Many of our customers are parents who are looking to have an open dialogue with their children about sex, but they’re not sure where to start (and how to avoid the usual awkwardness).
Despite our sex-saturated culture, it can be challenging to find inclusive, accurate, approachable resources. That’s why we’ve compiled some of our favourite tips to help make the process a little easier:
1) Avoid calling it ‘down there.’ Using slang and euphemisms to describe genitalia can lead to a lot of confusion and sends the message that sex is too taboo to openly discuss. Plus, it makes creating a dialogue pretty challenging if children aren’t given the vocabulary to even frame their questions. Instead, help create an environment where they feel comfortable (and able) to ask questions by teaching them the correct anatomical terms for their anatomy, and the anatomy of others. For example, from a young age Amy’s daughter Mattea was taught that when she went to the washroom she needed to wipe her vulva – helping to make the distinction early on between the external parts and the internal parts of a woman’s sexual anatomy.
2) Work on your own crap. You might not want to hear this, but one of the best things you can do to help your kid feel confident is to deal with your own baggage. Kids are intuitive, so if you’re telling them to have respect for their body while you’re busy putting yourself (and/or others) down, the ‘hidden’ message is going to be pretty clear. The more you can honestly reflect the values you want for your child, the more likely you are to actually pass those values on.
3) Make sure they know it won’t make them blind (or lead to hairy knuckles or make it fall off). Masturbation may be less taboo than it once was, but that doesn’t mean that the stigma has disappeared. First time parents are often caught off guard by how young pleasure-seeking activities can start. Early childhood educators will tell you this is a common and normal part of childhood development for both boys and girls of preschool age. Try to help your child understand that exploration is totally healthy and an activity that is best done in private. It can be challenging to suggest an activity should be done privately without equating it with being something shameful, which is why it can be helpful to associate it with other private activities that are ‘normal’ (bathing, going to the toilet, etc.).
4) Model what it means to prioritize physical pleasure. One of the things we talk about a lot when we run post-partum mothers’ groups is the importance of making your sexuality a priority. This is important not only for you and your relationship (if you are in one), but also for your child. It is important for children to see that you value your body, your private time, intimacy with your partner and sexual satisfaction. There are lots of ways to do this - scheduling a date night, preferably where you have the whole night and next morning to yourself (parents are often too tired to “do it” at the end of a long day so having private morning time can be helpful), and having rules in your household that convey when a member of the family wishes to have private time for sexual pleasure. This ensures privacy and also models that it is a natural and normal part of daily life and self-care. In Amy’s household, her daughter Mattea has been told that on weekend mornings if the door is closed it means “private time” for her parents. She knows to find something to do on her own for a little bit and that she will be welcomed into the room for some family snuggles later on. While Mattea may know more than the average child about what is going on behind those doors, you can tailor your language to your child's age and your own comfort level. If you're at a loss, one way to explain it is that you are having special "adult" kisses and hugs.
5) Provide resources. The reality is that even if you’ve done everything possible to set the stage for open communication, sometimes kids are still going to feel awkward talking about sex with their parents and would prefer the anonymity of a book or website. Our favourite books are a series by Robie H. Harris, which include three volumes designed for different ages, starting with 4+ (It’s Not the Stork, followed by It’s So Amazing and It’s Perfectly Normal). We also love Deal with It and the website Scareleteen (designed for an older demographic, 14+). Amy is involved in teaching the OWL program (an acronym for Our Whole Lives – a comprehensive sexuality curriculum spanning kindergarten through adulthood) through the Unitarian Church. This program offers a secular, sex-positive curriculum that is a great way to supplement information provided at school, and a way to facilitate dialogue for young elementary children who haven’t received any formal education yet. The adult program is a great way to work through your own challenges or blind spots with respect to vocabulary and values and you don’t need to be a member of a Unitarian church to participate.