like, “OK, so what do you know?” Like just trying to like, enter.

Justin: This is all, See this is real, real and authentic, real-time happening right now. Yeah, it was a couple of years ago, we were in the car and…

Audra: I thought that was TikTok.

Justin: And Max asked a question and then I was like, “Oh, I guess we're having a talk.” And she was in the back and I was like, oh, man. But she's in the back. And so I just, I remember hearing from someone somewhere that like you just answer the questions you're asked. And I think, Jena, you said that as well in your podcast, but I had heard that. And so I was like, “well, I guess I'm just going to talk about it now.” And then Max just had like one question. And so we talked about it. And then Maesie had like six or seven.

Audra: How old was she at the time?

Justin: It was a couple of years ago. It was definitely when we were still in…

Audra: She was like nine?

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Ok. Cool.

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Nice.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: And that's exactly the way to do it. Know that you have answered the questions sufficiently when they run out of questions or they get bored. Really, and to the extent that you can have that vibe of, “Oh, yeah, that's an interesting thing. Let me tell you all that I know about it” or answer all your questions about it the same way that you would hold forth on any other interesting topic.

Because the fact that, you know, your daughter felt that she kind of honed in on Max's question and conversation really suggests that she felt pretty comfortable in that environment. And that's a good thing. And if the talk is being prompted by a specific thing, an event, a concern, when I had a daughter in middle school, when the school sent home a letter to all of the parents saying that a seventh-grade boy had been inappropriately sexually touching the girls in the school. Right.

Audra: Yeah.

Jena: Yikes.

Audra: That's a big...

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: The first time I heard about it is, I got a letter from the school. Yeah. Any time that there's a. So what I did is I said, “Oh, my gosh, I just got this letter from the school and I'm a little freaked out about it. I wonder what you know.” Or for the third-grader, “your teacher called and said kids are talking about sex on the playground. And I'm wondering if you heard that and what you think about it.”

Justin: Yeah. Yeah.

Audra: Man, I want Jena's questions.

Justin: That's brilliant.  

Audra: Like these questions are just gold.

Justin: Yeah, what I'm hearing is that these I mean, these types of questions are really connected. It's like you're not coming in with an agenda. You know, it's like really connected. Like this thing is happening when you think about it.

Audra: And you trust them.

Jena: Yep. And you can own your own vulnerability about this. Yeah. Like I said to Tory when I got the letter was like the first thing that I thought was, “oh, my gosh, did this happen to my kid?” Right. And so I started by saying I got this letter and I'm a little freaked out and I want to know, you know, what's going on.

Justin: One last follow-up here. How concerned should parents be about playground talk about sex? I mean, what's…

Audra: Is that a thing?

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Does it happen?

Jena: Right. So again, I always want more answers and I always have more questions. So for me, it's about what kind of playground talk, right. Are we talking...I was in first or second grade when Lonell Loomis, because this is subscribers only, so I’m gonna name names. Now, when Lonell Loomis told me how babies were made. Right. And I was shocked and horrified. And I refused to believe her because it was too gross. But her dad had magazines and there was photographic evidence that this happened. And so. Right. That’s…

Justin: Scenes of women giving birth?

Jena: Of people having sex. That was pretty hardcore. And this was the ‘70s.

Justin: But not giving birth though…

Jena: No, no, no.

Audra: That’s a specialty ...

Jena: ...my dad. Like whatever was like slightly more hardcore than Hustler. Oh, yeah. Was actually like people having sex. Like, that's a really typical thing. And if I found, if I were parenting seven-year-old me, I'd be concerned and I'd have a conversation with my seven-year-old about I don't like you looking at pictures of naked people having sex because that's an adult thing. I don't like you doing that at your friend's house because that's not our family rules and that's not the kind of behavior I expect.

Audra: Mm-hmm.

Jena: I wouldn't be really, really, I wouldn't like it. Like, that's not what I expect my seven-year-old to be doing at a friend's house. I would not be as concerned about that once I'd explained our family values around it and why I didn't think that was great behavior.

As I would be if, for instance, people were talking sexually about another child. And middle school, elementary school is a little bit early for this, at third grade especially, but kids get sexualized really early. Writes of the sex talk on the playground is about somebody's breasts.

Audra: Right.

Jena: Or who is, if somebody's gay. If it's about somebody's identity, somebody's body, then I am much more concerned about it than if it is about bodies in general or sex in general or, you know, girls have this hole the babies come out of.

I would want to use that opportunity to sort of reinforce our family values around sex and sexual behavior, which is it's not something for children. It's not something that we ever shame people about. It is a private thing. If you have any questions about it, you can always talk to me or your dad, or here are the other trusted adults.

Audra: Teachable moment. Yes.

Jena: Yep.

Justin: Yeah. Awesome. All right. So we have another question. And I just want to note for anyone in the app who is listening to this, Jena generously went through and answered a few of these questions and gave links. And so you can go into the event link for this event and then you can get these links. But Jena, we can elaborate. We can riff on them.

So one question here, Jena, I'm curious what resources you recommend for parents preparing to approach the sex, sexuality, gender identity, conversation with their kids that might not feel equipped with the info they need. Are there forms, podcasts, educators, books, etcetera that parents can use to keep on top of the conversation as their kids mature? So this one is particularly about identity.

Jena: Yeah. So I started answering questions in the app and then realized that I was going to have to just say it's complicated over and over again. And then people would think I was less of an expert. So some links are good. And the link I provided is SIECUS, which is the Sexuality Education Information Council of the United States.

And I love them. They do a lot of advocacy and education around sexuality and sexuality education. And their goal is really that everybody has access to evidence-based sexuality education and information, and that they use that to live their best, healthiest lives. And so I'm a huge fan of that. And they have how do pastors and other faith leaders talk to children about sex? How do teachers talk about sex? How to parent? For all ages, for all gender identities and orientations.

They link to lots of other really good things. And the reason that I like them so much is, one, they're very comprehensive, but also because they're evidence-based and they refused to shame anyone around identity. Right. There are behaviors that are unacceptable. And some of those we agree as a community or as a country like violence is unacceptable. And in other times families have values about what behaviors are ok and are not. But nobody gets shamed for who they are or how they feel. And that's super important to me.

Justin: So I just want to repeat this. So this is S I E C U S dot org.

Jena: Correct.

Justin: Ok.

Audra: I'm so grateful to learn about this, Jena. Thank you so much. And it just makes me so grateful for the amazing work that people are doing. Right.

Jena: And that's, that's the other really important part, too, because if you Google or you search, you know, my kid might be trans. You're going to get two billion links and some of them are going to be super, right. Like if you want to Covid vaccine information right now. Don't google that. Please go to the CDC.

Justin: Oh, well, now that's why we have The Family Thrive. If you Google pretty much anything, you're going to come across a lot of garbage.

Jena: Yeah, right. And just like The Family Thrive, all of these resources and all of these recipes and all of these experts to make sure they're really, really in alignment with your values and your brand and your idea of what wellness is. SIECUS does the same thing for sexuality education. So all of their links are evidence-based. They're not shaming anyone. And they're incredibly inclusive.

Justin: So this is like a one-stop-shop then for parents who are thinking, I need to figure out how to approach sexuality and identity with my kid. And I have no idea where to start.

Jena: This is where they are or I'm wondering about my baby or my pregnancy or myself and my own identity. Everything that you could possibly want is there. It is that good and that comprehensive.

Justin: Oh my gosh.

Audra: Yeah, we gotta get this up on it, I think it'd be great to get a resource, general resource page up.

Justin: Yes.

Jena: They also have curriculum guides, because I know that a lot of folks have alternative schooling arrangements for kids. Right. And so to sort of look and again, from faith-based perspectives, from all sorts of different ages, for all sorts of different topics, it's just a really great resource.

Justin: Awesome. Yeah. Our wonderful managing editor, Jordan, put together a cheat sheet. I don't know if you saw that on the app.

Jena: I saw that. It’s brilliant.

Justin: Yeah. So from the, and she did that just from your podcast. So what we'll do is we'll take additional resources from this AMA, and put that in the cheat sheet. So for any parents listening, you can just search Jena Curtis cheat sheet and you'll have all of the information...

Audra: Or DM us and we’ll tag you in it.

Justin: Oh, yeah, you can message us.

Audra: And I think we're going to ask Gina to make it into a like downloadable PDF version.

Justin: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. All right. So next question, what is the best way to support kids I know with close-minded families when it comes to sexuality and gender identity? And before I let you answer this one, I can say I have a number of friends over the years who I've talked to who have really great communication skills and really great relationships with their kids. But their kids have friends who are in situations that are not supportive. And so I think this is a really common one. Yeah.

Jena: This is and this was where I gave up trying to type answers, it’s complicated. Yeah. So here's like there's so many ways to come at this. And so let's talk about obviously the difference between support for kids and thriving and wellness versus health and safety.

Obviously, if I know of a child who is in an abusive situation, I'm reporting that through the appropriate authorities. I'm talking to the child's teachers, the child's doctors, other adults Right. So I don't think that's what this person is asking. I think what this person is asking is, how do I support my kids' friend who we think might be gay or might be or is gay or is trans or something else and whose parents are not supportive. That's how I read that. Is that's how you're reading it?

Audra: Yes.

Justin: Yes.

Jena: Ok, so we're not talking about kids who are being abused or neglected by their family. This is just my parents don't get me. My parents are conservative. Parents don't…

Audra: That's right.

Justin: Or yes. Or the kids have friends and the friends are trans or gay or whatever and. Right. And live in homes that either they have to hide who they are or they are just not supported in a variety of ways.

Audra: Being who they are. Right.

Jena: Right. So I'm going to break this down one more further step, because I think that lots of us have families where we are seeing nieces and nephews or we don't have a word for my siblings, kid who's nonbinary, but those kids, too.

Audra: Yes, yes.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: Right.

Justin: Right.

Jena: Like my sister's gender-queer kid. So, for family, it's a little bit different. I actually my family, my immediate family is very queer and very inclusive. And my extended family is pretty conservative. And I have nieces and nephews whose parents not only believed that marriage is only between a man and a woman, but that the husband is the head of the household because he is the man and that's the way it's supposed to be.

And when everybody's kids were really little, we had to have conversations that basically turned into negotiations of you don't give my kids Fisher-Price Noah's Ark, and I won't give your kids vulva puppets. Right. Like each of us are going to respect the other's family's values, even though we don't agree with them personally. Right. It's not my job to provide sexuality education to your children. It's not your job to provide religious education to my children.

Audra: Yes.

Jena: And I think that in families, to the extent that that conversation can be had, that's probably helpful for family members and friends and for the children, though, I think that whenever I get into disagreements with people about those values. Right, like who's the head of the household or can two women get married? Well, we already saw that one of them.

Whenever we get sort of disagreements, I like to take a step back to more universal shared values. Some of my family members and I completely agree on how respective nieces and nephews should be raised. We all agree that we love those kids and we all agree that we want those kids to be happy and healthy. For me, for my nieces and nephews, it's really important that I get to be in their lives and I get to be a supportive presence.

And if that means respecting the values of the family by not speaking out against them, I absolutely do that. And I will do that for my children's friends when they were children as well. Right. I'm not going to say, well, your mom should be Ok with gay marriage. Right?

Audra: Right, right.

Jena: And supporting or not going against other people's families' values doesn't mean that I am not modeling inclusion in my behavior, how I talk. This is true for other types of bias. Right. We all have friends and family members who are really unapologetically racist.

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Yeah. Right, right.

Jena: And it's not my job again to tell one of my nieces or nephews that their parent is racist. It is absolutely my job to challenge racist or homophobic ideas in my house. When they are expressed.

Audra: Yes.

Jena: And I do that by saying no, in our family we believe this.

Audra: Yeah, Jena. And in turn, you make your home a safe space.

Jena: Yes.

Audra: A brave space

Jena: And, exactly. And it's funny because when your entire family does this, it reinforces. So one of my nephews once asked a question, who is again, in this pretty conservative family, asked a question, something about science. And I answered it and he turned to me. He was maybe seven or eight. And he said, “No, you're a mom. Moms are not the people you ask when you want to know things. Moms are the people you talk to about feelings. If you want to know something, you ask a dad.”

Audra: Whoa.

Jena: And I was just like, and Tod quick as like, just he's like, “well, actually, your Aunt Jena has her doctorate from Columbia University, which is one of the best schools in the entire world. So I'm thinking she's a good person to ask what you want to know things too.”

Justin: Yeah. Right.

Jena: And it wasn't your mom and dad are teaching you bullshit.

Justin: Oh, yeah. Right, right.

Jena: It wasn't that patriarchal crap. It was just…

Audra: We see this differently.

Jena: Yeah. This is who we are. Or in our family, women change tires and sometimes dads make dinner. I'm not saying that other families aren't different. I'm just affirming that this is who we are.

Justin: Or sometimes dads can talk about feelings too.

Audra: Dads definitely talk about feelings.

Jena: Dads need to talk more about feelings, please.

Justin: Yes. Having grown up in a conservative family myself, there is, I do feel this urge because I'm just imagining when our kids have those friends, how I would want to, you know, protect them and I would want to be an important part of their lives. And just, but I'm hearing the wisdom in what you're saying of like, there's a line that you're drawing here that I'm trying to see more clearly around this is how we do things here. I'm not going to talk about your parents.

Audra: It's more like holding the space in many ways and like and your own modeling and not trying to kind of like do the same thing back. Of like, no, I'm going to teach you what we, you know, this is how it should be through our paradigm. No, it’s clarifying your values, revealing those values. You know how things work in your home and for your family. And then modeling the way.

Jena: Yeah. And just in for you, because I when my kids were little, especially again, my queer kids, I was so like, don't you dare, you know, like I will come and wreck your family.

Justin: Yes.

Jena: Right. Because that momma bear thing. Exactly. And what I recognized is no conversation that ever started with me saying any version of, let me explain to you how you need to be parenting your child because you're doing it wrong now. Has ever gone anyplace good.  

Audra: Yeah. Right.

Jena: Right.

Justin: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Audra: How do any of us feel, right?

Jena: And even, you know, when that is obviously the case. Right. Even when somebody is shaking their toddler in the grocery store and screaming at them.

Audra: Right.

Jena: Walking up to them and saying “you need to stop that right now because that's abuse” is so much less effective than, “Wow. You seem really frustrated.”

Justin: Yeah. What I'm seeing here is a parallel to some communication skills around, like just owning one's lane. And so in, you know, supportive, authentic communication, instead of saying, like, “you're making me feel this way” or, you know, “you're doing this,” I can say, “I'm feeling a tightness in my chest. I'm feeling some resistance around me.” And then just simply owning what's happening for me.

