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Resources About Sex for Kids Ages 3-10

Many parents notice that kids have an awareness and often curiosity about bodies and touch as early as they notice other aspects of their world and themselves. We know that these first experiences of exploration and understanding are important to children’s development of healthy body image, feelings and ideas about safety, and also their ability to learn and practice consent and healthy relationship behaviors later in life.

As a parent you might feel a bit unsure of when to start teaching your children about their bodies and sexuality. There are some great books that can help you get prepared. One we recommend is Beyond Birds & Bees by Bonnie J Rough. This book will help any parent understand what to talk about at different ages & developmental stages.

While there aren’t many resources for young kids there are a couple good books available.

For kids age 3-6, we recommend two books written by Joani Blank, sex educator and founder of the woman-friendly adult store Good Vibrations. She published these when her own daughter was 5 years old. My Kid’s First Book About Sex and The Playbook For Kids About Sex have the same content, though the latter is more interactive and visual. The books guide kids to reflect about their own bodies, nudity, body diversity, naming genitals, self-touch, how their own families talk about these things, what sex and sexy mean, and more. Each topic is presented in a gentle, but matter-of-fact way, inviting the young reader to express their own positive, negative, or ambivalent reactions, and providing a great starting point for questions.

Both are out of print, but Blank’s estate has made them available for download through her website for personal use. Downloads are free, though donations are welcome.

For kids ages 8-10, we recommend Sex is a Funny Word, by sex educator Cory Silverberg. Written with a similar focus and approach, this inclusive, visual guide covers self-exploration, bodies, and touch, with some more attention paid to the fundamentals of different kinds of relationships. Click here for a full description and to purchase this book.

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Penile Erectile Dysfunction

My friend told me that he has complete erectile dysfunction, and feels as though his sex life is over. Is there something that he can do?

Erectile dysfunction is a condition where a penis cannot get or maintain a hard enough erection for penetration. Due in part to cultural messages that suggest that sex equals penetration, many people and their partners feel that their sex life is over if they begin to experience erectile difficulties or dysfunction.

There are “things he can do,” but it’s wise to back up and ask, “Is there anything he wants to do?” Does the man want to change something for himself, or for his partners? Can he talk to his partner(s) about sex? What does sex mean to him? What it means to him to have “lost sex”?

Sex is intimate contact with oneself and/or between consenting adults. Penetration is one act of intimate contact, and many forms of mutual pleasuring (masturbation being one of them) are available to him that do not involve an erect penis. Sex does not have to stop, and intimate sexual contact can be re-initiated with some forethought and preparation, and less focus on penetration as the most desirable or only sex act available to him and his partner(s).

But what if penetration is really important to him?

If your friend wants to investigate his erectile difficulties, he needs more information. Is the cause medical? Hardening of the arteries (arteriosclerosis), high blood pressure, and diabetes are common diseases in the United States that can have a strong impact on the ability for a man’s penis to become erect. There are medical and surgical treatments for these conditions that can be prescribed by a health care practitioner. Non-pharmacological solutions involve instruction in the use of cock rings or penile vacuum pumps; erection rings work by keeping blood in the penis, while vacuum devices draw blood into the penis using suction. While some might want erections to happen “naturally,” few people will turn down the opportunity to have a fabulous pleasure opportunity with a fun suction device. For some couples, non-drug devices can mean the difference between having “sex” and not.

Sometimes, erectile difficulties do not have a direct medical cause. Is the hard erection of a man’s early life the only “erection” he thinks is real? For these people, understanding changes in the body as we age can make a huge difference in their confidence and erections. Some people or their partners need extra stimulation with hands or vibrators to maintain their arousal/erections. Accepting the challenge rather than quitting can mean hours of pleasurable play with fluctuating erections. Opening up to new possibilities can make changes happen all through our (sex) lives.

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How to keep the sexual fires burning

I suffer from a low level of sexual desire toward my husband, and it is not because I don’t find him attractive. Please help me find a way to improve or increase my cognitive sense of desire.

One of the more destructive myths that floats around out there is that sexual desire should come automatically, and should persist at a consistent level throughout the life of a relationship. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. When interviewed, long-term couples who state that they remain interested in each other sexually talk about how they have to work at maintaining their desire and feeding their libidos. So it takes conscious effort to feed what you call the “cognitive sense of desire”.

