This Is What Sex-Positive Parenting Really Looks Like
Photo Credit: KonstantinChristian via Shutterstock.com
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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."
I'm what some people call "sex-positive." That doesn't mean I talk with my 4-year-olds about how great sex is and how good it feels. It means I don't pretend it's something other than it is.
As parents, we lie all the time. About the Easter Bunny or Santa or the Tooth Fairy, about how long 10 minutes is, about whether or not we remembered they wanted to have grilled cheese for dinner again... We lie a lot. But one thing I never lie about is sex.
I don't want them to grow up ashamed of their bodies or confused about what they do. I don't tell them about cabbage patches or storks; I make an effort, always, to be honest about human reproduction. Every aspect of it.
I've had talks with lots of other moms about having "the talk." I don't think my kids and I will ever have that particular talk, because they already know. And we talk about it often -- kids are obsessive creatures. We read Where Did I Come From? and What Makes A Baby, which together cover every aspect of the subject. We can talk about IVF and C-sections, because both of those are part of the story of their births, and we can talk about the fact that yes, mommy and daddy still have sex regardless. And when they're older, we'll start talking about contraception.
Because lying to your kids about sex helps nobody. Telling them that sex is "only between mommies and daddies" is a lie that leads to confused, hormone-charged teenagers. Telling them that sex is "only something that happens when two people love each other very much" is a lie that causes hormone-charged teenagers to confuse "love" with "lust," or "obsession." It leads to leaps of logic like, "If I have sex with this person, we must be in love." Or worse: "If I love this person, I have to have sex with him or her." And how many teenage tragedies are based on that misconception?