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How do you explain to your kids what “sexy” means

Gangnam Kindergarten Style

My daughter was in a talent show at her elementary school on Friday. It was one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen. Dozens of kids from kindergarten through fourth grade showed off with talents ranging from concert-quality cello performances to comedy routines to a recitation of the elements on the periodic table. But more than anything, there were dance acts. Lots of dance acts — my daughter’s included. Three of those dance acts were Gangnam Style routines. They were very cute, and one performed by two kindergarten boys was especially good. But now all the kids in the class are singing “Eh, sexy lady” non-stop. Some parents are horrified, some are non-plussed. I am simply perplexed. How do I explain to my daughter what “sexy” is and why it’s not okay to sing it at her skating lessons, in the grocery store, or even at home.

I walked into this kindergarten thing knowing my daughter would start to be exposed to pop-culture, and while I want to keep things appropriate, I also don’t want to shelter her excessively. She’s pretty understanding when it comes to what’s appropriate and what’s not, but I feel I owe her an explanation about why, and on this one I’m stumped. Her teacher said the kids have been singing “Eh, sexy lady” in class, and what she tells them is that “it’s not a bad word, but it’s not a kindergarten word” and she doesn’t want to hear it in class. That’s effective for her, but at home I feel obliged to answer “why?” I’ve had lots of friends run into this same issue, but none who’ve dealt with it with much success. One even answered it in such a way that her daughter came home proclaiming that her 60-year-old well endowed Sunday School teacher was “really sexy.”

I feel much better equipped to explain sex than I do to explain sexy. Tell your child sexy means attractive or beautiful and it’s an adult word, and soon enough you own son will be telling you, in his loudest voice, in the middle of the mall, “Mommy, you’re so sexy.” Not exactly the result you were probably looking for. Tell them it’s a bad word, and they may develop an anxiety complex because of how ubiquitous it is.

If you have a good solution, PLEASE share it here. Because there are some mamas who could really use some advice.

5 comments

  1. Kate April 1, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    Wow, great question. I hadn’t considered that before with my own son. When I read your post, I think immediately of the advice of Dr. Laura Berman. She has a lot of good advice for explaining sex to kids. I think I would be really matter-of-fact about it. I think I’d use this crazy popular song/dance as a springboard to talk about pop culture influences and how to talk respectfully about other people’s bodies.

  2. Amy April 2, 2013 at 6:33 pm

    I felt like your experienced was ripped right from a page in my life. My K daughter was singing “Gangnam Style” the other day and I fumbled to explain why sexy was a grown-up word. Like you, I feel much better prepared to talk about sex than sexy. I don’t want her to think it’s a bad word but know that it’s not appropriate for someone her age. I also had to use this for “booty” – I don’t even want to know where she learned that word. Like your daughter’s teacher, her teacher only allows the kids to use the word “bottom” and only when appropriate. So we stole that rule but it doesn’t really apply to sexy since I know her teacher would never allow that one. I like Kate’s comment about talking respectfully about other people’s bodies. That’s a good way of explaining it in a way that would make sense to my daughter.

  3. Brenda April 3, 2013 at 2:20 am

    The first thing that came to mind in explaining “sexy” to a child was something like: an adult word used to explain handsome or beautiful with less clothes on. That may not be even close to the best way to explain it, but it was the first thing that came to mind.
    I guess I would feel compelled to tell my child that this would be a word to use only with your spouse, and not in general, although that does seem to contradict its use in society nowadays.

  4. Nikki A. October 7, 2015 at 10:31 am

    I recently had this conversation with my 5 and 7 year old boys. I explained that “sexy” is a word to describe someone that is attractive to others, but it is used by adults and should not be used by them. I never realized how hard it is to teach kids language and good words vs. bad words. Yesterday in class, my 7 yo told me a girl was teasing him by saying “you had sex with the teacher”. I had previously explained to him that this is how babies are made so it wasn’t an issue for him. I spoke to the girl and asked her if she knew what that statement meant. She said no, so I told her she should not be saying things if she doesn’t know what they mean. I texted her mom to let her know it wasn’t an issue for us, but to be aware in case it comes up again. This is only 2nd grade, ugh! How do we prepare for what’s coming down the road???

  5. Mallory May 29, 2016 at 8:19 am

    There is no easy way of saying any of this. I just wrote a book in the comment section trying to explain how I’m going to explain this to oir 8 year old. Then I deleted it.

    What it boils down to is we have to be as honest with our kids as possible because they know when things don’t quite feel right. So the fact of the matter is we need to find out exactly what our children know about sex. From there, we need to explain that sexy is a word used to describe an act that can lead to babies. I don’t feel I need to tell her what sex is yet and I’ll let her know that we absolutely will talk about it when she is mature enough to know. But right now she needs to understand that she is not mature enough to have a baby so she’s not mature enough to be sexy.

    Of course I have to speak in words she will understand but I feel like being truthful with her is the best way to handle this. We are going to talk to her tonight and if I remember, I’ll update this incase anyone wanted to know 🙂

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