Many parents, especially feminist moms who teach their kids about sex, are adamant about teaching their children that sexual acts are not, in fact, a bad or shameful thing. Many parents want to teach their children about sex positivity, so their kids don't go through life convinced that a very natural part of being human is actually a bad part of being human. Parents are conscious about the sex positive things they can say to their kids, so kids don't hate their bodies but instead, learn how to celebrate them in a very healthy way.
Unfortunately, society can quickly undo all of that work with a subtle message or a whispered judgement. Our culture is still one that largely believes sex is inherently bad (or, at least, sex outside of a very narrow definition of "good" sex is "bad"), and constantly teaches children that sexuality should be stifled, instead of explored.
We, as parents, can try to protect our children as best we can. We can create a very sex-positive, healthy, and open-minded environment inside our homes, that gives our children the freedom to learn about sexuality and body positivity and self-love. But eventually, our children will leave our home. They'll go to school or a friend's house or wherever else, and we can't always be there. We can't stand beside them every hour of every day and correct the landslide of misinformation that will, at times, constantly bombard our kids.
The best we can do is realize what our children are up against, and work to arm them with factual information. So with that in mind, here are 11 little ways society will try to teach kids to feel shameful about sex. Because the best defense is a good offense.
Sex Education Is Treated As An Awkward Obligation
From the mandatory sex education classes in school to the discussions parents have with their children, talking about sex is usually treated as an awkward obligation us "grown ups" just want to put behind us. Kids are extremely intuitive, so they pick up on how awkward and uncomfortable adults are when they talk about sex, sexual health, consent, and everything associated with sexuality. It's a shame, because we're teaching our children that sex is something to feel weird about.
Masturbation Is "Embarrassing"
Usually in television shows or movies, masturbation is often depicted as an embarrassing act only done by "losers" who can't find partners. Instead of showing masturbation as a very healthy, extremely natural act of sexuality and self-love, we teach children that touching themselves is wrong and loving themselves is pathetic and that they should be ashamed of their own bodies and their own needs.
Sexual Women Are Judged
Every time someone calls an openly sexual woman a "slut" or a "whore," you're teaching children that sexuality is disgusting, and so are the people who unapologetically celebrate it. Every time someone is judged for having sex or being sexual, we're telling our children that a very natural, very necessary part of humanity, is gross.
Sex Is Whispered About, Not Openly Discussed
If adults are still awkward and uncomfortable when it comes to discussing sex, it's no wonder that our children grow up thinking that their sexuality is shameful. Grown men and women, for the most part, can't seem to routinely talk about a very natural thing, which is as ridiculous as it is just sad. We're failing our children if we can't fight against an outdated social construct.
Schools Police Young Women's Clothes
Why? I mean, just...why? When we tell a young student that her collar bone is too distracting or her shoulders are too enticing to the young men in her class, we're telling her that her body is a problem that needs to be regulated and controlled, and moreover, that how other people feel about her body is her responsibility.
Dolls Are Never Anatomically Correct
Do you ever wonder why our kids' dolls aren't anatomically correct? I mean, why is it that there are just smoothed over nubs where there should be a vulva or a penis? From the youngest of ages, we're telling our kids that there are certain parts of their bodies that are "bad" and there are specific parts of their bodies that they should hide or be ashamed of.
Women's Bodies Are Openly Criticized
When we openly criticize a woman's (or a man's) body, we might as well be criticizing our children. When we point to a specific human and say that is wrong with them or this is wrong with them, we're telling our children that there are multiple "issues" they could have with their body. It's like, "Here you go, kids! Here are all the ways a body can fail. Figure out which of these bodily "problems" and "flaws" most closely resemble your body, and get about hating yourself already! Please continue to do so for the rest of your life. Don't worry, we have plenty of things you can buy to fix these problems, so it's not totally hopeless."
We're ever-so-subtly whispering into our kids' collective unconscious that not only can the way their bodies look be "wrong," but what those bodies can do can be "wrong." That's a dangerous message to be sending.
Sexuality Is Used To Sell Products
Sex sells. Even if you're not in advertising, you've heard this saying before and you've, more often than not, experienced the truth behind it. Whether it's a pair of breasts being used to sell a cheeseburger or sexual desire being used to sell a fragrance; sex is constantly being advertised. Unfortunately, along with creating unrealistic beauty standards, these advertisements bank on the mystery, taboo and the palpably forbidden aspects of sex in order to make the product or products, more alluring. It's not just sex they're selling — it's the shame that sex carries.
Pornography Is Taboo
Now, I should probably get one thing clear before I start talking about pornography and children: In no way am I advocating or suggesting that kids should watch extremely adult content on a regular basis. Obviously, a young adult's age and maturity level matters when viewing something like porn. So, don't think I'm telling parents that they should start substituting Sesame Street for a porno flick.
However, the way that society treats pornography, in general, fortifies the already prevalent idea that sex (and the people who have it) is inherently bad. While there's no denying that some pornography is downgrading, and actually advocates rape or violence against women, most pornography doesn't. Is it entirely realistic? No. But does it celebrate sexuality? I would argue, when it is done correctly, yes. How our society treats porn and porn stars, is a direct reflection of how passionately our culture shames sexuality.
Sex Is Treated As The End-All-Be-All Of Relationships
In songs, TV shows, and movies, sex is considered the "end-all-be-all" of any potential or worthwhile romantic relationship. Casual, consensual sex is hardly, if ever, highlighted and, if it is shown, it is often judged or shamed. Society treats sex like a step in a relationship; one that should be taken close to last (usually after marriage) and one that means a particular level of commitment has been reached between two people. This, in turn, makes young adults feel ashamed about their sexual desires, especially if they are having them when they're not in a relationship.
Make no mistake: A marriage isn't a necessary component of healthy sexuality. Sexuality exists regardless of someone's relationship status. Single, married, divorced, or something in between... It's more than fine to be a sexual being with sexual needs.
All Sexualities Aren't Widely Represented
Usually, only heterosexual relationships are highlighted by mainstream media unless "gay marriage" is the issue at hand; there's very little casual representation of non-cisgender, heterosexual partnerships. That means, for a kid who identifies as gay or bisexual, they're already being told that they're not "normal", or they're having a very difficult time seeing themselves (and people like them) in the world around them.