I think when people think of “sex positive parenting”, that those words bring to mind a parent who flaunts their sexuality, or rather, lives their own sex life out in the open in front of (not literally) their children. That is not the case with me. My private life is my private life, and she has no business knowing what I do, and I certainly don’t go recounting stories of it without some sort of relevance. For example, if she asks for advice on something, or asks me what something is, etc, then I have no problem answering honestly and openly. That being said, I also am not ashamed to laugh at sophomoric humor involving sexual innuendoes, or cracking my own jokes born of witty sarcasm. You can’t pretend to your children that you’re perfect humans; angels devoid of any sexuality or less than “pure” thoughts and emotions, and expect that this will ensure you have a child become just that. In fact, I think you conjure the exact opposite.
My take on parenting is that your kids not only learn from your example, but that as with adults, whatever you insist they not do, rally against and restrict them from, is only going to drive them head-first, saddles blazing, towards that exact thing you so badly wanted them to denounce. If you want a child that doesn’t swear, than don’t pretend you don’t. You can’t scandalize your kids with streams of swear words from your lips when someone cuts you off in traffic, and then turn around and scold them for saying the “S” word. Seriously, your kids don’t learn anything from that example except how to be a better hypocrite. Likewise, don’t swear like a truck driver either. Presumably, you have a more eloquent vocabulary with which to speak your disdain, so use it.
Everything in moderation. This goes the same for drinking, sex, whatever thing you want your child to have respect for, have respect for yourself. Don’t abuse it, either by excess, or denial of it. Your children will follow your example. My daughter is proof of this.
“Be what you want to appear” – Socrates
My daughter knows I write this blog, and she knows its basic theme is about sexuality. She doesn’t know the specifics of it, nor does she obviously care to, and I don’t want her to either. It’s not that I’m ashamed of who I am and what I’m discussing here, but rather that I understand parenting, sex-positively so, has boundaries. Teaching boundaries is, in essence, teaching healthy sexuality. I would never want to share the explicit and varied details of my personal explorations with her, unless she asked me for my advice or opinion.
She knows that I love to write, that I’m good at it, and that I am really enjoying the interactions and responses that have come from blogging my experiences, thus far. However, I can sense her unease about the subject matter when I talk about the blog, or more so, that I’m enthusiastic about it.
When I was 16, I could not wait to get going; my engines were racing, and I wanted to explore the whole world right away. Watching one too many afternoons of daytime soap operas after school is what my mother blames my curiosity on. I blame it on the fact that neither she, nor my father, even attempted to have “The Talk” with me, let alone try to broach the subject with me to even see if I had any questions I wanted to ask. The only thing I knew about was getting my period, and that was because my mother remembered how a girl in her 6th grade class in Catholic school got hers one day, it leaked onto her clothes, and she was horribly embarrassed because she had no clue what was happening to her body. My mother did not want this to happen to me. I guess I am thankful to her for at least that morsel of body education.
My daughter though is an entirely different story. As open as I have been about sexuality as being a normal, natural part of life, to be enjoyed in a healthy, vivacious way without the trappings of it being called “wrong” or “immoral”, she really has no interest in it. When she was 14 I told her that if she ever had any questions about sex, or any of the new “feelings” that puberty usually brings on, that she could talk to me, and ask me anything. She told me, “Mom, I’m in middle school. Kids talk. I know everything”, and I said, “Kids usually talk about sex like they know what they’re talking about, but usually, they don’t know anything about it. They just want everyone to think they do”. That’s more like disinformation. Can you imagine leaving your child’s sex education up to the information that gets leaked from peers? The very thought makes me shudder. She encouraged me though when she told me, very earnestly, that she had no interest in sex, and that she was “a kid, and wanted to remain a kid as long as I possibly can”. You know, why can’t more kids have this kind of clarity and respect for their innocence, and how did I get so lucky!
I recently watched a documentary on the sex education and trends in our youth culture called “Let’s Talk About Sex”. Compared and contrasted against the rest of the industrialized world, the U.S. has the highest teen pregnancy rate. And when I say high, I mean, drastically so in comparison. According to the research from the film, every day nearly 2400 teens become pregnant in the U.S. , and nearly 10,000 teens a day contract a STD (Sexually Transmitted Disease). The film goes on to illustrate how the U.S., compared to other countries, has a more contradictory viewpoint on sex and teenagers.
Despite the fact that sex is everywhere in he media, and aimed heavily at our youth, we have major hangups around just how to approach the idea of sex education with our youth. While other countries seem to teach that it’s a natural and healthy part of life akin eating and sleeping, and as something to be respected, our country seems to hypocritically denounce it as “bad”, equating it with drugs and alcohol, as something that is harmful, and something to abstain from. However, as can be gleamed from how other countries approach the topic of sex education, if you educate your children, age appropriately, about sex in an open and honest way as something to be valued and respected, you will have youth that respond in that manner.
And I think that the trend we see with our youth and their abuse of alcohol, is actually a really telling correlation. As we tell our kids “No” vehemently, and forbid it so staunchly, we actually create the desire in kids to want it. They don’t know why they want it, except that it’s this “forbidden” thing, and so the power and mystery to this forbidden experience becomes just that: powerful. What happens when you tell someone “No, you can’t have any”? Well, chances are, even if they didn’t want any to begin with, the fact that someone forbade them created an instant driven force towards the very thing they were denied. When my parents would have wine with dinner, they would offer my brother and I a sip in a small glass. Most often than not, we turned it down. However the very fat that they offered it to us took that stigma of the “forbidden” away, so when we grew up and went to college, we didn’t feel the core-driven urge to get drunk and “party”. I’m not saying we didn’t drink, but we didn’t go out and abuse it like so many kids do the minute they are out from their parents watchful eye. We had respect for it, and honestly didn’t feel the need to use it to the point of excess because it was never something we were refused.
Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to have this foresight with discussing sex, and just assumed that if they didn’t talk about it, that we wouldn’t want to do it. Wrong, wrong, so very wrong.
When I was in 6th grade and overheard a bunch of girls talking about sex while in the library studying, my immediate thought was, “Wait, these girls know about sex, and I don’t, and yet, I am so much smarter than them. How come I don’t know about this, and they do?” Well, that was like waving a red flag in front of a bull. I headed straight to the medical encyclopedia of our middle school library, and checked out volume “S”. That night, behind the closed-door of my bedroom sanctuary, I read what sex was in graphic detail. I can tell you that none of those girls I had overheard knew what sex was either, but now I did. I was 12. My response to what I had just learned was “Ewww, I’m never doing that. That’s gross”.
Two years later, I changed my opinion. I still had no guidance from my parents. There’s power in a mystery, and even more so when it’s peer-driven. You’re vying so hard to find out who you are, and weighing yourself against everyone else. If the majority of us are not receiving the information we need, well, I can tell you that is a whole lot of teenagers who want to discover just why you so adamantly rally against sex. That is an inertia that is very difficult to fight.
You can make a difference as parents. You do not want your kids learning from other kids about what sex is, and refusing to acknowledge what sex is, or just telling them “No”, is only going to make the very thing you fear as parents, reality. As uncomfortable as broaching the subject with your kids may be, it’s worth a little bit of awkward to get accurate and positive information to them. The alternative is much worse. Talking about it with them will not make them want to go out and do it, in fact, taking an upfront and honest approach to the subject diffuses its mysterious charge. Remember, what you resist, persists! Don’t fight against educating your children in a healthy, age-appropriate way, fight for it!
How do you approach the subject of sex with your kids?