How can we do that? There are many different tools available to couples to them help focus back on your connection and feed the sexual side of your relationship. The basic philosophy used by sex therapists when faced with a couple whose sexual life has fallen away is to help them to focus more on all the ways they are connected, and to nurture their shared experiences of all five senses. So the first step is to increase the amount of contact you have with each other – not contact that is intended to lead to sex. Spend time looking into each other’s eyes and touching in ways that feel good but aren’t specifically sexual. The stronger intimate connection you feel, the more likely you are to want to be sexual.

Other tools that help to increase libido are erotic books and movies. You can read a book yourself, or read it aloud to your partner, or do both. This can introduce some new ideas into your sexual life, spark your libido, and help you express some fantasies you may have that you’d like to act out with your partner. Many books incorporate erotic stories, suggestions on how to spice up your sexual life, and encouragement for keeping the flames of passion alive between you. Erotic movies are also good tools for sparking the libido, as well as ways to allow you to articulate fantasies (“You know, I’ve always wanted to try that!”). There are tasteful erotic movies available, meant for women and couples, that show explicit scenes of lovemaking in ways that can inspire your libido without offending your sensibility.

Another fun tool is to get an erotic game that is designed to re-light the spark between you. Games can provide a structure for you to play with desire, flirtation, fantasy, and wish fulfillment, with the goal being to inspire lust and sexual connection between you and your partner. For some couples, that gets them out of their habitual pattern of “how we have sex” and into something a bit more playful. Changing the patterns of how you approach sex can be important when trying to make it more interesting.

Last, I want to encourage you to make time in your life for both sensual and sexual contact with your partner. It also is important to accept the natural ebb and flow that your sex life will take as the rest of your life has its ups and downs. If you’ve been experiencing a lot of stress, plan a vacation (even one at home – as long as there are no kids, no phone calls, and no interruptions for a couple of days) that will allow you to de-stress enough to be able to enjoy connecting again with your partner. It takes some work, but the outcome is so worth it!

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Loss of libido and long-term relationships

I have been with the same man for eight years, with an affair or two in between (not hidden; he is also comfortable w/my bi-ness). However, I just am not sexually excited by him or attracted to him at all. In fact, he kind of grosses me out. The rest of our partnership is okay – supportive and loving. What to do? Any ideas? We’ve talked about it, but it’s just not the same as good ol’ hot sex.

It is very common for long-time partners to become less attracted to each other over time, though your situation is a bit more extreme than most. I want to suggest that you answer some questions for yourself as a part of the process of sorting through this situation. Have your sexual feelings toward your partner changed over time, or have you always had less of an attraction to him than you would like? Is there something specific about him that makes you uncomfortable? If so, are you able to talk with him about it? If not, are there any outstanding relationship issues that you feel are getting in the way of your feeling intimate toward him? Those un-talked-about issues often get expressed via a lessening of sexual attraction and interest.

What you are experiencing is not actually a loss of libido if you are still sexually interested in other people or interested in being self-sexual. I want to encourage you to explore what you want out of your primary relationship, and discuss with him what he wants. Is he satisfied with your lack of sexual intimacy? Some people develop primary relationships with a partner with whom they have a lot in common as friends, and then have secondary sexual relationships with others with whom they share primarily sexual passion. While this is a difficult path for most people, it is possible to do this successfully. If you are interested, you might want to read a book to learn more about how to make multiple relationships work.

This may also be a good time to seek some short-term counseling with a certified sex therapist, especially if you feel that you want to try to develop more passion in your current relationship. Look for a therapist who is certified by AASECT (the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists). This means that the person is likely to have expertise in working with sexuality issues.

I wish you luck in your quest to resolve this. You do deserve to have a fulfilling sexual life, and I encourage you to work to have as sexual a life as you want.

