Let me start by saying: hear me out! Read until the end because I know some of you may be reeling off the headline alone. "Sex-positive, who?" — that's what you're shouting to your computer screen and that's what you're gearing up to type in the comments section. But sex-positive and healthy guidelines don't equate to sexualizing your child. Shame, however, does.
Raising sex-positive children will help your child navigate a lifetime of sexual situations, from closing the orgasm gap to receiving and comfortably giving consent. Raising a sex-positive child rather than simply chanting "no means no" as a crash course on sexual assault actually helps them conceptualize what that "no" may look like. It creates awareness so that they create and respect boundaries. In fact, for each developmental stage, there is a sex-positive lesson to be learned by children.
Children have their first lessons in being sexualized via parents' shame.
When we tell them they can't walk around the house in certain clothes or pop their little hands for masturbating (because, yes, it begins well before puberty) — despite the fact that young toddlers and children don't view it as sexual, they simply know it feels good and they feel happy. Hell, consent starts with things as small as not tickling your child after they've asked you to stop (regardless of the laughter that may be present). While we may think it doesn't matter, all of that messaging remains with us and can mystify our view of our bodies, our sexuality, and our sex life in adulthood. And the entire experience begins right at home.
Though it may not be easy, it is worth it. So I asked 7 experts for some simple but extremely helpful ways for parents to raise sex-positive children and here's what they had to say.
1. Affirm pleasure and honor consent.Rejected Break Up GIF by grown-ishGiphy
"My first tip would be for parents to affirm pleasure and honor consent. Children are walking erogenous zones; they have a developmental imperative to experience happiness and joy, and to be supported in that through loving boundary-setting. They also have the right to say 'yes' or 'no' to an experience they do or do not want. If they don't want to be touched in that moment, affirm their capacity to know what feels right or wrong to them in any given moment.
"My final tip would be to heal anything that would keep you from showing up fully for your child's sexual development. Whether it's previous abuse, misuse, racial stereotyping, and/or sexual negative or erotophobic messaging, do the work to heal the effects of that on you so you don't project that into them." - Dr. Tracie Gilbert, founder of Thembi Anaiya LLC
2. Normalize body parts as early as possible.
"Start to normalize body parts including genitals and their function as early as possible. My book does this: These are My Eyes, This is My Nose, This is My Vulva, These are My Toes. Also, this normalization includes having firm discussions with family members and educational institutions so that you and your child are not flagged as 'endangerment' and so that language is not 'corrected' in other places.
"Children as young as one can say and identify a vulva, penis, and anus at least and can learn how to clean them, their functions, and grow to understand about urethra and clitoris as well. Further, it helps in preventing grooming behaviors with minor-attracted people and those who seek out to use sexual power over children." - Dr. Lexx Brown-James
3. Know the difference between being a sexual being and being sexually active.
"As a Christian Sexologist, I recognize that sex positivity is often a conversation that people of faith are left out of. Being a sex-positive parent and a Christian sometimes feels oxymoronic. I teach comprehensive sex education to youth and caregivers as well as offer intimacy coaching to help believers reconcile their faith with their beliefs about sexuality. When doing so, I help the people I work with to see how comprehensive sex education is actually honoring God more than many of the pervasive shameful teachings about sexuality and our bodies.
"God and the Bible are inherently sex-positive even if the values system includes certain timeline regulations."
"As well, in a practical sense with many believers opting for abstinence, I speak with them about the vital difference between being a sexual being and being sexually active, as well (for caregivers) how studies show youth who receive comprehensive sex education are more likely to delay sexual initiation. And most importantly are better equipped to make sound, safer decisions. I also find that many caregivers didn't receive sound sexuality education themselves which can hinder their efforts with their young people. My e-guide Understanding Intimacy, helps adults who believe in Jesus come to understand God's heart for intimacy, sexuality, and relationships." - Brittany Broaddus-Smith, LSW, MEd
4. Be the giver of all info when it comes to sex and sexuality.investigating basketball wives GIF by VH1Giphy
"My main tip is: there is no such thing as a 'sex talk', we are having a 'whole life talk'. And this is an ongoing conversation. Use opportunities as they arise to learn what your kids know and think. Challenge them to think on a broader scale as necessary. But remind them and yourself, that their body belongs to them and they get to make decisions. Be the giver of all info, or encourager of research, and give them opportunities to choose and make good decisions for themselves. It will extend itself to sex and sexuality if you let it. Just keep the door open." - Dr. Donna Oriowo
5. Teach sexual education and/or abstinence without shame.
"If you are going to teach sexual education/abstinence, do so without shame. Children should not be learning to be ashamed of themselves and what physical urges they are or will experience. Helping your child celebrate the changes that occur during puberty (i.e. period party) is a great way to normalize the physical and emotional changes they are occurring. Take this opportunity to teach your child about healthy and unhealthy practices, as well as the risks and benefits that come with each choice. It's OK if the child feels uncomfortable during the conversation. Keep them emotionally safe by validating their feelings." - Beverly Andre, LMFT
6. Create a culture that encourages the exploration of the child’s curiosities.
"The first place to start is increasing awareness around one's parenting style. Parents that are authoritarian in nature take on the 'children are to be seen and not heard...my house, my rules' approach to parenting. Parents with an authoritative parenting style are more inclined to partner healthy boundaries and standards in the home while being willing to explain and even incorporate children in decision-making. This helps create a culture in the home that encourages the child to explore topics out of curiosity rather than practicing avoidance and minimizing how they're experiencing the world.
"Parents can also consider taking them to age-appropriate local events like the Vagina Monologues or Walk a Mile in Her Shoes so that they can be exposed to sex-positive community gatherings. In addition, parents can even start on a smaller scale by promoting sex-positive language, challenging victim-blaming that may come up in the media, and shedding light on the history of marginalized populations like trans persons and sex workers. Practicing the usage of the appropriate pronouns can help as well." - Sierra Hillsman, M.Ed., APC, NCC, CCTP
7. Emphasize pleasure as much as you can and normalize alternative lifestyles.
"Put an emphasis on pleasure as much as you can, including self-love. Self-love and self-pleasure is a huge part of this process that is often neglected due to discomfort on both the caretaker's and the kid's parts. If you find yourself a bit uncomfortable discussing the benefits of masturbation, then you may need to explore your own ideas on masturbation before starting up this talk with your kids. You don't need to give details on how it's done, but at least let them know it's totally natural, totally OK and best done in private since that's not something that everyone around them consented to being a part of."
"Linking love and sex is incredibly common but can lead to some confusion down the line as hormones kick in. The potential benefit of loving someone before you decide to have sex can be presented, but it shouldn't be portrayed as the only way to enjoy sex. You can also let them know that they can choose to wait until they are ready to have sex, which only they can really know for sure."
"Make efforts to normalize alternative relationship styles, gender expressions and sexualities. Back in the day, the only families you ever saw on TV were a husband and wife with their biological children. Nowadays, families are incredibly diverse and it can be very beneficial for children to see all kinds of different families including same-sex couples, open or poly relationships, families with adopted or foster children, blended families, and family members that are part of the LGBTQIA+ community." - Praia Westerband-Otero, Remote Sex and Relationship Therapist
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