When your mother or grandmother was growing up, they were most likely part of a generation that believed the topics of intercourse, sexuality, and even the function of the human reproductive system were better left in the dark. Though your parents or grandparents might not have learned about body positivity and sex in a healthy way, the future is looking bright and hopeful. Thankfully, you have the opportunity to teach your child about being sex positive. You can show them that there is nothing to be ashamed about when it comes to the once-taboo subject of sex and their relationship to their body.
If you're feeling a little hesitant or uncomfortable at the prospect of having these kinds of discussions with your child, don't freak out. There are some surprisingly simple and benign methods to approach sex positivity in a way that works for a child based on their age or level of comprehension. Obviously some talks are going to be saved for when your kid is a bit older, but there are actually plenty of ways to introduce the topic now to give your child a healthy and solid foundation for sex education. If you're looking for a way to get the conversation going, here are just a few ways to teach your child about sex positivity.
One of the biggest things you can do to take away and prevent a sense of taboo or shame about the human body and sexuality is to talk honestly to your child about their body parts. Instead of cute nicknames or euphemisms, just say, "penis," or, "vagina," the same way you would say, "arm," or, "leg."
Using anatomically-correct terms can also go a long way to prevent and educate your child about abuse, too. "Parents should communicate accurately, without stigma or shame," abuse prevention specialist Laura Palumbo from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC) told The Atlantic. "This helps children who have important health questions or an experience they're concerned about talk with adults about their concerns."
A concept that sadly even some adults don't seem to understand is that of consent. To my toddler son, I very simply explained that anything besides a clear, voluntary "yes" is a "no." He understands what it means to feel hesitant about someone touching your body, even at this young age. So that moment of him"wanting to say no" in the doctor's office became a teaching opportunity.
Sure, it might make the pediatrician's office a little bit annoyed, but if my son does not give his clear and voluntary consent to be touched, I don't force it — even if it's a doctor. If you have an honest discussion about what consent is and what it means, both for themselves and others, then your child will be more informed and hopefully have a healthier understanding of sex and their body.
Plenty of parents fall into the habit of using absolutes with their children. It's practically unavoidable. But if sex is described in very strict, finite terms or even seen as negative, you could be setting your child up for confusion or rebellion. Sometimes just using the word "sex" without cringing can be very sex-positive for your children.
As parenting expert Lea Grover writes in The Huffington Post, "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.'" So it's OK to say that sex can be an enjoyable activity, but you can stress that caution is necessary for preventing unwanted results.
Teaching your child sex-positive terms doesn't mean you're limited to just the world of actual sex. You can normalize once-taboo things simply by openly discussing anatomy, bodily functions, consent, love, affection, body positivity, and plenty of other topics. The more you talk freely about these subjects, the more likely your child will feel comfortable enough to ask you questions when the time comes.
Author and parenting expert Sharyn Hayden writes in Her Family that kids take their cues from parents; so if a parent doesn't make a big deal out of something, then the child likely won't either. Even if you have to fake it 'til you make it, not appearing squeamish or disgusted about sex or body-related issues in front of your kids will pay off.
To be clear, having an open door doesn't mean you're giving your child a "get out of jail free" card. Ideally, what it means, is that your child feels safe and comfortable enough to come to you with concerns, fears, and questions regarding sex and their body. And even if puberty is over a decade away, kids notice body differences surprisingly early on.
Think of using sex-positive language now as setting the foundation for your future young adult. According to a recent study conducted by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), "parental communication about sex education topics with their children is associated with delayed sexual initiation and increased birth control method and condom use among sexually experienced teenagers."