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Athlete’s libido level over time

I am a 42 yr old cis-woman who has been in a three year relationship with a 41 yr old cis woman who is quite active. She is involved in a tennis league and plays regularly, but more importantly, she is a runner and trains extremely hard as she is training for the NYC Marathon this year. I am an active cyclist and will workout at home when I can. Neither one of us are over weight by any means but my girlfriend is very thin and eats a mainly vegetarian diet. I, on the other hand, love to cook and will cook just about anything, keeping red meat to a minimum to once or maybe twice a month (I crave the protein and iron just before my period). Our libido levels are extremely different and it is causing a major problem between us. I should tell you that my girlfriend is hearing-impaired, works in a hearing environment in the healthcare industry and reads lips all day long and that does make her very tired. She does wear high-powered hearing aids which helps her a slight bit. I am very sympathetic to her situation being deaf and have grown to have more and more compassion for her. We do not live together but have long-term plans for that to happen. Unfortunately, we get into situations where our love making is maybe once a week when we see one another on the weekends but there are times that it is down to twice a month. This is disturbing to me as I am a very compassionate, passionate, sexual being and enjoy connecting in that way. It seems that it is unimportant to her because she rarely makes any advances towards me. I know she loves me and I know we are faithful to one another. I’m at a loss here. For the past three years we keep hitting this wall and it’s becoming discouraging. If the intimacy level in our relationship is like this now, how bad will it be if we were to live together? I hope you can shed some light on this for us.

Well…this may or may not be related to her activity level, although it is true that high performance athletes can experience a lower libido. But that is not always true. Certainly it is possible that she has very low hormone levels, but hormones are only one factor in the complex array of what makes one’s level of sexual interest. Much of what plays into level of desire has to do with what we learn about sex as we grow up, and how we perceive our bodies and our sexuality as children and adults. I would also explore whether she has had negative experiences regarding sex, or is a survivor of sexual abuse or assault.

The difference between the 2 of you is quite common, and I will be honest and say that it is most likely to stay the same or get less frequent, unless she has an interest in working fairly regularly at her level of desire. If she chooses to work on it, it could become a bit more frequent, but that’s only if it is important enough to her to make it a priority. The fact that she has to work so hard in a hearing environment is probably a huge strain on her emotionally and physically, and if she already does not have the kind of relationship to her sexuality that you do, it’s much easier to let that part of herself go.

The first thing to do is to talk about it honestly and openly. But be prepared for her to say “this is just the way I am” and know what you want to do if she does. If she is interested in learning about ways to make her libido more frisky, then you can work with a sex therapist on that. But if this is how she has always been, it is much harder to change.

Do be prepared to initiate sex, and not expect her to do so. With folks who have lower levels of desire, they just don’t think about and “feel” sex as much (or at all) as you do. If she says yes when you initiate, that’s something. If she says no often, then that’s something to talk about and negotiate. Find out what circumstances allow her to feel most comfortable having sex. Ask her to help set the priorities for your time together so that sex can be on the agenda. Find out if planning for sex ahead of time works for her, or makes her more anxious about it. These things can help the two of you figure out how to have a more comfortable sexual rhythm.

I don’t have any easy answers for you. Sex therapists report that this is the most difficult challenge that any couple faces, and if someone has a low level of desire and is not bothered by that, s/he is not likely to change it. Then you are faced with the question of whether you can accept her level of desire as enough, or if it’s so important to you that it’s a “deal breaker”.

If she is interested in seeing what she can do to help herself enjoy a higher level of desire, there are some excellent books about this topic. While many speak mostly to heterosexuals, it does not exclude lesbians from its focus.

Good luck with this. I hope you can find a way to have as much of what you want in a relationship you enjoy.

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Diabetes and Erectile Dysfunction

My husband has recently experienced complete erectile dysfunction. We are both 34 years old, and he is diabetic. The problem started about a year ago and has grown increasingly worse – at this time he is unable to maintain an erection at all. To say the least, I am not taking this well and believe it to be psychosomatic; he believes it is medical. I have a hard time believing it’s a medical problem even though he’s diabetic, because he maintains his blood sugar within normal limits. What do you think?

First of all, diabetes (type 1 or 2) is one of the leading causes of erectile dysfunction in people with penises. Why? Well, think of erectile dysfunction as being caused by three major categories of things: blood-supply related, nerve-related, or emotional factors. We will talk about the emotional part below, but I want to focus on the medical causes first.

Any form of diabetes (as well as metabolic syndrome) has profound effects on both the neurological system and the blood (vascular) system. For people with diabetes, their chances of experiencing partial or complete erectile dysfunction is fairly high at some point in their lives. The fact that your husband is relatively young doesn’t mean much in the scheme of things, particularly if he has had diabetes for a number of years.