And so there's something similar here with maybe talking with these with the kids who are friends with your kids are saying, “I'm sorry that you're feeling this way. I'm sorry, that you're feeling, you know, misunderstood or rejected. And I want you to know that here, you know, this is how we feel.”

And I can now like I'm now starting to imagine this conversation without any, there's no need to say anything about the other parents. It's about, I'm sorry that you're feeling this way. Let me connect with how you're feeling. And then I want you to know how I am feeling and what this space is for you.

Jena: Right. And, you know, absolutely validating that it is completely frustrating and saddening or anger making or whatever those emotions are about not being supported and understood. And we really care about you and we'd like to support you. What would that look like for us and our family?

Audra: Oh yes. Well, what a beautiful question.

Jena: Absolutely. That's got to feel frustrating at home. What could we do that would be supportive here when you're here with us? Then the sticky part is, again, especially with family. There's got to be limits, right? So for kids, I had a good friend in grad school who had a, what I now understand to be a trans sib.

And she would joke about the fact that whenever her mother would go out, her mother would say to her younger sib, “Mikey, don't you dare wear any of my dresses while I'm out.” And one of the rules in this child's life was when they visited other people's houses, they weren't allowed to wear girl clothes because they were a boy. As a parent, letting that child wear girl clothes, I believe that thing exists, with the other parent understands it to be would be a violation of parenting rules. Right.

So some things like, the same way that driving someone else's 13-year-old to Planned Parenthood is probably, for me personally, too much of a thing.

Audra: Right Right.

Jena: So thinking about your own values around that.

Audra: It’s not yours to do, right.

Jena: And again, the difference between wellness and optimal parenting versus health and safety. Anybody's 13 year old who is having a medical emergency, I am going to support however they need to be supported.

But thinking about how can you, because here's the thing. As a parent who unapologetically believes that people get to be whatever sexual orientation and gender identity they are and that everybody gets to respect that, I would be really, really upset and just completely unhinged if, again, my family members have very different ideas, felt it was their job to explain that to my kid.

Audra: Right.

Jena: The fact that I'm right and they're wrong.

Audra: Right.

Jena: As we all agree on this podcast, at least, right?

Audra: Right.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: It's tough. And that's why I couldn't type an answer, because I just want to say it's complicated here.

Audra: Okay, so Jena, in the dress example, right. So the parent, the other parents made it clear their way, what their understanding is, and what they value in their home and how they work, you know, gender identity and everything to be understood, whatever terms they use.

And you kid comes over, dress up is part of what you do. Dressing of any way anyone was is a part of what you do in your home. Let's just say that's something that that you value. We have clothes around. We like to play and we like to explore. That's what we do in our home. Right. So kid comes over and you now know this. And the kids want to have an exploration, whatever kind that they want to, you know.

Jena: Right.

Audra: Do you then share and say like, these are our values in this home. This is why we provide this open forum for exploration. We really care about this, but we have a difference of the way that we see things. Do you just kind of like are you just open about it?

Jena: Yep. Yep, you're right. So one of the agreements that I have. Right, you have sleepovers, right? I promised all your parents that everybody be in bed with the lights out at ten o'clock.

Audra: Right, no drinking vodka.

Jena: Right, there’s no soda in our house. I told and because somebody has this food requirement or this here's what we're doing. I would say, you know, in our house, kids can wear any clothes they want. And I would have this conversation privately with the child.

Audra: Mm-hmm.

Jena: But Mikey's parents have asked for this.

Audra: Hmm. Yup.

Justin: Ok, so there are next...

Audra: That's wonderful, Jena, thank you.

Justin: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

Jena: I wish there were a better answer, but that's the best one.

Justin: Oh, like well, what I'm hearing is that with each of these questions, like there are a lot of gray areas. And what I love is that it keeps coming back to authenticity, honesty, vulnerability, transparency. Yeah.

Audra: Communication. Openness.

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Votability. And why is it, the thing that makes this most challenging is that for some like tradition that's been passed down to all of us, and parenting is supposed to be black and white? We're supposed to have comebacks and everything is supposed to be very, very fast reactionary. Set in stone. Solid.

Jena: You know the answer...

Audra: Yeah. Yeah.

Jena: Your house, your rules.

Audra: Right, right.

Justin: So our next set of questions come from a parent who is actually with us here. So Alicia Wuth is our director of community. She is a clinical psychologist. She's a mom who is, actually will soon be a mother of two. And…

Audra: In about a month.

Justin: Yeah, she has questions and so. All right. So the first question that she asked is, what resources does Jena recommend for toddlers, preteens, adolescents and emerging adults in understanding their sexuality? So this is a wide, wide range. So I guess I mean, we're...

Audra: I’m hearing among ages.

Justin: Yeah. So, [are there] age-appropriate resources that are for the kids?

Jena: I'd go to SIECUS. There are others, but nobody does it as comprehensively or as well.

Audra: Ok, great. So…

Jena: Go back to that one.

Justin: Oh, she's here.

Audra: Hi Alicia!

Alicia: Hi. Sorry. I'm not sure why you couldn't hear me. But it’s good to be here.

Justin: All right. So I asked the first question for you, and the answer was basically SIECUS again, SIECUS dot org. So they don't just have material for parents, they have material for young people as well.

Alicia: Everybody.

Audra: All ages, everybody.

Jena: But Alicia, because I feel like I'm shortchanging you now that I'm actually hearing your voice and I'm an overachiever. Let me give you two other really great ones for adolescents and young adults, because a lot of sexuality education for them isn't just content knowledge, but it's also values and skills and thinking about like, that huge am I normal for thinking, feeling being this way?

So specifically for adolescents and emerging adults, Scarlet Teen, it's run by Rutgers and it's Scarleteen dot com. They have not only question and answer forums, they also have live chats. So teens and young adults who have urgent questions or two o'clock in the morning musings can find real, live, well-educated others to answer those.

Audra: Great.

Justin: What a great resource.

Jena: And then Advocates for Youth is that specifically for LGBTQ+ teens. They do all sexuality, but they really have a focus on equity around sexual orientation and gender identity. And again, it is very much a peer or near peer-led thing.

So SIECUS is people like me explaining sex in scientific evidence-based sometimes common language, but it's really the nuts and bolts and the content. Scarlet Teen and Advocates for Youth is a much more norming affirming, of course, this ... bizarre sort of thing. So for that age group, that would be really helpful.

Alicia: Great.

Audra: Great.

Jena: But SIECUS will have for younger kids like preschoolers. Here are great books about these things. And here are all of these other resources or here's a film. So lots of more broad stuff.

Alicia: Excellent. Thank you.

Justin: Alicia, do you want me to ask your second question or do you want to?

Alicia: You can go ahead and ask it, Justin, because I actually can't pull up the...

Justin: Oh, Ok. Not a problem. I will go ahead and ask it. And then if you just want to stay on the line for any follow-up. Well, I'm going to ask Alicia's questions because she's on her phone and she can't pull them up, but she'll stay on the line for any follow-up.

So the segment of what does Jena recommend for parents to do when preparing for talking with their own children, especially for parents who have never experienced the talk themselves? Right. So there are some parents are like, who like, man and…

Audra: Good or bad, never had any of it.

Justin: In my childhood, in my parents. Boy did it all together. And now here I am. I don't know what to do. So I'm imagining, is this SIECUS.org again?

Jena: It is not. I can do more than that, Justin. I really am an expert. So first thing, the first thing I recommend is reflecting a little bit on the parent's motivation. Right. Is this a talk you're having and as we discussed earlier, because some event has happened that you feel you need to address? Right.

You just watch the scandalous sex scene together and now you need to deconstruct it with and process it with your kid. Is it because you think they're about to hit puberty? So, first of all, what's prompting the talk for you as a parent and as a family? And then also, what are you hoping to achieve with this? What's your goal of the talk? Is this a checkbox? Because as a good parent, you have to explain the birds and the bees and periods and wet dreams.

Audra: Right.

Jena: Or is it because there's a behavior you're concerned about or a danger you want to warn your child about? What are you, what's motivating this and what are you hoping to get out of it? Because I think that if we don't, we have those motivations and we have hopes and fears. And if we don't explore them, we still have them.

But we don't know that we're acting on them. In our original podcast, I told you that my parents never really gave me a sex talk. They just gave me books because they didn't know how to do that. And that's not exactly true. When I was 15, my dad gave me what I think of in my own head as the don't be a slut talk.

Audra: Oh, yeah.

Jena: And again, my dad, I told you earlier in the podcast, my parents did so much right around sexuality education in that they unconditionally love me and each other and my sibs and my kids. And when it turned out people were queer or people were like, none of that mattered. They love us. We're family. Like they nailed that exactly right.

And when I was 15, I was having a sleepover with a bunch of my girlfriends, female friends, not any romantic anything. I had never been romantically involved with anybody at this point. And I don't know what happened. But somebody must have said or done something that made him worried. We were this wild group of hooligan girls. And like this is probably 1984. Like, think Madonna like a virgin.

Audra: Yes.

Jena: You know, in the bodice. And that's what my dad is picturing, right? Like that's his horror nightmare. And so I get pulled out of the sleepover.

Justin: Oh, wow.

Jena: At that moment. And sat down at the kitchen table to have him explain that boys and girls are very different about sex. And boys don't respect girls who wear makeup or who dress a certain way or who will have sex. You know, the thing about not buying cows when you get free milk.

It was really a don't be a slut talk. Again, you can't use skills you don't have. But if I could have scripted that, like I wish so much that my dad could have waited. And then the next day said, hey, I was listening to you, talk to your friends. And I freaked out a little bit because you were talking about boys and who had a cute ass. And I don't think of you like that, and I don't want you to be that kind of girl.

Audra: Right.

Jena: Right. Like I am worried that you're turning into a teenager that I would not respect or you're engaged in behaviors that I think are wrong. Again I'm freaked out about this. Let's talk about this, because here's how I want you to be. And, but because he didn't it just came out as this and it was this bizarre thing for me because I was trying to figure out, like what had happened and why now. And my friends were like Jena? So the first thing that parents might do in preparing for this is think about what's motivating it and what do they want to accomplish. Right?

Justin: So the first step is reflect on motivations. And then the second step is, what do I want to accomplish?

Jena: Right. What's the outcome? What's the best like best case scenario, what would this mean? And I would argue if I got to vote for your sex talk, I would say best case scenario is parent and child walk away feeling like that wasn't terrible and we could do it again if somebody had more questions or more concerns. But that's what I need from it. Not that everybody gets everything, but that people feel like they had a conversation. They understand what each other believe or they've addressed it.

Audra: And the doors.

Justin: And the doors opened.

Jena: The door is open for it because you don't have to do it all at once. Right. I want sex talks to be plural talks.

Audra: Talks, let's have the talks. Let's have talks. Let me...

Jena: Dialogue...

Audra: No, no, no the. No. The, you know, small talks.

Justin: Many talks.

Jena: And then the other thing that might happen with reflection about motivation is I think most parents, I absolutely believe that almost all parents really love and care for their kids. Right. The same way that I believe chocolate is delicious. I believe parents love their kids. Like you don't have to convince me.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: And what parents mostly want is for their kids to be happy and healthy. And here's where it gets tricky with sexuality and be good people. Yeah, right. Like we say, we want happy and healthy. But I have a twenty-five-year-old son, and if happy for him meant strip mining rainforests to be a billionaire. I'm disappointed.

Audra: Yeah.

Jena: Like, I don't just want happy and healthy, I want him to be a good person. And where we get tripped up with sexuality and where my dad had the freak out is around sex and gender and sexuality. A good person is easier to recognize when it is things that I am familiar with, if my kids grow up to be health professors, I recognize that that is a valuable contribution to society.

If my kid is a writer, maybe it's a little bit harder for me to understand that as the success that I would see something else as. As a parent, understanding that our children can have different ideas around sexuality, can have different gender identity or sexual orientation, and still be good people, takes a little bit of adaptation and ruminating.

Justin: Adaptation, yeah. Yeah, right, self-reflection.

Jena: And Alicia, are you like you're expecting a new baby like you've already got so many hopes, I'm sure. And so many fears and so many. Even before our children are born, we're thinking about who we would love them to be and what we think happy in a good life would look like for them.

Justin: Hmm. Beautiful.

Jena: ... sex. Yeah.

Justin: Alicia, how did all that land for you?

Alicia: It definitely resonates. Thank you so much Dr. Jena for sharing all of that. And you're and you're absolutely correct. I love the idea of it's not just one talk, but it's really an ongoing conversation. And how do we open the doors so our kids know they're always welcome to come to us and we want them to come to us. We want to hug them.

Jena: Yeah, I think that having worked for lots of different bosses who said my door is always open, I've noticed that for me that isn't nearly as effective. Having my boss sit behind a desk in an office with an open door as it is when she comes out to me and says, “Hey, Jena, I wanted to check in about this thing,” or, “Hey, I noticed you're doing this” rather than waiting for our children to notice that our door is open constantly.

Audra, you're talking about Bridgerton, right? Like, wow, I'm you know, “here's what I noticed” or “here's what I'm thinking,” or “that was a little bit embarrassing.”

Audra: Great conversation starter. I'll tell you what.

Justin: All right. So we only have a couple more minutes. So I want to get to Alicia's third question. So, Jena, you said the word embarrassing. And so Alicia's third question is, how do we help decrease the feelings of shame around this important and sometimes difficult topic?

And so there's embarrassment, there's shame. And parents feel this is not, you know, like all that stuff, you know, it's coming from us. And so how do we deal with this?

Audra: Oh, yeah. Well, I want to tag along with that, because I've been reflecting with my kids, like, on the shame component of it is like not assuming that the kids carry shame around it. Because you know, I remember watching Top Gun with my dad and grandma being mortified that I'm watching like the love scene with them and just being so, like, so ashamed.

And then our kids, we watched pretty much everything with them and they're like, “cool, cool.” Like, you know what? “I think this might be, you know, like maybe we're not ready for it yet. We should fast forward through this.” And they're like, “no, actually we're totally cool.” Like they’re totally fine with it.

Justin: Oh, I can't remember the show. But yeah, I remember we were watching some show all together as a family, and there was some scene, I don't know, I don't now remember what it was, but I remember Audra and I…

Audra: And I was like “Oh guys.”

Justin: Yeah. It's like, oh, and I remember we stop and I was like, “Hey, guys, what do you think of that?” Yeah. And I remember, and they're like, “That's fine.”

Audra: “We’re cool.”

Justin: It just didn't really register...

Audra: So, the shame around it was mine, not theirs.

Jena: Yeah.

Audra: That's the thing I wanted to share.

Jena: Yeah, that's awesome. And I want to kind of separate out shame from embarrassment.

Audra: Yes. Thank you.

Justin: Thank you.

