Let’s talk about sex, baby

I was sitting in the bath this week discussing gender reassignment surgery with my almost four year old daughter, Ramona.

Crikey. What brought us to this point?

Is it this scourge of liberal parenting sweeping the nations that will eventually turn our young children into monstrous delinquents funding their crack habit by servicing the fetishes of immigrants (who stole their future jobs?)

Or just a sort of general sense that we should be open and truthful in conversation with our children, whatever the topic be?

(It could also be the young child’s attention to detail – the distinction between hormone replacement therapy and surgery isn’t on my “Topics To Cover Before Fourth Birthday” list but it is where you kind of end up when your older kids asks whether her female friend might become a boy one day…)

Sex Positive Parenting
When I first heard the term “Sex Positive Parenting” I had been tagged in a tweet directing me to become part of a Sex Positive blogging collective. They had read my blog and thought I’d be a good contributor. I was like “WaHAAT?” ME? I’m, like, a total prude! I was well confused. I come from a long heritage of Christian ministers and I am very much still on the side of the spectrum that thinks sex is best when accompanied with love and commitment. I absolutely love Caitlin Moran and her work, but her mission to help young girls have more sex is something I just can not get on board with.

But, actually, I think now it is possible to be on both ends of the sex-commitment spectrum and still be Sex Positive, because at its heart it is about being truthful – and non-manipulative. And this resonates massively with all my parenting. I have strong ideals about loads of things but the very last thing I am willing to do is manipulate things so that my daughters follow in my footsteps.

My role is to open doors, have truthful conversations and present sex with all its potential goodness and potential badness.
“…that’s what sex-positive parenting really is. Not telling my kids lies about sex to keep them from behaviours I don’t think are healthy. It’s telling them the truth, the whole truth, and letting it sink in so they can make their own good choices.”

Read more in this great intro by Becoming Super Mommy. (But not at the library because you will get a scary WARNING! RESTRICTED CONTENT! window pop up and you will peer around hoping no one has seen you trying to access nudity and adult sex stuff whilst sitting at a desk next to an elderly man innocently perusing the new Jamie Oliver recipe book *shameface*)

Empowering children against child sexual abuse
I have begun doing some work with the local Child Abuse Prevention Services and it has been incredible to see how much respectful parenting is part of the solution. As part of their work they show parents how to interact with their children in a way that acknowledges their rights, even from birth, because this is one of the building blocks for creating a world free from child abuse. (Which New Zealand has a crazily big problem with, by the way.)

Did you know that being upfront about the anatomical terms for genitalia is also part of this too? They say “Using the proper name for genitals (penis/ vulva/ vagina) from as young as possible gives a clear message to your child that it is ok to talk to you about anything concerning their body, even their private parts. Current thought is that children who use the correct names for their body parts are less likely to be targeted by sexual abusers (because they assume that you have open telling environment with your child) and are more likely to be believed if they tell about abuse (because they use specific language and can describe what has happened.)”

Head over to their new Facebook page to keep in touch with other ways we can empower our kids and change the culture of child abuse.

Shame and Pleasure
I was struck by the section in Robin Grille’s “Parenting for a peaceful world’ that covers the developmental stage a child goes through at around six where they are discovering the sexual element within themselves. Every child goes through it – an obsession with their genitals amongst other things- and how we respond to it will impact them for the rest of their lives.
“Shaming or moralistic responses to the child’s burgeoning sexual exploration can produce an uptight temperament or result in rebellious, sexual acting out later in life… Both direct injunctions against his sexuality and unspoken parental embarrassment or discomfort are experiences by the child as a heart-breaking rejection of his expanding self… Thus begins the separation of sex from love, genitals from the heart. The need for love and for pleasure is sublimated , and substituted by a need to over achieve, to prove the worth he feels he has lost. Hence he re-diverts his energies towards competitiveness and a high accomplishment drive.”

Reading this made me consider my own sort of Beavis and Butthead attitude (huhhuhuhuhuh) towards things of a sexual nature. Blimey- I don’t want my own inability to say the word “anus” without a smothered giggle to pass on embarrassment and shame as they grow into their sexual selves.