Good control of blood sugar levels is critical for staving off some of the blood vessel and/or nerve complications of diabetes, but this information really wasn’t available to people with diabetes until about 1994. Before that time, what healthcare providers thought “good blood-sugar control” was, was, in fact, much higher than the optimal levels we try to achieve today. Realistically, this means that despite your husband’s (and healthcare provider’s) best efforts, his blood sugar was probably allowed to be somewhat higher a few years ago than what we consider to be optimal by today’s standards.

High blood-sugar levels can make a mess of sensory nerves in particular. When your partner’s mind might be thinking, “I’m aroused now”, his penis may not be getting the message, literally. Does it mean that he doesn’t want to make love? No, it doesn’t, but his penis might not be able to respond to his brain’s arousal message. High blood-sugar levels also muck about with people’s arteries, so even if his nervous system says, “Hey down there, we’re aroused up here, so open up the gates!”, the flood gates of his penis might not open up enough to allow enough blood into the penis to make an erection possible.

I mentioned above that there are emotional reasons why men can have difficulty with their erections (performance anxiety among them). You might not realize that the tension that you are describing in your question (“I believe it to be psychosomatic, he believes it is medical”) may be adding to your sexual difficulties and frustrations. Your “not taking this well” may add another load of sexual performance stress to an already difficult situation.

There are medical tests that your partner can undergo which can help him discover the cause of his erectile dysfunction. But the bottom line is, he has a difficult disease, and he can’t make it go away. He has to deal with his diabetes in the best way that he can, and his erections may be altered by damage caused by the diabetes. Fortunately, there are solutions for underperforming erections (penis pumps or erection rings) and a program called Penile Rehabilitation may help him mitigate some of the problem.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be disappointed. You both may have some grieving to go through – each of your sex lives has changed, and not by choice. Does that mean that you should give up on having sex? Not at all. Just because a person doesn’t have blood in his penis, doesn’t mean that he has lost all sensation or desire for sex. Some couples have discovered a whole new world of sexual intimacy because they have gotten away from (willingly or not) society’s focus on “Sex = Penetration”. Does your husband feel the loss in the same way as you do? Does he want to try new things? Are you still in a place where you can work together as a couple to find solutions?

If you’re missing pleasure from your intimacy, there are strategies that will lead both of you to sexual fulfillment and satisfaction, but it means that both of you have to be in a place *as a couple* where you can work together, rather than needing to assign blame. For example, as a couple, you may want to discuss this with a certified sex therapist. You can take responsibility for your own sexual satisfaction. Beginning to play with sex toys may be the most satisfying decision you two have made, and with your pleasure being valued and provided for, the tension about his erections may become a thing of the past.

Many men who have talked with us in the store have been very satisfied with exploring their alternatives, both medical and non-pharmacological. There are many resources out there for you, so it’s up to you to start the conversation.

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Appropriate behavior for young children?

Dear Sex Educator,
I have twin daughters who are six years old. They are smart, happy, very well-adjusted children. My husband and I are very much in love and offer them a loving, supportive home. My question is this: Ever since they were very small they have “humped”. Before bed they would lay there and gyrate like they were stimulating themselves. Now every once in awhile I catch them with their Barbies’ clothes off, gyrating on their Barbies! My head tells me that this is normal behavior, but my heart can’t help but think there is something wrong. What do you think?

This is very normal behavior for girls their age. The question is how to teach them about privacy and maybe appropriate choices for things to stimulate themselves with. This is the perfect opportunity for you to talk to them about where and how it is okay to make themselves feel good, in a way that doesn’t make them feel guilty, but helps them understand that this isn’t a good thing to do in front of other people or their friends.

All children will explore what feels good. What happens for a lot of kids is that their parents get very upset and make self-stimulation something bad and taboo. With girls, many parents will tell them that they are “bad girls” when they do that, and start the process of making them feel bad about their bodies, pleasure, and masturbation. You have this great opportunity to tell them it’s okay and normal, and help them be appropriate about it. You can make the difference right now between healthy sexuality and hang-ups!

