One of my favorite questions to ask radio guests and listeners is, “What did you learn about sex as a kid?” In response, I usually hear some variation of “nothing” or “that it was bad.” Considering the little, if anything, most of our parents learned about sex growing up paired with the abstinence-only and fear of STDs approaches used in U.S. schools and society’s messages about sexuality, these answers aren’t surprising—but they are unfortunate and worth changing, no matter when you start.
Some of the reasons parental sex-positivity matters:
◊ Most kids learn extremely little or countless mistruths about sex throughout their lives, which raises their risk for depression, anxiety, eating disorders and more.
◊ Sexuality is a natural part of being human, from the womb on. Addressing kids’ natural curiosities truthfully, respectfully and in language they understand (but still using proper terms: vagina, penis, etc.) helps ensure body confidence and lets your child know they can trust and talk to you, without shame.
◊ When kids’ curiosities aren’t quelled, they seek the information elsewhere—namely the internet or their peers. This is why mainstream porn has essentially become our youth’s sex education, raising loads of risks.
◊ Talking to your kids about sex and their bodies in respectful, uplifting ways creates stronger child/parent bonds.
◊ Encouraging kids to embrace their sexuality paves the way for positive self-esteem, body image, growth and development and relationships throughout their lives.
It would be easy for me to say, “Come on, everyone! Raise your children with sex-positivity!” but I don’t have kids, and can only imagine just how complex and confusing doing so can become. That’s one reason I was thrilled to interview Lea Grover on Girl Boner Radio last week.
A writer and mother living on Chicago’s South Side, Lea says she waxes philosophical about raising interfaith children, marriage after a terminal cancer diagnosis and vegetarian cooking. She recently added sex-positive parenting to her article library, in a poignant piece published by the Huffington Post. I contacted her after reading it and learned that she’s also a fellow 2014 BlogHer Voice of the Year! Her blog is as fabulous as she is.
Here’s the opening excerpt of Lea’s article, This is What Sex-Positive Parenting Looks Like:
It happened yet again. As I was sitting at the table for dinner with my children, I noticed my daughter’s hand fishing around under her skirt.
“We don’t play with our vulvas at the table. Go wash your hands and finish your food,” I scolded. She nodded, ran off to wash her hands, and resumed picking at her dinner instead.
Small children, they touch themselves. A lot. It’s fascinating to them. And when you’re a small child, you have no sense of shame or disgust or fear of your body. Your body is what it is. It does what it does. And everything that it does is kind of amazing, because you’re not old enough for lower back pain. It’s not sexual, it’s just… fact.
The first time I caught one of my kids playing with their genitals, I said absolutely nothing. I was momentarily paralyzed with indecision. One thing I knew for a fact I did not want to do was to shout, “No!” or “Stop!” What good could that possibly do? Sure, I would be spared the awkwardness of catching my child playing with her genitals on the living room floor, but what kind of lesson is that? To fear or ignore your own vagina?
I thought about it almost constantly for two days, and of course she gave me a second chance to react.
“Sweetie, we don’t play with our vulvas in the living room,” I said. Which sounded ridiculous and strange, but nonetheless true. Why is everything with little kids “we” statements? “It’s OK to touch your vulva, but people are private, and it’s a private thing. The only places where you should touch your vulva are in the bathroom or in your bedroom. If you want to play with your vulva, please go to the bedroom.”
And she smiled and did, without question, because compartmentalizing where you do certain activities makes sense to little kids.
“We don’t eat in the bathroom, and we don’t touch our vulvas in the living room,” became the new mantra. And yes, eventually it became, “We don’t touch our vulvas at the table.” To read on, visit this link.
To listen to our radio chat, click here: Sex-Positive Parenting: How to Raise Empowered Kids
For tips on how to talk to your kids about sexuality, read the post I wrote for the National Eating Disorders Association, Boosting Kids’ Body Image and Self-Esteem by Taking the Taboo out of Sex Talk.
To learn what my mom learned about sex while growing up in the mission fields of India, check out this Girl Boner Radio episode.