Jena: Because it makes sense to me that parents are sometimes embarrassed talking to their children and vice versa around sex and sexuality. One of the things that will often happen when parents describe sexual intercourse, you know, penis and vagina stuff to children, is that young children will turn in horror and say, “you and dad do this?” Right.

I actually, again, when we were in grad school with a lot of our colleagues, came to me and said, you know, my 11-year-old just learned about this in sixth-grade health class and came home and said, “do you do this?”

Audra: Right.

Jena: And I was mortified. Of course you're embarrassed. It's a personal behavior that is private, that people don't typically talk up to 11-year-olds about. But it's not a shameful behavior because having sex with your partner is a good, healthy, fabulous thing that even in the context of a conservative, right.

Audra: Right.

Jena: So I think acknowledging that, you know, a little bit of embarrassment, maybe like my adult children will sometimes occasionally come to me with sexual health difficulties and I'll be like, oh, well. Right. Yeah, OK. I wasn't thinking about it that way. But, good to know.

Audra: It's a little uncomfortable. That's the line with embarrassed.

Justin: Even for Dr. Jena. All right. So that is really affirming. Thank you. Because I had an assumption that there was nothing that could make you kind of feel uncomfortable.

Jena: No actually, Zach, our twenty-five year old, we're doing something last week, and I made some comment and he thought it was like some smutty sex joke that I was making. Like he thought it was this really egregious like over share. I was like, “oh, no. I would never say that in front of you.”  That would be so gross. Yeah. A little bit of embarrassment is reasonable. It makes sense that, I think, everyone feels that. And again, I go back to. What's your motivation? Right. Of all the things that matter to you in your life. My suspicion is that intimacy and relationships and connection with other humans, whatever that looks like for people, are among some of the best and the most important. And talks are, and not just about sex and not just about intercourse, but about emotions and feelings and attraction and romance and dating and all of those talks is how we get to be good at the super important thing. So you know what? Teaching my kids to drive was freaking terrifying. It was also super important. So we spent a lot of time to get it right, and the fact that it wasn't a comfortable process for me didn't stop me from learning how to do it as well as I could.

Audra: Jena, I have a follow up question that is just popping up for me. We talked to Sofia earlier, we had a podcast recording today. We talked to Sofia and it was amazing. And one of the things that we were talking about is normalizing and creating, you know, creating, bringing you know, we're talking about diversity, equity, inclusion. We're talking about how we have conversations in the home and how we every single day bring in our biases and all of these things into the home.

So it made me think about having these talks and talks about sex. Would it be more, you know, something that would be beneficial to start thinking about talking about sex in many different ways? I think coming from like a hetero normative perspective, you know, we think when we have to talk about sex, we're like talking about like heterosexual man and woman in a very specific anatomical way. Could we be broadening our conversations around this?

Jena: Absolutely. Because, again, I don't think the talk is just great. If all we had to do when we had the talk was to teach people the mechanics of intercourse.

Audra: Yes.

Justin: Right.

Jena: Insert lever A into slot B, like that's five minutes.

Audra: Right.

Jena: You know, two minutes if you’re willing to show pictures. Right. So really what we're talking about is love and connection and feeling and attraction and all of these other things, which are both universal and really super complicated.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: So providing only one example, I'm thinking about the danger of a single story. Right. Like providing only one perspective on what love and relationships or marriage or a happy adult life looks like is really unhelpful.

Audra: And would it be helpful, let's say that's what you feel comfortable with, because that's what you know. Let's say you don't know about you know, you're just coming from your frame. Right.

Could you say, listen, I'm sharing this right now because this is just kind of what I know about and there's a lot I don't know about? And, you know, here are some examples from what I might think. And, you know, we could find some more resources to, you know, explore it further. But this is just kind of what I know. And it's one small bit. Even that revelation or admission, I would imagine is helpful.

Jena: And also acknowledging that you don't know things or that you have biases. I love what you said about talking about bias. Because like, for instance, when you were talking about watching Bridgerton with your kids.

One of my big personal undertakings right now is unlearning a lot of racism and working really hard to be anti-racist. And so one of the things that I noticed when I watched Bridgerton without any young children was the way that actors were cast. You know, the queen of England is black.

Audra: Yes.

Jena: And and there are interracial, and I caught myself noticing that because I grew up in a generation where everyone portrayed on TV, with the exception of The Cosby Show, was white.

Audra: Well, and Merchant Ivory films, they're all going to be all the period pieces. They're all white unless somebody is enslaved or, you know, in servitude.

Jena: Right. Exactly right. And so the same way that I would if I were watching that with my kids say, “wow, this is really interesting for me, because when I grew up, every single person in these films were white.” And to see actors of color was just, you know, in leadership roles as the monarch of England. The same way that if you're seeing, you know, the IKEA ad with two dads shopping for furniture, be like, “wow, you know, they're bickering the same way that your dad and I do.” And I'm not used to thinking of gay couples like that. Doing really mundane things.

Audra: Right. Because were typically sexualizing gay couples. I feel like it's all about the sex, not about the, all of the everything that is a relationship, right?

Jena: Exactly. And that's why people who don't understand this don't want us to talk to their children about sexual orientation because they think we're going to talk about, again, slot A…

Audra: And slot B.

Jena: And instead, we're talking about even if you disagree on couches versus recliners, you still need to be kind and loving to your person.

Audra: Right. Right.

Justin: I love it. Jena, thank you so much.

Audra: This is awesome.

Justin: Yeah, it is a wealth of information every time we talk. And yeah, we hope to have this conversation again with you. We consider you to be a central Family Thrive expert. And your approach is just so Life-Giving. Just the idea that, like what it really boils down to is communication, honesty, love, vulnerability. Yeah, it's beautiful.

Audra: I feel like a better person and a better parent. Like I can feel myself just like filling up whenever I talk to you. I'm like, oh, this is so life-giving is a great word for it, but so enriching for me, like I feel like, more empowered every single time I come out of a conversation with you and this is what I'm hoping that we're able to introduce other parents to as well.

Jena: Thank you. Thank you.

Audra: And to the world.

Jena: I’ve had thirty years of screw-ups to figure out some of this stuff. It’s a process.

Justin: And we get to benefit from it, from the knowledge.

Jena: Thank you, take care.

Justin: All right. Thank you, Jena.

Audra: Thank you so much. We’ll talk to you soon. Bye.

Jena: Bye.  

Justin: Hey Family Thrivers, welcome to this bonus Ask Me Anything podcast episode with one of our amazing Family Thrive experts. Each week we record an AMA live in The Family Thrive app, where we take members’ questions and ask the experts directly. Members submit questions throughout the week and can even ask their questions live on the show. In the future, these AMA's will only be available to subscribers. So if you like what you hear, learn something new and want to be a part of future AMA’s in The Family Thrive, then head on over to The Family Thrive dot com and sign up today.

All right Jena, so we only have you for an hour and we want to get all of your amazing information. We asked parents to write in questions and then we are going to ask them here live. And then if they want to continue to write in and to tune in live, they can follow up. Parents, listen to your podcast, and then they say, “Oh, my gosh, I want to ask the expert now, A, B, and C.” So that is what we're doing today.

So by now, everyone should know something about Jena Curtis. We had an amazing podcast with you. We did a Meet a Thrive expert in the app. And so everybody knows everything about you now.

Jena: Oh good.

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Jena’s always got something new going on.

Justin: Yeah. Right. Yes. You can never know everything about Jena Curtis. All right. So we're just going to dive straight in and just talk about the stuff. All right.

Jena: Cool.

Justin: Alright. So the first question we received this week was from a parent who messaged me directly is, can you ask Jena about this? And so the parent said, I have a question for Jena. My daughters are now 26 and 24, and I often reflect back on “the talk” my oldest and I had when she was in third grade. I felt pressure to get it done quickly as the teacher had warned us of increased playground talk on the topic of sex. I researched and thought about it for weeks. Set up the perfect platform and did my best. At the end of the talk I asked if she had any questions. She responded with, “Is the tooth fairy real?” It stuck with me forever and I often wondered if I just broached the subject too early for her. What do you think about that? It was crushing to me in a way, as I felt her innocence slipping away.

Jena: Oh, right. Well, first of all, wow, what a powerful feeling as a parent to feel like you may have done something to make your kid's childhood less idyllic, like none of us are aiming for that. And like lots of things I think we do to ourselves as parents. That's one interpretation of why she said that, right?

Maybe, but it wasn't that she decided that childhood was gone and it was time to put away imaginary things like the tooth fairy. Maybe the reason that question came up is because the child thought we're talking about things we don't talk about, I can ask anything now.

Justin: Right.

Jena: And here's the burning question I have, because third grade is not only the degree to which kids start to talk a lot about sex on the playground, but it's also the grade where if you still believe in the tooth fairy, Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, kids in your class saying “that's not real” and “your parents are lying to you.” It's just your mom and dad. Right.

So I would again, and I tell folks this all the time, and parents especially, it's never too early to have the talk. The question is always, what are you talking about and how you do it. So the first thing I encourage this mom to do is take a deep breath because I'm positive that this did not, even if the tooth fairy turns out not to be real, this conversation did not ruin anyone's childhood. And ended with something that she thinks about. I'm wondering what would happen if she raised it with her now adult kid and said, “Hey, you know, this thing came up. I was had this conversation or listen, this podcast about sex talk. And I keep thinking about this thing that happened when you were in third grade.”

Right. I'd be really curious to hear from the now-adult kid what the take was. And even if, worst fears realized, it turns out, yes, I wasn't ready. It was this gross thing, ew, ew, ew. You now get to have that conversation with your child and build connection around that. So now that you are an adult, how do we talk about this or you're right, when you were eight, I wasn't ready. And now that you're twenty three or twenty, you know, I still sometimes wonder if I should be talking to you more or checking in more. So if the mom feels like she could, I'd love for her to instead of, you know, asking me to interpret why this happened. Yeah, I have theories, but I can't be the expert at this time to check in with her kid.

Justin: Oh, so what comes up for me hearing that is something that I've heard in other contexts, but around parenting specifically, that repair is always possible. And yeah, like l, you know, we said something we regret, we did something we regret and then repair is always possible. And what I'm hearing from you is that repair is especially built on transparency and honesty and vulnerability.

Jena: Yeah. And the other thing that this brings up for me is the idea of the timing of the talk and how to start the talk. That's the thing that parents always want to know. When should I have the talk? How do I prepare for the talk? And whenever parents ask me about when to have the talk or how do I have the talk, one of the questions I'll ask is, is there something that's prompting this now? Right. Is there a specific thing?

So in this case, it was a teacher said kids are talking about sex on the playground. Often parents will come to me and say, oh, my gosh, I just thought porn on my 12 year old's computer. How do I talk to them about it? Or my kid's best friend just got a period. How do I, right?? So if there's a specific thing…

Audra: Like an event trigger.

Jena: Yes.

Justin: Yeah. Right.

Audra: For me, like I watch Bridgton with my daughter, so.

Justin: Oh, is there stuff in Bridgton?

Audra: Was there stuff in Bridgerton?

Jena: So much stuff in Bridgerton!

Audra: We fast-forwarded through some things that might not have been comfortable. But you know, it did bring up. I still haven't had the talk, though, I mean, there have been many talks of like, “Hey, you know, what do you think about, you know, what's going on here?” Like just trying to like, open it up. And she'd be like, “well, I know all about this stuff. Don't worry about it.”

Justin: Oh no, we've had the talk.

Audra: Oh, you had it?

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: The talk.

Justin: Oh, my God. Yes. She was in the car with me. No. This had happened…

Audra: I didn’t know. I'm still like, gearing up to be like, all right. And I'm like, “OK, so what do you know?” Like just trying to like, enter.

Justin: This is all, See this is real, real and authentic, real-time happening right now. Yeah, it was a couple of years ago, we were in the car and…

Audra: I thought that was TikTok.

Justin: And Max asked a question and then I was like, “Oh, I guess we're having a talk.” And she was in the back and I was like, oh, man. But she's in the back. And so I just, I remember hearing from someone somewhere that like you just answer the questions you're asked. And I think, Jena, you said that as well in your podcast, but I had heard that. And so I was like, “well, I guess I'm just going to talk about it now.” And then Max just had like one question. And so we talked about it. And then Maesie had like six or seven.

Audra: How old was she at the time?

Justin: It was a couple of years ago. It was definitely when we were still in…

Audra: She was like nine?

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Ok. Cool.

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Nice.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: And that's exactly the way to do it. Know that you have answered the questions sufficiently when they run out of questions or they get bored. Really, and to the extent that you can have that vibe of, “Oh, yeah, that's an interesting thing. Let me tell you all that I know about it” or answer all your questions about it the same way that you would hold forth on any other interesting topic.

Because the fact that, you know, your daughter felt that she kind of honed in on Max's question and conversation really suggests that she felt pretty comfortable in that environment. And that's a good thing. And if the talk is being prompted by a specific thing, an event, a concern, when I had a daughter in middle school, when the school sent home a letter to all of the parents saying that a seventh-grade boy had been inappropriately sexually touching the girls in the school. Right.

Audra: Yeah.

Jena: Yikes.

Audra: That's a big...

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: The first time I heard about it is, I got a letter from the school. Yeah. Any time that there's a. So what I did is I said, “Oh, my gosh, I just got this letter from the school and I'm a little freaked out about it. I wonder what you know.” Or for the third-grader, “your teacher called and said kids are talking about sex on the playground. And I'm wondering if you heard that and what you think about it.”

Justin: Yeah. Yeah.

Audra: Man, I want Jena's questions.

Justin: That's brilliant.  

Audra: Like these questions are just gold.

Justin: Yeah, what I'm hearing is that these I mean, these types of questions are really connected. It's like you're not coming in with an agenda. You know, it's like really connected. Like this thing is happening when you think about it.

Audra: And you trust them.

Jena: Yep. And you can own your own vulnerability about this. Yeah. Like I said to Tory when I got the letter was like the first thing that I thought was, “oh, my gosh, did this happen to my kid?” Right. And so I started by saying I got this letter and I'm a little freaked out and I want to know, you know, what's going on.

Justin: One last follow-up here. How concerned should parents be about playground talk about sex? I mean, what's…

Audra: Is that a thing?

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Does it happen?

Jena: Right. So again, I always want more answers and I always have more questions. So for me, it's about what kind of playground talk, right. Are we talking...I was in first or second grade when Lonell Loomis, because this is subscribers only, so I’m gonna name names. Now, when Lonell Loomis told me how babies were made. Right. And I was shocked and horrified. And I refused to believe her because it was too gross. But her dad had magazines and there was photographic evidence that this happened. And so. Right. That’s…

Justin: Scenes of women giving birth?

Jena: Of people having sex. That was pretty hardcore. And this was the ‘70s.