So listen to your head – it’s the right part of you this time. Your “heart” is probably being influenced by your parents’ attitudes or societal fears and attitudes.

Thanks for the great question!

The Sex Educator

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Letting her know I have a crush on her

Dear Sex Educator,
I’m a 19 year old woman. I’m attractive and have had two relationships with girls. I find myself attracted to a girlfriend but don’t know how to tell her without ruining our friendship. I find myself dressing sexy for her, but she is not responding. Please help.

You’ve asked a really great question! Many of us find it really hard to tell someone we are attracted to her, because we are afraid it will alter our relationship with her from that time on. Unfortunately, you are faced with either trying to drop hints (dressing sexy), stuffing your feelings, or taking the leap and hoping it turns out okay.

I would suggest you might start out by asking your friend whether she’s ever thought about being lovers with a woman. This will allow you to start the conversation, at least in an abstract way. If she says, “yuck, no way” then you may want to consider looking elsewhere for your feelings to be returned. If she hesitates, or says “well, yes, I could imagine that” or even better, then you know your interest has the possibility of being shared.

Then I would carefully, but honestly, tell her that you are attracted to her, if you really feel you want to pursue more than a friendship with her. Nonverbal hints may not be very effective, and you could find yourself getting very frustrated by her lack of understanding. You might want to say something like, “I really like you, and hope you can hear this without it harming our friendship …” then something about your attraction and your wondering if she might share that. It’s possible that she might actually be thinking about you in the same way, and doesn’t know how to say so (this happened to me, and my partner took the plunge and said, “I don’t know how you’re going to feel about this, but …” to which I enthusiastically responded, “Thank goodness you feel the same way I do!”)

The only way to ever know is to try to talk with her about it. It’s true that if she does not share your affections, she may pull away as a friend, but we all take those kinds of risks, and the potential gain is often worth the risk.

So, plan what you want to say, let her know that you really value her as a friend, regardless of whether she is open to a romance with you or not, and reassure her that your friendship is not going to change if she doesn’t share your interest. After hearing of your affection, she may be worried that you will be thinking of her only in sexual terms, so you might want to reassure her that you won’t be doing that. Then say what’s in your heart, and if she shares some of your feelings, maybe she’ll be relieved and glad to have it out there where both of you can act on it. Good luck!

The Sex Educator

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I’m uncomfortable about my wife using a vibrator

Dear Sex Educator,
I have recently discovered that my wife of ten years is masturbating with a vibrator. For myself it was a crushing blow. I asked her what I had done wrong, but she said nothing. I had always thought that our sex life was great – she even told me that she had never had an orgasm before until she was with me. This has sent our relationship into a tailspin, and I am not sure what, if anything, I should do.

The best thing you can do is support and encourage her. There is nothing wrong with your wife using a vibrator, nor is there anything wrong with her masturbating in addition to having sex with you. It’s a very healthy thing for her to do, and it has nothing at all to do with you.

Many adults – men and women – enjoy masturbation in addition to sex with their partners. Orgasms are very good for you; studies have shown that orgasms help people avoid depression, and strengthen the immune system. Masturbation with a vibrator is a great way to have a quick orgasm, relieve stress, strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, and enjoy some pleasure alone.

Those who study relationships find that couples are healthiest when each person in the relationship has some parts of his/her life that are just for him or her, and not shared with the partner. Masturbation can be shared, but it is also a good way for a person to connect with themselves, stay focused in the body, and enjoy some quick and easy pleasure. It doesn’t mean that sex with you is not fun and pleasurable – it’s a completely different activity.

From here, I recommend that you encourage you to share her vibrator use with you. Let her know that it is great that she is finding her pleasure, and invite the vibrator into your play together. It will result in her having stronger orgasms with you, and you can enjoy her using it on you as well. Many men enjoy the sensation of vibration on their genitals. Offer to have a masturbation date, where you pleasure yourself and she pleasures herself. This can become another part of your intimacy, and it can be very arousing to both of you.

You may want to spend some time thinking about why you took this personally. Do you expect to meet all her needs? Is she expected to meet all your needs? No one can meet all the needs of a partner, and it’s healthier not to try. Find out what you can do to be supportive, and find some ways that you too can have your own solo pleasures.

Thanks for the great question!

The Sex Educator