Being shown what a child is experiencing and learning through the genital-obsession stage will really help me respond without shame and only with understanding when the girls hit that specific developmental period.

Nurturing Openness
Which just brings me back to the bath and discussing how some boys are born with penises but inside know they are girls, and vice versa. It was a fairly long conversation covering Ruby Roses’s recent video and Fa’afafine, the third gender present in Samoan culture (and our own culture to some extent- there being such a strong Samoan diaspora community here in NZ…)and then it ended abruptly, Ramona’s attention captured by Juno’s abduction of the blue rubber duck.

I was left feeling ever so slightly discombobulated (how much is too much?!) but in hindsight, glad to be setting off on this path as I mean to continue. Because I want our children to know we can talk about anything and I want them to know they will get the truth from me.

I read an account last week of a guy taking his newly teenaged lad camping to have The Talk. It seemed like a nice idea, father and son chatting about how babies are made.

As I read the article I realised that I was probably not going to have The Talk with my daughters, because we have already had it- the first when Ramona was two and discovered I was pregnant and we have micro versions of The Talk almost weekly at the moment. These conversations are both specific and surreal in the way only children can make them. (“Where is the rooster’s penis?”)

Ramona hasn’t quite cracked the physiology of it but we will get there eventually and it will just be another bit added to all the other information she has on hand. A gradual accumulation of info that fits in with all her other knowledge about how the world works- rather than a sex education class.

So, despite my own innate prudishness I want to avoid shame having any foothold at all in our home, and I want my girls to come to see sex in all its potential wholeness. I want to halt embarrassment and allow the tangle of love, pleasure and sexual self to develop unheeded.

*does the Running Man in neon shell suit whilst rapping* Let’s talk about sex, baby… (and toddler… and six year old… and teenager… ) Let’s talk about all the good things and the bad things that may be…

Share you thoughts, my friends! Have you had The Talk yet?

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13 Responses to Let’s talk about sex, baby

  1. Sonya Cisco says:

    My daughter is 18 and we had the talk as an ongoing conversation over the years, and actually it is far easier to say vagina to a three year old than a thirteen year old, because they don’t squirm with embarrassment of go ‘uuurrgghh Mum’ at you! I tell you what I didn’t see coming as part of our openness though, and that is that I would know exactly when she was going to have sex for the first time, (just a couple of weeks ago!) I felt very peculiar about it, not horrified, just odd, but am still glad she is able to talk to me!
    Sonya Cisco recently posted…Accidental ProfanityMy Profile

  2. Exsugarbabe says:

    Being open about sex form an early age is a great idea, children will have better boundaries about sex and their bodies, sexual imagery will be less confusing and seen in context and adult life will be easier . Funny thing is thanks to kids natural “yuck” factor I believe a few conversations young will put your kids off having sex before they’re ready.

    My kids are real music fans and lots of the imagery would be called soft porn in our day, thanks to talking about pop videos as a family my kids are very mature over what they see, in fact bodies in this context seem a bit boring. I believe If I had stopped my kids watching videos they would find them in secret and they would become more exciting than this stuff really is.
    Exsugarbabe recently posted…Mc Donalds, eleven year olds and Marxism.My Profile

  3. Janine says:

    FWIW I am very happy and secure with my sexuality and sexual choices, and feel I’ve always been much more responsible in that area than my peers. My parents never had “the talk” with me because it was explained to me age-appropriately over time. (I remember my baby brother having a book that explained sex to kids complete with cartoon illustrations. A “how babies are made” board book.) I strongly believe in it! And I love that you’re letting Ramona take the lead and being honest.
    Janine recently posted…Teeth Whitening Giveaway ExtendedMy Profile

  4. ThaliaKR says:

    I’m pregnant now, and have a 2.5 year old, so yep, the rubber is hitting the road!

    What I want most to do (having the same aims as you for how the dialogue will develop) is to say things that are BOTH age-appropriate and true. So we won’t be talking about storks or cabbage patches, but when he asked how the baby got in my tummy, I also didn’t feel the need to go into detail just yet!

    I’m just starting with simple answers for each question (yes, daily, as you say!) and adding more detail when requested and followed up. It’s a continuum.