Justin: But not giving birth though…

Jena: No, no, no.

Audra: That’s a specialty ...

Jena: ...my dad. Like whatever was like slightly more hardcore than Hustler. Oh, yeah. Was actually like people having sex. Like, that's a really typical thing. And if I found, if I were parenting seven-year-old me, I'd be concerned and I'd have a conversation with my seven-year-old about I don't like you looking at pictures of naked people having sex because that's an adult thing. I don't like you doing that at your friend's house because that's not our family rules and that's not the kind of behavior I expect.

Audra: Mm-hmm.

Jena: I wouldn't be really, really, I wouldn't like it. Like, that's not what I expect my seven-year-old to be doing at a friend's house. I would not be as concerned about that once I'd explained our family values around it and why I didn't think that was great behavior.

As I would be if, for instance, people were talking sexually about another child. And middle school, elementary school is a little bit early for this, at third grade especially, but kids get sexualized really early. Writes of the sex talk on the playground is about somebody's breasts.

Audra: Right.

Jena: Or who is, if somebody's gay. If it's about somebody's identity, somebody's body, then I am much more concerned about it than if it is about bodies in general or sex in general or, you know, girls have this hole the babies come out of.

I would want to use that opportunity to sort of reinforce our family values around sex and sexual behavior, which is it's not something for children. It's not something that we ever shame people about. It is a private thing. If you have any questions about it, you can always talk to me or your dad, or here are the other trusted adults.

Audra: Teachable moment. Yes.

Jena: Yep.

Justin: Yeah. Awesome. All right. So we have another question. And I just want to note for anyone in the app who is listening to this, Jena generously went through and answered a few of these questions and gave links. And so you can go into the event link for this event and then you can get these links. But Jena, we can elaborate. We can riff on them.

So one question here, Jena, I'm curious what resources you recommend for parents preparing to approach the sex, sexuality, gender identity, conversation with their kids that might not feel equipped with the info they need. Are there forms, podcasts, educators, books, etcetera that parents can use to keep on top of the conversation as their kids mature? So this one is particularly about identity.

Jena: Yeah. So I started answering questions in the app and then realized that I was going to have to just say it's complicated over and over again. And then people would think I was less of an expert. So some links are good. And the link I provided is SIECUS, which is the Sexuality Education Information Council of the United States.

And I love them. They do a lot of advocacy and education around sexuality and sexuality education. And their goal is really that everybody has access to evidence-based sexuality education and information, and that they use that to live their best, healthiest lives. And so I'm a huge fan of that. And they have how do pastors and other faith leaders talk to children about sex? How do teachers talk about sex? How to parent? For all ages, for all gender identities and orientations.

They link to lots of other really good things. And the reason that I like them so much is, one, they're very comprehensive, but also because they're evidence-based and they refused to shame anyone around identity. Right. There are behaviors that are unacceptable. And some of those we agree as a community or as a country like violence is unacceptable. And in other times families have values about what behaviors are ok and are not. But nobody gets shamed for who they are or how they feel. And that's super important to me.

Justin: So I just want to repeat this. So this is S I E C U S dot org.

Jena: Correct.

Justin: Ok.

Audra: I'm so grateful to learn about this, Jena. Thank you so much. And it just makes me so grateful for the amazing work that people are doing. Right.

Jena: And that's, that's the other really important part, too, because if you Google or you search, you know, my kid might be trans. You're going to get two billion links and some of them are going to be super, right. Like if you want to Covid vaccine information right now. Don't google that. Please go to the CDC.

Justin: Oh, well, now that's why we have The Family Thrive. If you Google pretty much anything, you're going to come across a lot of garbage.

Jena: Yeah, right. And just like The Family Thrive, all of these resources and all of these recipes and all of these experts to make sure they're really, really in alignment with your values and your brand and your idea of what wellness is. SIECUS does the same thing for sexuality education. So all of their links are evidence-based. They're not shaming anyone. And they're incredibly inclusive.

Justin: So this is like a one-stop-shop then for parents who are thinking, I need to figure out how to approach sexuality and identity with my kid. And I have no idea where to start.

Jena: This is where they are or I'm wondering about my baby or my pregnancy or myself and my own identity. Everything that you could possibly want is there. It is that good and that comprehensive.

Justin: Oh my gosh.

Audra: Yeah, we gotta get this up on it, I think it'd be great to get a resource, general resource page up.

Justin: Yes.

Jena: They also have curriculum guides, because I know that a lot of folks have alternative schooling arrangements for kids. Right. And so to sort of look and again, from faith-based perspectives, from all sorts of different ages, for all sorts of different topics, it's just a really great resource.

Justin: Awesome. Yeah. Our wonderful managing editor, Jordan, put together a cheat sheet. I don't know if you saw that on the app.

Jena: I saw that. It’s brilliant.

Justin: Yeah. So from the, and she did that just from your podcast. So what we'll do is we'll take additional resources from this AMA, and put that in the cheat sheet. So for any parents listening, you can just search Jena Curtis cheat sheet and you'll have all of the information...

Audra: Or DM us and we’ll tag you in it.

Justin: Oh, yeah, you can message us.

Audra: And I think we're going to ask Gina to make it into a like downloadable PDF version.

Justin: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. All right. So next question, what is the best way to support kids I know with close-minded families when it comes to sexuality and gender identity? And before I let you answer this one, I can say I have a number of friends over the years who I've talked to who have really great communication skills and really great relationships with their kids. But their kids have friends who are in situations that are not supportive. And so I think this is a really common one. Yeah.

Jena: This is and this was where I gave up trying to type answers, it’s complicated. Yeah. So here's like there's so many ways to come at this. And so let's talk about obviously the difference between support for kids and thriving and wellness versus health and safety.

Obviously, if I know of a child who is in an abusive situation, I'm reporting that through the appropriate authorities. I'm talking to the child's teachers, the child's doctors, other adults Right. So I don't think that's what this person is asking. I think what this person is asking is, how do I support my kids' friend who we think might be gay or might be or is gay or is trans or something else and whose parents are not supportive. That's how I read that. Is that's how you're reading it?

Audra: Yes.

Justin: Yes.

Jena: Ok, so we're not talking about kids who are being abused or neglected by their family. This is just my parents don't get me. My parents are conservative. Parents don't…

Audra: That's right.

Justin: Or yes. Or the kids have friends and the friends are trans or gay or whatever and. Right. And live in homes that either they have to hide who they are or they are just not supported in a variety of ways.

Audra: Being who they are. Right.

Jena: Right. So I'm going to break this down one more further step, because I think that lots of us have families where we are seeing nieces and nephews or we don't have a word for my siblings, kid who's nonbinary, but those kids, too.

Audra: Yes, yes.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: Right.

Justin: Right.

Jena: Like my sister's gender-queer kid. So, for family, it's a little bit different. I actually my family, my immediate family is very queer and very inclusive. And my extended family is pretty conservative. And I have nieces and nephews whose parents not only believed that marriage is only between a man and a woman, but that the husband is the head of the household because he is the man and that's the way it's supposed to be.

And when everybody's kids were really little, we had to have conversations that basically turned into negotiations of you don't give my kids Fisher-Price Noah's Ark, and I won't give your kids vulva puppets. Right. Like each of us are going to respect the other's family's values, even though we don't agree with them personally. Right. It's not my job to provide sexuality education to your children. It's not your job to provide religious education to my children.

Audra: Yes.

Jena: And I think that in families, to the extent that that conversation can be had, that's probably helpful for family members and friends and for the children, though, I think that whenever I get into disagreements with people about those values. Right, like who's the head of the household or can two women get married? Well, we already saw that one of them.

Whenever we get sort of disagreements, I like to take a step back to more universal shared values. Some of my family members and I completely agree on how respective nieces and nephews should be raised. We all agree that we love those kids and we all agree that we want those kids to be happy and healthy. For me, for my nieces and nephews, it's really important that I get to be in their lives and I get to be a supportive presence.

And if that means respecting the values of the family by not speaking out against them, I absolutely do that. And I will do that for my children's friends when they were children as well. Right. I'm not going to say, well, your mom should be Ok with gay marriage. Right?

Audra: Right, right.

Jena: And supporting or not going against other people's families' values doesn't mean that I am not modeling inclusion in my behavior, how I talk. This is true for other types of bias. Right. We all have friends and family members who are really unapologetically racist.

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Yeah. Right, right.

Jena: And it's not my job again to tell one of my nieces or nephews that their parent is racist. It is absolutely my job to challenge racist or homophobic ideas in my house. When they are expressed.

Audra: Yes.

Jena: And I do that by saying no, in our family we believe this.

Audra: Yeah, Jena. And in turn, you make your home a safe space.

Jena: Yes.

Audra: A brave space

Jena: And, exactly. And it's funny because when your entire family does this, it reinforces. So one of my nephews once asked a question, who is again, in this pretty conservative family, asked a question, something about science. And I answered it and he turned to me. He was maybe seven or eight. And he said, “No, you're a mom. Moms are not the people you ask when you want to know things. Moms are the people you talk to about feelings. If you want to know something, you ask a dad.”

Audra: Whoa.

Jena: And I was just like, and Tod quick as like, just he's like, “well, actually, your Aunt Jena has her doctorate from Columbia University, which is one of the best schools in the entire world. So I'm thinking she's a good person to ask what you want to know things too.”

Justin: Yeah. Right.

Jena: And it wasn't your mom and dad are teaching you bullshit.

Justin: Oh, yeah. Right, right.

Jena: It wasn't that patriarchal crap. It was just…

Audra: We see this differently.

Jena: Yeah. This is who we are. Or in our family, women change tires and sometimes dads make dinner. I'm not saying that other families aren't different. I'm just affirming that this is who we are.

Justin: Or sometimes dads can talk about feelings too.

Audra: Dads definitely talk about feelings.

Jena: Dads need to talk more about feelings, please.

Justin: Yes. Having grown up in a conservative family myself, there is, I do feel this urge because I'm just imagining when our kids have those friends, how I would want to, you know, protect them and I would want to be an important part of their lives. And just, but I'm hearing the wisdom in what you're saying of like, there's a line that you're drawing here that I'm trying to see more clearly around this is how we do things here. I'm not going to talk about your parents.

Audra: It's more like holding the space in many ways and like and your own modeling and not trying to kind of like do the same thing back. Of like, no, I'm going to teach you what we, you know, this is how it should be through our paradigm. No, it’s clarifying your values, revealing those values. You know how things work in your home and for your family. And then modeling the way.

Jena: Yeah. And just in for you, because I when my kids were little, especially again, my queer kids, I was so like, don't you dare, you know, like I will come and wreck your family.

Justin: Yes.

Jena: Right. Because that momma bear thing. Exactly. And what I recognized is no conversation that ever started with me saying any version of, let me explain to you how you need to be parenting your child because you're doing it wrong now. Has ever gone anyplace good.  

Audra: Yeah. Right.

Jena: Right.

Justin: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Audra: How do any of us feel, right?

Jena: And even, you know, when that is obviously the case. Right. Even when somebody is shaking their toddler in the grocery store and screaming at them.

Audra: Right.

Jena: Walking up to them and saying “you need to stop that right now because that's abuse” is so much less effective than, “Wow. You seem really frustrated.”

Justin: Yeah. What I'm seeing here is a parallel to some communication skills around, like just owning one's lane. And so in, you know, supportive, authentic communication, instead of saying, like, “you're making me feel this way” or, you know, “you're doing this,” I can say, “I'm feeling a tightness in my chest. I'm feeling some resistance around me.” And then just simply owning what's happening for me.

And so there's something similar here with maybe talking with these with the kids who are friends with your kids are saying, “I'm sorry that you're feeling this way. I'm sorry, that you're feeling, you know, misunderstood or rejected. And I want you to know that here, you know, this is how we feel.”

And I can now like I'm now starting to imagine this conversation without any, there's no need to say anything about the other parents. It's about, I'm sorry that you're feeling this way. Let me connect with how you're feeling. And then I want you to know how I am feeling and what this space is for you.

Jena: Right. And, you know, absolutely validating that it is completely frustrating and saddening or anger making or whatever those emotions are about not being supported and understood. And we really care about you and we'd like to support you. What would that look like for us and our family?

Audra: Oh yes. Well, what a beautiful question.

Jena: Absolutely. That's got to feel frustrating at home. What could we do that would be supportive here when you're here with us? Then the sticky part is, again, especially with family. There's got to be limits, right? So for kids, I had a good friend in grad school who had a, what I now understand to be a trans sib.

And she would joke about the fact that whenever her mother would go out, her mother would say to her younger sib, “Mikey, don't you dare wear any of my dresses while I'm out.” And one of the rules in this child's life was when they visited other people's houses, they weren't allowed to wear girl clothes because they were a boy. As a parent, letting that child wear girl clothes, I believe that thing exists, with the other parent understands it to be would be a violation of parenting rules. Right.

So some things like, the same way that driving someone else's 13-year-old to Planned Parenthood is probably, for me personally, too much of a thing.

Audra: Right Right.

Jena: So thinking about your own values around that.

Audra: It’s not yours to do, right.

Jena: And again, the difference between wellness and optimal parenting versus health and safety. Anybody's 13 year old who is having a medical emergency, I am going to support however they need to be supported.

But thinking about how can you, because here's the thing. As a parent who unapologetically believes that people get to be whatever sexual orientation and gender identity they are and that everybody gets to respect that, I would be really, really upset and just completely unhinged if, again, my family members have very different ideas, felt it was their job to explain that to my kid.

Audra: Right.

Jena: The fact that I'm right and they're wrong.

Audra: Right.

Jena: As we all agree on this podcast, at least, right?

Audra: Right.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: It's tough. And that's why I couldn't type an answer, because I just want to say it's complicated here.

Audra: Okay, so Jena, in the dress example, right. So the parent, the other parents made it clear their way, what their understanding is, and what they value in their home and how they work, you know, gender identity and everything to be understood, whatever terms they use.

And you kid comes over, dress up is part of what you do. Dressing of any way anyone was is a part of what you do in your home. Let's just say that's something that that you value. We have clothes around. We like to play and we like to explore. That's what we do in our home. Right. So kid comes over and you now know this. And the kids want to have an exploration, whatever kind that they want to, you know.

Jena: Right.

Audra: Do you then share and say like, these are our values in this home. This is why we provide this open forum for exploration. We really care about this, but we have a difference of the way that we see things. Do you just kind of like are you just open about it?

Jena: Yep. Yep, you're right. So one of the agreements that I have. Right, you have sleepovers, right? I promised all your parents that everybody be in bed with the lights out at ten o'clock.

Audra: Right, no drinking vodka.

Jena: Right, there’s no soda in our house. I told and because somebody has this food requirement or this here's what we're doing. I would say, you know, in our house, kids can wear any clothes they want. And I would have this conversation privately with the child.

