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.
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?