The other day, my daughter Cindy (7) used the word “sexy”.  Initially I laughed because of how she was using it.  Then I realized I have never defined this word for her and yet here she was deriving a definition somehow.  I asked her,

Me: “Baby, what does sexy mean?”

Cindy: “Sexy is when two people kiss three times without taking their lips apart.”

Me: *giggle* “That’s pretty good…”

Cindy, interrupting to offer more: “It’s also when a woman walks like this”

what is

and then she demonstrated a smooth, cat-like, slow strut with her eyes looking downward, her hands and arms plastered to her sides but her shoulders and hips swaying forward and back as she walked.  It was exaggerated and comical to see a 7-year old do it but the impression was dead on.

This interaction illustrates the simple fact that kids come up with their own definitions and meanings to words based on what they see/hear/experience – even if you don’t help them. AKA Kids know more about lots of things than we are willing to admit to ourselves.  A friend of mine had a similar conversation recently with her daughter about the word sexy.  The daughter asked mom, “what does sexy mean” and the mom was caught a bit off guard.  Hearing my friend’s story made the sexologist in me to want to check all of my sex books to see if there WAS a definition and what it was.  In a quick glance through my own personal library I found only one book that had a glossary of terms that included the word “sexy”.  It was in Roger Libby’s book Sex from Ahh to Zipper.  The book is a fun book of terms that is not a serious dictionary.  The definition reads as follows:

Sexy: A stunningly arousing look which causes shortness of breath, pupil dilation, and genital engorgement.  Accentuated by revealing clothing, tantalizing eyes, and facial expressions that lead to flirtatious propositions and steamed windows.  A sexy person exudes sexual desire.  Also, the bait for sex.  A less controversial word than sex itself, but the end result is often the same.  It takes a little sex appeal to attract lovers.  See Desire and Sexist.

Searching other sources for definitions I tried  They have lots of variations of “sexy” submitted by any individual user but the definitions are mostly characterized as defining sexy as how a person looks and not the physiological response to seeing something arousing. Interestingly, very few of the definitions define sexy as a feeling or something that evokes feelings.  As an aside I wonder if  this is because we don’t teach that there are feelings and emotions to sex?

In another source,, cites from Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition a definition for sexy as follows:

sexy  (ˈsɛksɪ)
— adj  , sexier sexiest
1.provoking or intended to provoke sexual interest: a sexy dressa sexy book
2.feeling sexual interest; aroused
3.interesting, exciting, or trendy: a sexy project a sexy newcar

Probably one of the easiest ways to talk to your kids about sex related topics is to ask them what they know already.  Unless you have them living under a rock (not that there’s anything wrong with that) chances are our kids have encountered a TV show, or movie, or billboard, or magazine at the grocery check out, or news segment, or overheard adults talk when the adults didn’t think anyone was listening… the list goes on and on.  The outside influences working on your children about these topics can be overwhelming.  Which is all the more reason to take the time to check in with them about the things you hear and see and encounter together.  They are already making up definitions for lots of stuff.  Asking them about what they know already gives you the chance to correct misinformation (you know, like the good old “The man pees inside the woman” urban myth kids in elementary school share with each other).

So many times you hear conservatives or sex-negative people say talking to kids about sex/uality is spoiling children’s “innocence.”  I disagree wholeheartedly: Kids are hearing more on the playground than we can ever know for sure.  Ask your kids.  And make sure when you ask you keep an open, nonjudgemental tone.  If your kids sense you are not willing to hear them they will clam up and not continue to talk freely.  It’s no different than we adults would if we sensed someone was judging us for what we share.  We’d be less likely to share, right?  Kids are the same way.

Let’s say your kid is not a toddler anymore but a 3rd, 4th, or 5th grader and they are starting to ask questions.  I understand the anxiety that could be creeping in.  Just know your kids WANT to hear from you, their trusted source.  They want to hear from you about what terms mean. They want to hear about the values you have and eventually they will want to hear about the decisions YOU made while growing up and how you felt about them.  There is no need to be fearful of these conversations.  The honesty will benefit your children in the long run.  But before we get there, let’s take a step back. Just know it’s not too late to start talking openly and honestly with your children.


The MamaSutra

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