Audra: Mm-hmm.

Jena: But Mikey's parents have asked for this.

Audra: Hmm. Yup.

Justin: Ok, so there are next...

Audra: That's wonderful, Jena, thank you.

Justin: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

Jena: I wish there were a better answer, but that's the best one.

Justin: Oh, like well, what I'm hearing is that with each of these questions, like there are a lot of gray areas. And what I love is that it keeps coming back to authenticity, honesty, vulnerability, transparency. Yeah.

Audra: Communication. Openness.

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Votability. And why is it, the thing that makes this most challenging is that for some like tradition that's been passed down to all of us, and parenting is supposed to be black and white? We're supposed to have comebacks and everything is supposed to be very, very fast reactionary. Set in stone. Solid.

Jena: You know the answer...

Audra: Yeah. Yeah.

Jena: Your house, your rules.

Audra: Right, right.

Justin: So our next set of questions come from a parent who is actually with us here. So Alicia Wuth is our director of community. She is a clinical psychologist. She's a mom who is, actually will soon be a mother of two. And…

Audra: In about a month.

Justin: Yeah, she has questions and so. All right. So the first question that she asked is, what resources does Jena recommend for toddlers, preteens, adolescents and emerging adults in understanding their sexuality? So this is a wide, wide range. So I guess I mean, we're...

Audra: I’m hearing among ages.

Justin: Yeah. So, [are there] age-appropriate resources that are for the kids?

Jena: I'd go to SIECUS. There are others, but nobody does it as comprehensively or as well.

Audra: Ok, great. So…

Jena: Go back to that one.

Justin: Oh, she's here.

Audra: Hi Alicia!

Alicia: Hi. Sorry. I'm not sure why you couldn't hear me. But it’s good to be here.

Justin: All right. So I asked the first question for you, and the answer was basically SIECUS again, SIECUS dot org. So they don't just have material for parents, they have material for young people as well.

Alicia: Everybody.

Audra: All ages, everybody.

Jena: But Alicia, because I feel like I'm shortchanging you now that I'm actually hearing your voice and I'm an overachiever. Let me give you two other really great ones for adolescents and young adults, because a lot of sexuality education for them isn't just content knowledge, but it's also values and skills and thinking about like, that huge am I normal for thinking, feeling being this way?

So specifically for adolescents and emerging adults, Scarlet Teen, it's run by Rutgers and it's Scarleteen dot com. They have not only question and answer forums, they also have live chats. So teens and young adults who have urgent questions or two o'clock in the morning musings can find real, live, well-educated others to answer those.

Audra: Great.

Justin: What a great resource.

Jena: And then Advocates for Youth is that specifically for LGBTQ+ teens. They do all sexuality, but they really have a focus on equity around sexual orientation and gender identity. And again, it is very much a peer or near peer-led thing.

So SIECUS is people like me explaining sex in scientific evidence-based sometimes common language, but it's really the nuts and bolts and the content. Scarlet Teen and Advocates for Youth is a much more norming affirming, of course, this ... bizarre sort of thing. So for that age group, that would be really helpful.

Alicia: Great.

Audra: Great.

Jena: But SIECUS will have for younger kids like preschoolers. Here are great books about these things. And here are all of these other resources or here's a film. So lots of more broad stuff.

Alicia: Excellent. Thank you.

Justin: Alicia, do you want me to ask your second question or do you want to?

Alicia: You can go ahead and ask it, Justin, because I actually can't pull up the...

Justin: Oh, Ok. Not a problem. I will go ahead and ask it. And then if you just want to stay on the line for any follow-up. Well, I'm going to ask Alicia's questions because she's on her phone and she can't pull them up, but she'll stay on the line for any follow-up.

So the segment of what does Jena recommend for parents to do when preparing for talking with their own children, especially for parents who have never experienced the talk themselves? Right. So there are some parents are like, who like, man and…

Audra: Good or bad, never had any of it.

Justin: In my childhood, in my parents. Boy did it all together. And now here I am. I don't know what to do. So I'm imagining, is this SIECUS.org again?

Jena: It is not. I can do more than that, Justin. I really am an expert. So first thing, the first thing I recommend is reflecting a little bit on the parent's motivation. Right. Is this a talk you're having and as we discussed earlier, because some event has happened that you feel you need to address? Right.

You just watch the scandalous sex scene together and now you need to deconstruct it with and process it with your kid. Is it because you think they're about to hit puberty? So, first of all, what's prompting the talk for you as a parent and as a family? And then also, what are you hoping to achieve with this? What's your goal of the talk? Is this a checkbox? Because as a good parent, you have to explain the birds and the bees and periods and wet dreams.

Audra: Right.

Jena: Or is it because there's a behavior you're concerned about or a danger you want to warn your child about? What are you, what's motivating this and what are you hoping to get out of it? Because I think that if we don't, we have those motivations and we have hopes and fears. And if we don't explore them, we still have them.

But we don't know that we're acting on them. In our original podcast, I told you that my parents never really gave me a sex talk. They just gave me books because they didn't know how to do that. And that's not exactly true. When I was 15, my dad gave me what I think of in my own head as the don't be a slut talk.

Audra: Oh, yeah.

Jena: And again, my dad, I told you earlier in the podcast, my parents did so much right around sexuality education in that they unconditionally love me and each other and my sibs and my kids. And when it turned out people were queer or people were like, none of that mattered. They love us. We're family. Like they nailed that exactly right.

And when I was 15, I was having a sleepover with a bunch of my girlfriends, female friends, not any romantic anything. I had never been romantically involved with anybody at this point. And I don't know what happened. But somebody must have said or done something that made him worried. We were this wild group of hooligan girls. And like this is probably 1984. Like, think Madonna like a virgin.

Audra: Yes.

Jena: You know, in the bodice. And that's what my dad is picturing, right? Like that's his horror nightmare. And so I get pulled out of the sleepover.

Justin: Oh, wow.

Jena: At that moment. And sat down at the kitchen table to have him explain that boys and girls are very different about sex. And boys don't respect girls who wear makeup or who dress a certain way or who will have sex. You know, the thing about not buying cows when you get free milk.

It was really a don't be a slut talk. Again, you can't use skills you don't have. But if I could have scripted that, like I wish so much that my dad could have waited. And then the next day said, hey, I was listening to you, talk to your friends. And I freaked out a little bit because you were talking about boys and who had a cute ass. And I don't think of you like that, and I don't want you to be that kind of girl.

Audra: Right.

Jena: Right. Like I am worried that you're turning into a teenager that I would not respect or you're engaged in behaviors that I think are wrong. Again I'm freaked out about this. Let's talk about this, because here's how I want you to be. And, but because he didn't it just came out as this and it was this bizarre thing for me because I was trying to figure out, like what had happened and why now. And my friends were like Jena? So the first thing that parents might do in preparing for this is think about what's motivating it and what do they want to accomplish. Right?

Justin: So the first step is reflect on motivations. And then the second step is, what do I want to accomplish?

Jena: Right. What's the outcome? What's the best like best case scenario, what would this mean? And I would argue if I got to vote for your sex talk, I would say best case scenario is parent and child walk away feeling like that wasn't terrible and we could do it again if somebody had more questions or more concerns. But that's what I need from it. Not that everybody gets everything, but that people feel like they had a conversation. They understand what each other believe or they've addressed it.

Audra: And the doors.

Justin: And the doors opened.

Jena: The door is open for it because you don't have to do it all at once. Right. I want sex talks to be plural talks.

Audra: Talks, let's have the talks. Let's have talks. Let me...

Jena: Dialogue...

Audra: No, no, no the. No. The, you know, small talks.

Justin: Many talks.

Jena: And then the other thing that might happen with reflection about motivation is I think most parents, I absolutely believe that almost all parents really love and care for their kids. Right. The same way that I believe chocolate is delicious. I believe parents love their kids. Like you don't have to convince me.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: And what parents mostly want is for their kids to be happy and healthy. And here's where it gets tricky with sexuality and be good people. Yeah, right. Like we say, we want happy and healthy. But I have a twenty-five-year-old son, and if happy for him meant strip mining rainforests to be a billionaire. I'm disappointed.

Audra: Yeah.

Jena: Like, I don't just want happy and healthy, I want him to be a good person. And where we get tripped up with sexuality and where my dad had the freak out is around sex and gender and sexuality. A good person is easier to recognize when it is things that I am familiar with, if my kids grow up to be health professors, I recognize that that is a valuable contribution to society.

If my kid is a writer, maybe it's a little bit harder for me to understand that as the success that I would see something else as. As a parent, understanding that our children can have different ideas around sexuality, can have different gender identity or sexual orientation, and still be good people, takes a little bit of adaptation and ruminating.

Justin: Adaptation, yeah. Yeah, right, self-reflection.

Jena: And Alicia, are you like you're expecting a new baby like you've already got so many hopes, I'm sure. And so many fears and so many. Even before our children are born, we're thinking about who we would love them to be and what we think happy in a good life would look like for them.

Justin: Hmm. Beautiful.

Jena: ... sex. Yeah.

Justin: Alicia, how did all that land for you?

Alicia: It definitely resonates. Thank you so much Dr. Jena for sharing all of that. And you're and you're absolutely correct. I love the idea of it's not just one talk, but it's really an ongoing conversation. And how do we open the doors so our kids know they're always welcome to come to us and we want them to come to us. We want to hug them.

Jena: Yeah, I think that having worked for lots of different bosses who said my door is always open, I've noticed that for me that isn't nearly as effective. Having my boss sit behind a desk in an office with an open door as it is when she comes out to me and says, “Hey, Jena, I wanted to check in about this thing,” or, “Hey, I noticed you're doing this” rather than waiting for our children to notice that our door is open constantly.

Audra, you're talking about Bridgerton, right? Like, wow, I'm you know, “here's what I noticed” or “here's what I'm thinking,” or “that was a little bit embarrassing.”

Audra: Great conversation starter. I'll tell you what.

Justin: All right. So we only have a couple more minutes. So I want to get to Alicia's third question. So, Jena, you said the word embarrassing. And so Alicia's third question is, how do we help decrease the feelings of shame around this important and sometimes difficult topic?

And so there's embarrassment, there's shame. And parents feel this is not, you know, like all that stuff, you know, it's coming from us. And so how do we deal with this?

Audra: Oh, yeah. Well, I want to tag along with that, because I've been reflecting with my kids, like, on the shame component of it is like not assuming that the kids carry shame around it. Because you know, I remember watching Top Gun with my dad and grandma being mortified that I'm watching like the love scene with them and just being so, like, so ashamed.

And then our kids, we watched pretty much everything with them and they're like, “cool, cool.” Like, you know what? “I think this might be, you know, like maybe we're not ready for it yet. We should fast forward through this.” And they're like, “no, actually we're totally cool.” Like they’re totally fine with it.

Justin: Oh, I can't remember the show. But yeah, I remember we were watching some show all together as a family, and there was some scene, I don't know, I don't now remember what it was, but I remember Audra and I…

Audra: And I was like “Oh guys.”

Justin: Yeah. It's like, oh, and I remember we stop and I was like, “Hey, guys, what do you think of that?” Yeah. And I remember, and they're like, “That's fine.”

Audra: “We’re cool.”

Justin: It just didn't really register...

Audra: So, the shame around it was mine, not theirs.

Jena: Yeah.

Audra: That's the thing I wanted to share.

Jena: Yeah, that's awesome. And I want to kind of separate out shame from embarrassment.

Audra: Yes. Thank you.

Justin: Thank you.

Jena: Because it makes sense to me that parents are sometimes embarrassed talking to their children and vice versa around sex and sexuality. One of the things that will often happen when parents describe sexual intercourse, you know, penis and vagina stuff to children, is that young children will turn in horror and say, “you and dad do this?” Right.

I actually, again, when we were in grad school with a lot of our colleagues, came to me and said, you know, my 11-year-old just learned about this in sixth-grade health class and came home and said, “do you do this?”

Audra: Right.

Jena: And I was mortified. Of course you're embarrassed. It's a personal behavior that is private, that people don't typically talk up to 11-year-olds about. But it's not a shameful behavior because having sex with your partner is a good, healthy, fabulous thing that even in the context of a conservative, right.

Audra: Right.

Jena: So I think acknowledging that, you know, a little bit of embarrassment, maybe like my adult children will sometimes occasionally come to me with sexual health difficulties and I'll be like, oh, well. Right. Yeah, OK. I wasn't thinking about it that way. But, good to know.

Audra: It's a little uncomfortable. That's the line with embarrassed.

Justin: Even for Dr. Jena. All right. So that is really affirming. Thank you. Because I had an assumption that there was nothing that could make you kind of feel uncomfortable.

Jena: No actually, Zach, our twenty-five year old, we're doing something last week, and I made some comment and he thought it was like some smutty sex joke that I was making. Like he thought it was this really egregious like over share. I was like, “oh, no. I would never say that in front of you.”  That would be so gross. Yeah. A little bit of embarrassment is reasonable. It makes sense that, I think, everyone feels that. And again, I go back to. What's your motivation? Right. Of all the things that matter to you in your life. My suspicion is that intimacy and relationships and connection with other humans, whatever that looks like for people, are among some of the best and the most important. And talks are, and not just about sex and not just about intercourse, but about emotions and feelings and attraction and romance and dating and all of those talks is how we get to be good at the super important thing. So you know what? Teaching my kids to drive was freaking terrifying. It was also super important. So we spent a lot of time to get it right, and the fact that it wasn't a comfortable process for me didn't stop me from learning how to do it as well as I could.

Audra: Jena, I have a follow up question that is just popping up for me. We talked to Sofia earlier, we had a podcast recording today. We talked to Sofia and it was amazing. And one of the things that we were talking about is normalizing and creating, you know, creating, bringing you know, we're talking about diversity, equity, inclusion. We're talking about how we have conversations in the home and how we every single day bring in our biases and all of these things into the home.

So it made me think about having these talks and talks about sex. Would it be more, you know, something that would be beneficial to start thinking about talking about sex in many different ways? I think coming from like a hetero normative perspective, you know, we think when we have to talk about sex, we're like talking about like heterosexual man and woman in a very specific anatomical way. Could we be broadening our conversations around this?

Jena: Absolutely. Because, again, I don't think the talk is just great. If all we had to do when we had the talk was to teach people the mechanics of intercourse.

Audra: Yes.

Justin: Right.

Jena: Insert lever A into slot B, like that's five minutes.

Audra: Right.

Jena: You know, two minutes if you’re willing to show pictures. Right. So really what we're talking about is love and connection and feeling and attraction and all of these other things, which are both universal and really super complicated.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: So providing only one example, I'm thinking about the danger of a single story. Right. Like providing only one perspective on what love and relationships or marriage or a happy adult life looks like is really unhelpful.