    Thanks for all your good resources here!
    ThaliaKR recently posted…Making Parenting Easier #1: 12 Ideas to Make You Feel BetterMy Profile

  5. Thank you for this. I’m all for using the right words. Already my 10 year old daughter is self-censoring and is uncomfortable when I attempt open conversations with her about sex. A few months back I wrote about me having “the chat” with her: http://mahoganysoup.com/ive-had-the-chat/

  6. Yes! I nodded all the way through this reading this blog post. You and I have similar values and attitudes when it comes to sex and this is the attitude I’m taking when parenting my girls too. I want there to be an open, positive line of communication between me and them that’s taken at their speed. Both my girls are aware of their ‘private areas’ and they are theirs and not for other people and Noo is clued up about where babies come from. It came from her asking this “If I grew from a seed in your tummy mummy, then how come I’m like daddy too? Does daddy have a seed aswell and how does it get in your tummy?” This was asked one morning on the way to school and was completely out of the blue for me! Luckily I had the day to think about my answer. She took what I said completely in her stride and was satisfied that I’d answered her question. Phew! xx
    Morgana @ butwhymummywhy recently posted…Wishing our bedroom was an oasis of calmMy Profile

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  8. Lilybett says:

    I’ve heard about using the proper names before – it was a discussion in my mums group – and I’ve been all ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’ for the last two years, but now I’ve come to realise *forehead slap* that I’ve still been using bum and bottom. I’m not sure how comfortable I am adding ‘anus’ to the repertoire, though.
    Lilybett recently posted…Spring cleaning: The story of my stuff (part 1)My Profile

  9. ThaliaKR says:

    I thought of you guys yesterday when having this conversation with my 2.5 year old little guy:

    J: When I grow up will I be a girl?
    T: I don’t know. Maybe. You get to choose.
    J: Will I be a boy?
    T: You might be. Most little boys grow up to be men – Daddy was a little boy and now he’s a man – but not everyone. We’ll have to wait and find out.

    Mother-in-law to me, after a minute: I think most parents would have given a different answer. Congratulations.

    :)
    ThaliaKR recently posted…The Sacrament of Breastfeeding #5: Bible Blokes and Cultural CapitalMy Profile

  10. Amy Phoenix says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful pondering on the subject of sharing sexuality with children. I do feel using the correct names of body parts is essential, as is respecting their bodies when and how we touch them. Force has it’s own messages (even outside of sexuality) about what is and is not okay.

    I’m not sure that kids need the whole adult picture, though. It really seems like it’s up to each individual parent to find the types and amounts of information that they feel comfortable sharing… and then stretching from there to meet the curiosities and needs of the children.

    As someone who experienced sexual abuse as a child I don’t think it was because I wasn’t told enough, it was because I didn’t know that I could say no and have it be respected. Similarly, my struggles during my teen years weren’t due to a lack of information, they were from a sense that I didn’t really get to choose. I felt I almost had to follow certain drives in myself that I didn’t know how to meet otherwise.

    I’d like my kids to know that sex can be amazing, but that it’s also not the only way to satisfy one’s needs for connection and the moving of sexual energy. Tantra, Karezza and other forms of compassionate connection are helpful avenues to consider sharing with our children also.
    Amy Phoenix recently posted…Share With a Mom You Know: A Mother’s Time Out Global Gathering September 15 – October 3, 2014My Profile

  11. Angela Tobin says:

    Great post! I don’t think we’ll ever be having ‘the chat’ with our son either as like you, lots of topics have already been discussed already, as and when the questions get asked . He’s 4 1/2 & I’ve recently just had another baby which prompted lots of questions. We’ve discussed how babies are made from sperm & eggs which led on to how children with two mummies have babies!

    He takes great delight in using the ‘real’ words for a willy and a foof which has led to embarrassing renditions of ‘i am the music man’ ( I am the music lady, I come from lady land and I can play, what can you play? I can play the vagina…!’ Hmmmm!

    I’m all for positive parenting and hope that although we may face some tricky questions now it will mean that he is comfortable enough to continue asking questions when he’s a teen too !

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