Audra: And would it be helpful, let's say that's what you feel comfortable with, because that's what you know. Let's say you don't know about you know, you're just coming from your frame. Right.

Could you say, listen, I'm sharing this right now because this is just kind of what I know about and there's a lot I don't know about? And, you know, here are some examples from what I might think. And, you know, we could find some more resources to, you know, explore it further. But this is just kind of what I know. And it's one small bit. Even that revelation or admission, I would imagine is helpful.

Jena: And also acknowledging that you don't know things or that you have biases. I love what you said about talking about bias. Because like, for instance, when you were talking about watching Bridgerton with your kids.

One of my big personal undertakings right now is unlearning a lot of racism and working really hard to be anti-racist. And so one of the things that I noticed when I watched Bridgerton without any young children was the way that actors were cast. You know, the queen of England is black.

Audra: Yes.

Jena: And and there are interracial, and I caught myself noticing that because I grew up in a generation where everyone portrayed on TV, with the exception of The Cosby Show, was white.

Audra: Well, and Merchant Ivory films, they're all going to be all the period pieces. They're all white unless somebody is enslaved or, you know, in servitude.

Jena: Right. Exactly right. And so the same way that I would if I were watching that with my kids say, “wow, this is really interesting for me, because when I grew up, every single person in these films were white.” And to see actors of color was just, you know, in leadership roles as the monarch of England. The same way that if you're seeing, you know, the IKEA ad with two dads shopping for furniture, be like, “wow, you know, they're bickering the same way that your dad and I do.” And I'm not used to thinking of gay couples like that. Doing really mundane things.

Audra: Right. Because were typically sexualizing gay couples. I feel like it's all about the sex, not about the, all of the everything that is a relationship, right?

Jena: Exactly. And that's why people who don't understand this don't want us to talk to their children about sexual orientation because they think we're going to talk about, again, slot A…

Audra: And slot B.

Jena: And instead, we're talking about even if you disagree on couches versus recliners, you still need to be kind and loving to your person.

Audra: Right. Right.

Justin: I love it. Jena, thank you so much.

Audra: This is awesome.

Justin: Yeah, it is a wealth of information every time we talk. And yeah, we hope to have this conversation again with you. We consider you to be a central Family Thrive expert. And your approach is just so Life-Giving. Just the idea that, like what it really boils down to is communication, honesty, love, vulnerability. Yeah, it's beautiful.

Audra: I feel like a better person and a better parent. Like I can feel myself just like filling up whenever I talk to you. I'm like, oh, this is so life-giving is a great word for it, but so enriching for me, like I feel like, more empowered every single time I come out of a conversation with you and this is what I'm hoping that we're able to introduce other parents to as well.

Jena: Thank you. Thank you.

Audra: And to the world.

Jena: I’ve had thirty years of screw-ups to figure out some of this stuff. It’s a process.

Justin: And we get to benefit from it, from the knowledge.

Jena: Thank you, take care.

Justin: All right. Thank you, Jena.

Audra: Thank you so much. We’ll talk to you soon. Bye.

Jena: Bye.  

Justin: Hey Family Thrivers, welcome to this bonus Ask Me Anything podcast episode with one of our amazing Family Thrive experts. Each week we record an AMA live in The Family Thrive app, where we take members’ questions and ask the experts directly. Members submit questions throughout the week and can even ask their questions live on the show. In the future, these AMA's will only be available to subscribers. So if you like what you hear, learn something new and want to be a part of future AMA’s in The Family Thrive, then head on over to The Family Thrive dot com and sign up today.

All right Jena, so we only have you for an hour and we want to get all of your amazing information. We asked parents to write in questions and then we are going to ask them here live. And then if they want to continue to write in and to tune in live, they can follow up. Parents, listen to your podcast, and then they say, “Oh, my gosh, I want to ask the expert now, A, B, and C.” So that is what we're doing today.

So by now, everyone should know something about Jena Curtis. We had an amazing podcast with you. We did a Meet a Thrive expert in the app. And so everybody knows everything about you now.

Jena: Oh good.

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Jena’s always got something new going on.

Justin: Yeah. Right. Yes. You can never know everything about Jena Curtis. All right. So we're just going to dive straight in and just talk about the stuff. All right.

Jena: Cool.

Justin: Alright. So the first question we received this week was from a parent who messaged me directly is, can you ask Jena about this? And so the parent said, I have a question for Jena. My daughters are now 26 and 24, and I often reflect back on “the talk” my oldest and I had when she was in third grade. I felt pressure to get it done quickly as the teacher had warned us of increased playground talk on the topic of sex. I researched and thought about it for weeks. Set up the perfect platform and did my best. At the end of the talk I asked if she had any questions. She responded with, “Is the tooth fairy real?” It stuck with me forever and I often wondered if I just broached the subject too early for her. What do you think about that? It was crushing to me in a way, as I felt her innocence slipping away.

Jena: Oh, right. Well, first of all, wow, what a powerful feeling as a parent to feel like you may have done something to make your kid's childhood less idyllic, like none of us are aiming for that. And like lots of things I think we do to ourselves as parents. That's one interpretation of why she said that, right?

Maybe, but it wasn't that she decided that childhood was gone and it was time to put away imaginary things like the tooth fairy. Maybe the reason that question came up is because the child thought we're talking about things we don't talk about, I can ask anything now.

Justin: Right.

Jena: And here's the burning question I have, because third grade is not only the degree to which kids start to talk a lot about sex on the playground, but it's also the grade where if you still believe in the tooth fairy, Easter Bunny, Santa Claus, kids in your class saying “that's not real” and “your parents are lying to you.” It's just your mom and dad. Right.

So I would again, and I tell folks this all the time, and parents especially, it's never too early to have the talk. The question is always, what are you talking about and how you do it. So the first thing I encourage this mom to do is take a deep breath because I'm positive that this did not, even if the tooth fairy turns out not to be real, this conversation did not ruin anyone's childhood. And ended with something that she thinks about. I'm wondering what would happen if she raised it with her now adult kid and said, “Hey, you know, this thing came up. I was had this conversation or listen, this podcast about sex talk. And I keep thinking about this thing that happened when you were in third grade.”

Right. I'd be really curious to hear from the now-adult kid what the take was. And even if, worst fears realized, it turns out, yes, I wasn't ready. It was this gross thing, ew, ew, ew. You now get to have that conversation with your child and build connection around that. So now that you are an adult, how do we talk about this or you're right, when you were eight, I wasn't ready. And now that you're twenty three or twenty, you know, I still sometimes wonder if I should be talking to you more or checking in more. So if the mom feels like she could, I'd love for her to instead of, you know, asking me to interpret why this happened. Yeah, I have theories, but I can't be the expert at this time to check in with her kid.

Justin: Oh, so what comes up for me hearing that is something that I've heard in other contexts, but around parenting specifically, that repair is always possible. And yeah, like l, you know, we said something we regret, we did something we regret and then repair is always possible. And what I'm hearing from you is that repair is especially built on transparency and honesty and vulnerability.

Jena: Yeah. And the other thing that this brings up for me is the idea of the timing of the talk and how to start the talk. That's the thing that parents always want to know. When should I have the talk? How do I prepare for the talk? And whenever parents ask me about when to have the talk or how do I have the talk, one of the questions I'll ask is, is there something that's prompting this now? Right. Is there a specific thing?

So in this case, it was a teacher said kids are talking about sex on the playground. Often parents will come to me and say, oh, my gosh, I just thought porn on my 12 year old's computer. How do I talk to them about it? Or my kid's best friend just got a period. How do I, right?? So if there's a specific thing…

Audra: Like an event trigger.

Jena: Yes.

Justin: Yeah. Right.

Audra: For me, like I watch Bridgton with my daughter, so.

Justin: Oh, is there stuff in Bridgton?

Audra: Was there stuff in Bridgerton?

Jena: So much stuff in Bridgerton!

Audra: We fast-forwarded through some things that might not have been comfortable. But you know, it did bring up. I still haven't had the talk, though, I mean, there have been many talks of like, “Hey, you know, what do you think about, you know, what's going on here?” Like just trying to like, open it up. And she'd be like, “well, I know all about this stuff. Don't worry about it.”

Justin: Oh no, we've had the talk.

Audra: Oh, you had it?

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: The talk.

Justin: Oh, my God. Yes. She was in the car with me. No. This had happened…

Audra: I didn’t know. I'm still like, gearing up to be like, all right. And I'm like, “OK, so what do you know?” Like just trying to like, enter.

Justin: This is all, See this is real, real and authentic, real-time happening right now. Yeah, it was a couple of years ago, we were in the car and…

Audra: I thought that was TikTok.

Justin: And Max asked a question and then I was like, “Oh, I guess we're having a talk.” And she was in the back and I was like, oh, man. But she's in the back. And so I just, I remember hearing from someone somewhere that like you just answer the questions you're asked. And I think, Jena, you said that as well in your podcast, but I had heard that. And so I was like, “well, I guess I'm just going to talk about it now.” And then Max just had like one question. And so we talked about it. And then Maesie had like six or seven.

Audra: How old was she at the time?

Justin: It was a couple of years ago. It was definitely when we were still in…

Audra: She was like nine?

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Ok. Cool.

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Nice.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: And that's exactly the way to do it. Know that you have answered the questions sufficiently when they run out of questions or they get bored. Really, and to the extent that you can have that vibe of, “Oh, yeah, that's an interesting thing. Let me tell you all that I know about it” or answer all your questions about it the same way that you would hold forth on any other interesting topic.

Because the fact that, you know, your daughter felt that she kind of honed in on Max's question and conversation really suggests that she felt pretty comfortable in that environment. And that's a good thing. And if the talk is being prompted by a specific thing, an event, a concern, when I had a daughter in middle school, when the school sent home a letter to all of the parents saying that a seventh-grade boy had been inappropriately sexually touching the girls in the school. Right.

Audra: Yeah.

Jena: Yikes.

Audra: That's a big...

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: The first time I heard about it is, I got a letter from the school. Yeah. Any time that there's a. So what I did is I said, “Oh, my gosh, I just got this letter from the school and I'm a little freaked out about it. I wonder what you know.” Or for the third-grader, “your teacher called and said kids are talking about sex on the playground. And I'm wondering if you heard that and what you think about it.”

Justin: Yeah. Yeah.

Audra: Man, I want Jena's questions.

Justin: That's brilliant.  

Audra: Like these questions are just gold.

Justin: Yeah, what I'm hearing is that these I mean, these types of questions are really connected. It's like you're not coming in with an agenda. You know, it's like really connected. Like this thing is happening when you think about it.

Audra: And you trust them.

Jena: Yep. And you can own your own vulnerability about this. Yeah. Like I said to Tory when I got the letter was like the first thing that I thought was, “oh, my gosh, did this happen to my kid?” Right. And so I started by saying I got this letter and I'm a little freaked out and I want to know, you know, what's going on.

Justin: One last follow-up here. How concerned should parents be about playground talk about sex? I mean, what's…

Audra: Is that a thing?

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Does it happen?

Jena: Right. So again, I always want more answers and I always have more questions. So for me, it's about what kind of playground talk, right. Are we talking...I was in first or second grade when Lonell Loomis, because this is subscribers only, so I’m gonna name names. Now, when Lonell Loomis told me how babies were made. Right. And I was shocked and horrified. And I refused to believe her because it was too gross. But her dad had magazines and there was photographic evidence that this happened. And so. Right. That’s…

Justin: Scenes of women giving birth?

Jena: Of people having sex. That was pretty hardcore. And this was the ‘70s.

Justin: But not giving birth though…

Jena: No, no, no.

Audra: That’s a specialty ...

Jena: ...my dad. Like whatever was like slightly more hardcore than Hustler. Oh, yeah. Was actually like people having sex. Like, that's a really typical thing. And if I found, if I were parenting seven-year-old me, I'd be concerned and I'd have a conversation with my seven-year-old about I don't like you looking at pictures of naked people having sex because that's an adult thing. I don't like you doing that at your friend's house because that's not our family rules and that's not the kind of behavior I expect.

Audra: Mm-hmm.

Jena: I wouldn't be really, really, I wouldn't like it. Like, that's not what I expect my seven-year-old to be doing at a friend's house. I would not be as concerned about that once I'd explained our family values around it and why I didn't think that was great behavior.

As I would be if, for instance, people were talking sexually about another child. And middle school, elementary school is a little bit early for this, at third grade especially, but kids get sexualized really early. Writes of the sex talk on the playground is about somebody's breasts.

Audra: Right.

Jena: Or who is, if somebody's gay. If it's about somebody's identity, somebody's body, then I am much more concerned about it than if it is about bodies in general or sex in general or, you know, girls have this hole the babies come out of.

I would want to use that opportunity to sort of reinforce our family values around sex and sexual behavior, which is it's not something for children. It's not something that we ever shame people about. It is a private thing. If you have any questions about it, you can always talk to me or your dad, or here are the other trusted adults.

Audra: Teachable moment. Yes.

Jena: Yep.

Justin: Yeah. Awesome. All right. So we have another question. And I just want to note for anyone in the app who is listening to this, Jena generously went through and answered a few of these questions and gave links. And so you can go into the event link for this event and then you can get these links. But Jena, we can elaborate. We can riff on them.

So one question here, Jena, I'm curious what resources you recommend for parents preparing to approach the sex, sexuality, gender identity, conversation with their kids that might not feel equipped with the info they need. Are there forms, podcasts, educators, books, etcetera that parents can use to keep on top of the conversation as their kids mature? So this one is particularly about identity.

Jena: Yeah. So I started answering questions in the app and then realized that I was going to have to just say it's complicated over and over again. And then people would think I was less of an expert. So some links are good. And the link I provided is SIECUS, which is the Sexuality Education Information Council of the United States.

And I love them. They do a lot of advocacy and education around sexuality and sexuality education. And their goal is really that everybody has access to evidence-based sexuality education and information, and that they use that to live their best, healthiest lives. And so I'm a huge fan of that. And they have how do pastors and other faith leaders talk to children about sex? How do teachers talk about sex? How to parent? For all ages, for all gender identities and orientations.

They link to lots of other really good things. And the reason that I like them so much is, one, they're very comprehensive, but also because they're evidence-based and they refused to shame anyone around identity. Right. There are behaviors that are unacceptable. And some of those we agree as a community or as a country like violence is unacceptable. And in other times families have values about what behaviors are ok and are not. But nobody gets shamed for who they are or how they feel. And that's super important to me.

Justin: So I just want to repeat this. So this is S I E C U S dot org.

Jena: Correct.

Justin: Ok.

Audra: I'm so grateful to learn about this, Jena. Thank you so much. And it just makes me so grateful for the amazing work that people are doing. Right.

Jena: And that's, that's the other really important part, too, because if you Google or you search, you know, my kid might be trans. You're going to get two billion links and some of them are going to be super, right. Like if you want to Covid vaccine information right now. Don't google that. Please go to the CDC.

Justin: Oh, well, now that's why we have The Family Thrive. If you Google pretty much anything, you're going to come across a lot of garbage.

Jena: Yeah, right. And just like The Family Thrive, all of these resources and all of these recipes and all of these experts to make sure they're really, really in alignment with your values and your brand and your idea of what wellness is. SIECUS does the same thing for sexuality education. So all of their links are evidence-based. They're not shaming anyone. And they're incredibly inclusive.

Justin: So this is like a one-stop-shop then for parents who are thinking, I need to figure out how to approach sexuality and identity with my kid. And I have no idea where to start.

Jena: This is where they are or I'm wondering about my baby or my pregnancy or myself and my own identity. Everything that you could possibly want is there. It is that good and that comprehensive.

Justin: Oh my gosh.

Audra: Yeah, we gotta get this up on it, I think it'd be great to get a resource, general resource page up.

Justin: Yes.

Jena: They also have curriculum guides, because I know that a lot of folks have alternative schooling arrangements for kids. Right. And so to sort of look and again, from faith-based perspectives, from all sorts of different ages, for all sorts of different topics, it's just a really great resource.

Justin: Awesome. Yeah. Our wonderful managing editor, Jordan, put together a cheat sheet. I don't know if you saw that on the app.

Jena: I saw that. It’s brilliant.

Justin: Yeah. So from the, and she did that just from your podcast. So what we'll do is we'll take additional resources from this AMA, and put that in the cheat sheet. So for any parents listening, you can just search Jena Curtis cheat sheet and you'll have all of the information...

Audra: Or DM us and we’ll tag you in it.

Justin: Oh, yeah, you can message us.

Audra: And I think we're going to ask Gina to make it into a like downloadable PDF version.

Justin: Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely. All right. So next question, what is the best way to support kids I know with close-minded families when it comes to sexuality and gender identity? And before I let you answer this one, I can say I have a number of friends over the years who I've talked to who have really great communication skills and really great relationships with their kids. But their kids have friends who are in situations that are not supportive. And so I think this is a really common one. Yeah.

Jena: This is and this was where I gave up trying to type answers, it’s complicated. Yeah. So here's like there's so many ways to come at this. And so let's talk about obviously the difference between support for kids and thriving and wellness versus health and safety.

Obviously, if I know of a child who is in an abusive situation, I'm reporting that through the appropriate authorities. I'm talking to the child's teachers, the child's doctors, other adults Right. So I don't think that's what this person is asking. I think what this person is asking is, how do I support my kids' friend who we think might be gay or might be or is gay or is trans or something else and whose parents are not supportive. That's how I read that. Is that's how you're reading it?

Audra: Yes.

Justin: Yes.

Jena: Ok, so we're not talking about kids who are being abused or neglected by their family. This is just my parents don't get me. My parents are conservative. Parents don't…

Audra: That's right.

Justin: Or yes. Or the kids have friends and the friends are trans or gay or whatever and. Right. And live in homes that either they have to hide who they are or they are just not supported in a variety of ways.

Audra: Being who they are. Right.

Jena: Right. So I'm going to break this down one more further step, because I think that lots of us have families where we are seeing nieces and nephews or we don't have a word for my siblings, kid who's nonbinary, but those kids, too.

Audra: Yes, yes.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: Right.

Justin: Right.

Jena: Like my sister's gender-queer kid. So, for family, it's a little bit different. I actually my family, my immediate family is very queer and very inclusive. And my extended family is pretty conservative. And I have nieces and nephews whose parents not only believed that marriage is only between a man and a woman, but that the husband is the head of the household because he is the man and that's the way it's supposed to be.

And when everybody's kids were really little, we had to have conversations that basically turned into negotiations of you don't give my kids Fisher-Price Noah's Ark, and I won't give your kids vulva puppets. Right. Like each of us are going to respect the other's family's values, even though we don't agree with them personally. Right. It's not my job to provide sexuality education to your children. It's not your job to provide religious education to my children.

Audra: Yes.

Jena: And I think that in families, to the extent that that conversation can be had, that's probably helpful for family members and friends and for the children, though, I think that whenever I get into disagreements with people about those values. Right, like who's the head of the household or can two women get married? Well, we already saw that one of them.

Whenever we get sort of disagreements, I like to take a step back to more universal shared values. Some of my family members and I completely agree on how respective nieces and nephews should be raised. We all agree that we love those kids and we all agree that we want those kids to be happy and healthy. For me, for my nieces and nephews, it's really important that I get to be in their lives and I get to be a supportive presence.

And if that means respecting the values of the family by not speaking out against them, I absolutely do that. And I will do that for my children's friends when they were children as well. Right. I'm not going to say, well, your mom should be Ok with gay marriage. Right?

Audra: Right, right.

Jena: And supporting or not going against other people's families' values doesn't mean that I am not modeling inclusion in my behavior, how I talk. This is true for other types of bias. Right. We all have friends and family members who are really unapologetically racist.

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Yeah. Right, right.

Jena: And it's not my job again to tell one of my nieces or nephews that their parent is racist. It is absolutely my job to challenge racist or homophobic ideas in my house. When they are expressed.

Audra: Yes.

Jena: And I do that by saying no, in our family we believe this.

Audra: Yeah, Jena. And in turn, you make your home a safe space.

Jena: Yes.

Audra: A brave space

Jena: And, exactly. And it's funny because when your entire family does this, it reinforces. So one of my nephews once asked a question, who is again, in this pretty conservative family, asked a question, something about science. And I answered it and he turned to me. He was maybe seven or eight. And he said, “No, you're a mom. Moms are not the people you ask when you want to know things. Moms are the people you talk to about feelings. If you want to know something, you ask a dad.”

Audra: Whoa.

Jena: And I was just like, and Tod quick as like, just he's like, “well, actually, your Aunt Jena has her doctorate from Columbia University, which is one of the best schools in the entire world. So I'm thinking she's a good person to ask what you want to know things too.”

Justin: Yeah. Right.

Jena: And it wasn't your mom and dad are teaching you bullshit.

Justin: Oh, yeah. Right, right.

Jena: It wasn't that patriarchal crap. It was just…

Audra: We see this differently.

Jena: Yeah. This is who we are. Or in our family, women change tires and sometimes dads make dinner. I'm not saying that other families aren't different. I'm just affirming that this is who we are.

Justin: Or sometimes dads can talk about feelings too.

Audra: Dads definitely talk about feelings.

Jena: Dads need to talk more about feelings, please.

Justin: Yes. Having grown up in a conservative family myself, there is, I do feel this urge because I'm just imagining when our kids have those friends, how I would want to, you know, protect them and I would want to be an important part of their lives. And just, but I'm hearing the wisdom in what you're saying of like, there's a line that you're drawing here that I'm trying to see more clearly around this is how we do things here. I'm not going to talk about your parents.

Audra: It's more like holding the space in many ways and like and your own modeling and not trying to kind of like do the same thing back. Of like, no, I'm going to teach you what we, you know, this is how it should be through our paradigm. No, it’s clarifying your values, revealing those values. You know how things work in your home and for your family. And then modeling the way.

Jena: Yeah. And just in for you, because I when my kids were little, especially again, my queer kids, I was so like, don't you dare, you know, like I will come and wreck your family.

Justin: Yes.

Jena: Right. Because that momma bear thing. Exactly. And what I recognized is no conversation that ever started with me saying any version of, let me explain to you how you need to be parenting your child because you're doing it wrong now. Has ever gone anyplace good.  

Audra: Yeah. Right.

Jena: Right.

Justin: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Audra: How do any of us feel, right?

Jena: And even, you know, when that is obviously the case. Right. Even when somebody is shaking their toddler in the grocery store and screaming at them.

Audra: Right.

Jena: Walking up to them and saying “you need to stop that right now because that's abuse” is so much less effective than, “Wow. You seem really frustrated.”

Justin: Yeah. What I'm seeing here is a parallel to some communication skills around, like just owning one's lane. And so in, you know, supportive, authentic communication, instead of saying, like, “you're making me feel this way” or, you know, “you're doing this,” I can say, “I'm feeling a tightness in my chest. I'm feeling some resistance around me.” And then just simply owning what's happening for me.

And so there's something similar here with maybe talking with these with the kids who are friends with your kids are saying, “I'm sorry that you're feeling this way. I'm sorry, that you're feeling, you know, misunderstood or rejected. And I want you to know that here, you know, this is how we feel.”

And I can now like I'm now starting to imagine this conversation without any, there's no need to say anything about the other parents. It's about, I'm sorry that you're feeling this way. Let me connect with how you're feeling. And then I want you to know how I am feeling and what this space is for you.

Jena: Right. And, you know, absolutely validating that it is completely frustrating and saddening or anger making or whatever those emotions are about not being supported and understood. And we really care about you and we'd like to support you. What would that look like for us and our family?

Audra: Oh yes. Well, what a beautiful question.

Jena: Absolutely. That's got to feel frustrating at home. What could we do that would be supportive here when you're here with us? Then the sticky part is, again, especially with family. There's got to be limits, right? So for kids, I had a good friend in grad school who had a, what I now understand to be a trans sib.

And she would joke about the fact that whenever her mother would go out, her mother would say to her younger sib, “Mikey, don't you dare wear any of my dresses while I'm out.” And one of the rules in this child's life was when they visited other people's houses, they weren't allowed to wear girl clothes because they were a boy. As a parent, letting that child wear girl clothes, I believe that thing exists, with the other parent understands it to be would be a violation of parenting rules. Right.

So some things like, the same way that driving someone else's 13-year-old to Planned Parenthood is probably, for me personally, too much of a thing.

Audra: Right Right.

Jena: So thinking about your own values around that.

Audra: It’s not yours to do, right.

Jena: And again, the difference between wellness and optimal parenting versus health and safety. Anybody's 13 year old who is having a medical emergency, I am going to support however they need to be supported.

But thinking about how can you, because here's the thing. As a parent who unapologetically believes that people get to be whatever sexual orientation and gender identity they are and that everybody gets to respect that, I would be really, really upset and just completely unhinged if, again, my family members have very different ideas, felt it was their job to explain that to my kid.

Audra: Right.

Jena: The fact that I'm right and they're wrong.

Audra: Right.

Jena: As we all agree on this podcast, at least, right?

Audra: Right.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: It's tough. And that's why I couldn't type an answer, because I just want to say it's complicated here.

Audra: Okay, so Jena, in the dress example, right. So the parent, the other parents made it clear their way, what their understanding is, and what they value in their home and how they work, you know, gender identity and everything to be understood, whatever terms they use.

And you kid comes over, dress up is part of what you do. Dressing of any way anyone was is a part of what you do in your home. Let's just say that's something that that you value. We have clothes around. We like to play and we like to explore. That's what we do in our home. Right. So kid comes over and you now know this. And the kids want to have an exploration, whatever kind that they want to, you know.

Jena: Right.

Audra: Do you then share and say like, these are our values in this home. This is why we provide this open forum for exploration. We really care about this, but we have a difference of the way that we see things. Do you just kind of like are you just open about it?

Jena: Yep. Yep, you're right. So one of the agreements that I have. Right, you have sleepovers, right? I promised all your parents that everybody be in bed with the lights out at ten o'clock.

Audra: Right, no drinking vodka.

Jena: Right, there’s no soda in our house. I told and because somebody has this food requirement or this here's what we're doing. I would say, you know, in our house, kids can wear any clothes they want. And I would have this conversation privately with the child.

Audra: Mm-hmm.

Jena: But Mikey's parents have asked for this.

Audra: Hmm. Yup.

Justin: Ok, so there are next...

Audra: That's wonderful, Jena, thank you.

Justin: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely.

Jena: I wish there were a better answer, but that's the best one.

Justin: Oh, like well, what I'm hearing is that with each of these questions, like there are a lot of gray areas. And what I love is that it keeps coming back to authenticity, honesty, vulnerability, transparency. Yeah.

Audra: Communication. Openness.

Justin: Yeah.

Audra: Votability. And why is it, the thing that makes this most challenging is that for some like tradition that's been passed down to all of us, and parenting is supposed to be black and white? We're supposed to have comebacks and everything is supposed to be very, very fast reactionary. Set in stone. Solid.

Jena: You know the answer...

Audra: Yeah. Yeah.

Jena: Your house, your rules.

Audra: Right, right.

Justin: So our next set of questions come from a parent who is actually with us here. So Alicia Wuth is our director of community. She is a clinical psychologist. She's a mom who is, actually will soon be a mother of two. And…

Audra: In about a month.

Justin: Yeah, she has questions and so. All right. So the first question that she asked is, what resources does Jena recommend for toddlers, preteens, adolescents and emerging adults in understanding their sexuality? So this is a wide, wide range. So I guess I mean, we're...

Audra: I’m hearing among ages.

Justin: Yeah. So, [are there] age-appropriate resources that are for the kids?

Jena: I'd go to SIECUS. There are others, but nobody does it as comprehensively or as well.

Audra: Ok, great. So…

Jena: Go back to that one.

Justin: Oh, she's here.

Audra: Hi Alicia!

Alicia: Hi. Sorry. I'm not sure why you couldn't hear me. But it’s good to be here.

Justin: All right. So I asked the first question for you, and the answer was basically SIECUS again, SIECUS dot org. So they don't just have material for parents, they have material for young people as well.

Alicia: Everybody.

Audra: All ages, everybody.

Jena: But Alicia, because I feel like I'm shortchanging you now that I'm actually hearing your voice and I'm an overachiever. Let me give you two other really great ones for adolescents and young adults, because a lot of sexuality education for them isn't just content knowledge, but it's also values and skills and thinking about like, that huge am I normal for thinking, feeling being this way?

So specifically for adolescents and emerging adults, Scarlet Teen, it's run by Rutgers and it's Scarleteen dot com. They have not only question and answer forums, they also have live chats. So teens and young adults who have urgent questions or two o'clock in the morning musings can find real, live, well-educated others to answer those.

Audra: Great.

Justin: What a great resource.

Jena: And then Advocates for Youth is that specifically for LGBTQ+ teens. They do all sexuality, but they really have a focus on equity around sexual orientation and gender identity. And again, it is very much a peer or near peer-led thing.

So SIECUS is people like me explaining sex in scientific evidence-based sometimes common language, but it's really the nuts and bolts and the content. Scarlet Teen and Advocates for Youth is a much more norming affirming, of course, this ... bizarre sort of thing. So for that age group, that would be really helpful.

Alicia: Great.

Audra: Great.

Jena: But SIECUS will have for younger kids like preschoolers. Here are great books about these things. And here are all of these other resources or here's a film. So lots of more broad stuff.

Alicia: Excellent. Thank you.

Justin: Alicia, do you want me to ask your second question or do you want to?

Alicia: You can go ahead and ask it, Justin, because I actually can't pull up the...

Justin: Oh, Ok. Not a problem. I will go ahead and ask it. And then if you just want to stay on the line for any follow-up. Well, I'm going to ask Alicia's questions because she's on her phone and she can't pull them up, but she'll stay on the line for any follow-up.

So the segment of what does Jena recommend for parents to do when preparing for talking with their own children, especially for parents who have never experienced the talk themselves? Right. So there are some parents are like, who like, man and…

Audra: Good or bad, never had any of it.

Justin: In my childhood, in my parents. Boy did it all together. And now here I am. I don't know what to do. So I'm imagining, is this SIECUS.org again?

Jena: It is not. I can do more than that, Justin. I really am an expert. So first thing, the first thing I recommend is reflecting a little bit on the parent's motivation. Right. Is this a talk you're having and as we discussed earlier, because some event has happened that you feel you need to address? Right.

You just watch the scandalous sex scene together and now you need to deconstruct it with and process it with your kid. Is it because you think they're about to hit puberty? So, first of all, what's prompting the talk for you as a parent and as a family? And then also, what are you hoping to achieve with this? What's your goal of the talk? Is this a checkbox? Because as a good parent, you have to explain the birds and the bees and periods and wet dreams.

Audra: Right.

Jena: Or is it because there's a behavior you're concerned about or a danger you want to warn your child about? What are you, what's motivating this and what are you hoping to get out of it? Because I think that if we don't, we have those motivations and we have hopes and fears. And if we don't explore them, we still have them.

But we don't know that we're acting on them. In our original podcast, I told you that my parents never really gave me a sex talk. They just gave me books because they didn't know how to do that. And that's not exactly true. When I was 15, my dad gave me what I think of in my own head as the don't be a slut talk.

Audra: Oh, yeah.

Jena: And again, my dad, I told you earlier in the podcast, my parents did so much right around sexuality education in that they unconditionally love me and each other and my sibs and my kids. And when it turned out people were queer or people were like, none of that mattered. They love us. We're family. Like they nailed that exactly right.

And when I was 15, I was having a sleepover with a bunch of my girlfriends, female friends, not any romantic anything. I had never been romantically involved with anybody at this point. And I don't know what happened. But somebody must have said or done something that made him worried. We were this wild group of hooligan girls. And like this is probably 1984. Like, think Madonna like a virgin.

Audra: Yes.

Jena: You know, in the bodice. And that's what my dad is picturing, right? Like that's his horror nightmare. And so I get pulled out of the sleepover.

Justin: Oh, wow.

Jena: At that moment. And sat down at the kitchen table to have him explain that boys and girls are very different about sex. And boys don't respect girls who wear makeup or who dress a certain way or who will have sex. You know, the thing about not buying cows when you get free milk.

It was really a don't be a slut talk. Again, you can't use skills you don't have. But if I could have scripted that, like I wish so much that my dad could have waited. And then the next day said, hey, I was listening to you, talk to your friends. And I freaked out a little bit because you were talking about boys and who had a cute ass. And I don't think of you like that, and I don't want you to be that kind of girl.

Audra: Right.

Jena: Right. Like I am worried that you're turning into a teenager that I would not respect or you're engaged in behaviors that I think are wrong. Again I'm freaked out about this. Let's talk about this, because here's how I want you to be. And, but because he didn't it just came out as this and it was this bizarre thing for me because I was trying to figure out, like what had happened and why now. And my friends were like Jena? So the first thing that parents might do in preparing for this is think about what's motivating it and what do they want to accomplish. Right?

Justin: So the first step is reflect on motivations. And then the second step is, what do I want to accomplish?

Jena: Right. What's the outcome? What's the best like best case scenario, what would this mean? And I would argue if I got to vote for your sex talk, I would say best case scenario is parent and child walk away feeling like that wasn't terrible and we could do it again if somebody had more questions or more concerns. But that's what I need from it. Not that everybody gets everything, but that people feel like they had a conversation. They understand what each other believe or they've addressed it.

Audra: And the doors.

Justin: And the doors opened.

Jena: The door is open for it because you don't have to do it all at once. Right. I want sex talks to be plural talks.

Audra: Talks, let's have the talks. Let's have talks. Let me...

Jena: Dialogue...

Audra: No, no, no the. No. The, you know, small talks.

Justin: Many talks.

Jena: And then the other thing that might happen with reflection about motivation is I think most parents, I absolutely believe that almost all parents really love and care for their kids. Right. The same way that I believe chocolate is delicious. I believe parents love their kids. Like you don't have to convince me.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: And what parents mostly want is for their kids to be happy and healthy. And here's where it gets tricky with sexuality and be good people. Yeah, right. Like we say, we want happy and healthy. But I have a twenty-five-year-old son, and if happy for him meant strip mining rainforests to be a billionaire. I'm disappointed.

Audra: Yeah.

Jena: Like, I don't just want happy and healthy, I want him to be a good person. And where we get tripped up with sexuality and where my dad had the freak out is around sex and gender and sexuality. A good person is easier to recognize when it is things that I am familiar with, if my kids grow up to be health professors, I recognize that that is a valuable contribution to society.

If my kid is a writer, maybe it's a little bit harder for me to understand that as the success that I would see something else as. As a parent, understanding that our children can have different ideas around sexuality, can have different gender identity or sexual orientation, and still be good people, takes a little bit of adaptation and ruminating.

Justin: Adaptation, yeah. Yeah, right, self-reflection.

Jena: And Alicia, are you like you're expecting a new baby like you've already got so many hopes, I'm sure. And so many fears and so many. Even before our children are born, we're thinking about who we would love them to be and what we think happy in a good life would look like for them.

Justin: Hmm. Beautiful.

Jena: ... sex. Yeah.

Justin: Alicia, how did all that land for you?

Alicia: It definitely resonates. Thank you so much Dr. Jena for sharing all of that. And you're and you're absolutely correct. I love the idea of it's not just one talk, but it's really an ongoing conversation. And how do we open the doors so our kids know they're always welcome to come to us and we want them to come to us. We want to hug them.

Jena: Yeah, I think that having worked for lots of different bosses who said my door is always open, I've noticed that for me that isn't nearly as effective. Having my boss sit behind a desk in an office with an open door as it is when she comes out to me and says, “Hey, Jena, I wanted to check in about this thing,” or, “Hey, I noticed you're doing this” rather than waiting for our children to notice that our door is open constantly.

Audra, you're talking about Bridgerton, right? Like, wow, I'm you know, “here's what I noticed” or “here's what I'm thinking,” or “that was a little bit embarrassing.”

Audra: Great conversation starter. I'll tell you what.

Justin: All right. So we only have a couple more minutes. So I want to get to Alicia's third question. So, Jena, you said the word embarrassing. And so Alicia's third question is, how do we help decrease the feelings of shame around this important and sometimes difficult topic?

And so there's embarrassment, there's shame. And parents feel this is not, you know, like all that stuff, you know, it's coming from us. And so how do we deal with this?

Audra: Oh, yeah. Well, I want to tag along with that, because I've been reflecting with my kids, like, on the shame component of it is like not assuming that the kids carry shame around it. Because you know, I remember watching Top Gun with my dad and grandma being mortified that I'm watching like the love scene with them and just being so, like, so ashamed.

And then our kids, we watched pretty much everything with them and they're like, “cool, cool.” Like, you know what? “I think this might be, you know, like maybe we're not ready for it yet. We should fast forward through this.” And they're like, “no, actually we're totally cool.” Like they’re totally fine with it.

Justin: Oh, I can't remember the show. But yeah, I remember we were watching some show all together as a family, and there was some scene, I don't know, I don't now remember what it was, but I remember Audra and I…

Audra: And I was like “Oh guys.”

Justin: Yeah. It's like, oh, and I remember we stop and I was like, “Hey, guys, what do you think of that?” Yeah. And I remember, and they're like, “That's fine.”

Audra: “We’re cool.”

Justin: It just didn't really register...

Audra: So, the shame around it was mine, not theirs.

Jena: Yeah.

Audra: That's the thing I wanted to share.

Jena: Yeah, that's awesome. And I want to kind of separate out shame from embarrassment.

Audra: Yes. Thank you.

Justin: Thank you.

Jena: Because it makes sense to me that parents are sometimes embarrassed talking to their children and vice versa around sex and sexuality. One of the things that will often happen when parents describe sexual intercourse, you know, penis and vagina stuff to children, is that young children will turn in horror and say, “you and dad do this?” Right.

I actually, again, when we were in grad school with a lot of our colleagues, came to me and said, you know, my 11-year-old just learned about this in sixth-grade health class and came home and said, “do you do this?”

Audra: Right.

Jena: And I was mortified. Of course you're embarrassed. It's a personal behavior that is private, that people don't typically talk up to 11-year-olds about. But it's not a shameful behavior because having sex with your partner is a good, healthy, fabulous thing that even in the context of a conservative, right.

Audra: Right.

Jena: So I think acknowledging that, you know, a little bit of embarrassment, maybe like my adult children will sometimes occasionally come to me with sexual health difficulties and I'll be like, oh, well. Right. Yeah, OK. I wasn't thinking about it that way. But, good to know.

Audra: It's a little uncomfortable. That's the line with embarrassed.

Justin: Even for Dr. Jena. All right. So that is really affirming. Thank you. Because I had an assumption that there was nothing that could make you kind of feel uncomfortable.

Jena: No actually, Zach, our twenty-five year old, we're doing something last week, and I made some comment and he thought it was like some smutty sex joke that I was making. Like he thought it was this really egregious like over share. I was like, “oh, no. I would never say that in front of you.”  That would be so gross. Yeah. A little bit of embarrassment is reasonable. It makes sense that, I think, everyone feels that. And again, I go back to. What's your motivation? Right. Of all the things that matter to you in your life. My suspicion is that intimacy and relationships and connection with other humans, whatever that looks like for people, are among some of the best and the most important. And talks are, and not just about sex and not just about intercourse, but about emotions and feelings and attraction and romance and dating and all of those talks is how we get to be good at the super important thing. So you know what? Teaching my kids to drive was freaking terrifying. It was also super important. So we spent a lot of time to get it right, and the fact that it wasn't a comfortable process for me didn't stop me from learning how to do it as well as I could.

Audra: Jena, I have a follow up question that is just popping up for me. We talked to Sofia earlier, we had a podcast recording today. We talked to Sofia and it was amazing. And one of the things that we were talking about is normalizing and creating, you know, creating, bringing you know, we're talking about diversity, equity, inclusion. We're talking about how we have conversations in the home and how we every single day bring in our biases and all of these things into the home.

So it made me think about having these talks and talks about sex. Would it be more, you know, something that would be beneficial to start thinking about talking about sex in many different ways? I think coming from like a hetero normative perspective, you know, we think when we have to talk about sex, we're like talking about like heterosexual man and woman in a very specific anatomical way. Could we be broadening our conversations around this?

Jena: Absolutely. Because, again, I don't think the talk is just great. If all we had to do when we had the talk was to teach people the mechanics of intercourse.

Audra: Yes.

Justin: Right.

Jena: Insert lever A into slot B, like that's five minutes.

Audra: Right.

Jena: You know, two minutes if you’re willing to show pictures. Right. So really what we're talking about is love and connection and feeling and attraction and all of these other things, which are both universal and really super complicated.

Justin: Yeah.

Jena: So providing only one example, I'm thinking about the danger of a single story. Right. Like providing only one perspective on what love and relationships or marriage or a happy adult life looks like is really unhelpful.

Audra: And would it be helpful, let's say that's what you feel comfortable with, because that's what you know. Let's say you don't know about you know, you're just coming from your frame. Right.

Could you say, listen, I'm sharing this right now because this is just kind of what I know about and there's a lot I don't know about? And, you know, here are some examples from what I might think. And, you know, we could find some more resources to, you know, explore it further. But this is just kind of what I know. And it's one small bit. Even that revelation or admission, I would imagine is helpful.

Jena: And also acknowledging that you don't know things or that you have biases. I love what you said about talking about bias. Because like, for instance, when you were talking about watching Bridgerton with your kids.

One of my big personal undertakings right now is unlearning a lot of racism and working really hard to be anti-racist. And so one of the things that I noticed when I watched Bridgerton without any young children was the way that actors were cast. You know, the queen of England is black.

Audra: Yes.

Jena: And and there are interracial, and I caught myself noticing that because I grew up in a generation where everyone portrayed on TV, with the exception of The Cosby Show, was white.

Audra: Well, and Merchant Ivory films, they're all going to be all the period pieces. They're all white unless somebody is enslaved or, you know, in servitude.

Jena: Right. Exactly right. And so the same way that I would if I were watching that with my kids say, “wow, this is really interesting for me, because when I grew up, every single person in these films were white.” And to see actors of color was just, you know, in leadership roles as the monarch of England. The same way that if you're seeing, you know, the IKEA ad with two dads shopping for furniture, be like, “wow, you know, they're bickering the same way that your dad and I do.” And I'm not used to thinking of gay couples like that. Doing really mundane things.

Audra: Right. Because were typically sexualizing gay couples. I feel like it's all about the sex, not about the, all of the everything that is a relationship, right?

Jena: Exactly. And that's why people who don't understand this don't want us to talk to their children about sexual orientation because they think we're going to talk about, again, slot A…

Audra: And slot B.

Jena: And instead, we're talking about even if you disagree on couches versus recliners, you still need to be kind and loving to your person.

Audra: Right. Right.

Justin: I love it. Jena, thank you so much.

Audra: This is awesome.

Justin: Yeah, it is a wealth of information every time we talk. And yeah, we hope to have this conversation again with you. We consider you to be a central Family Thrive expert. And your approach is just so Life-Giving. Just the idea that, like what it really boils down to is communication, honesty, love, vulnerability. Yeah, it's beautiful.

Audra: I feel like a better person and a better parent. Like I can feel myself just like filling up whenever I talk to you. I'm like, oh, this is so life-giving is a great word for it, but so enriching for me, like I feel like, more empowered every single time I come out of a conversation with you and this is what I'm hoping that we're able to introduce other parents to as well.

Jena: Thank you. Thank you.

Audra: And to the world.

Jena: I’ve had thirty years of screw-ups to figure out some of this stuff. It’s a process.

Justin: And we get to benefit from it, from the knowledge.

Jena: Thank you, take care.

Justin: All right. Thank you, Jena.

Audra: Thank you so much. We’ll talk to you soon. Bye.

Jena: Bye.  

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