Tag Archives: sexuality

This Is What Sex-Positive Parenting Really Looks Like

This Is What Sex-Positive Parenting Really Looks Like

Posted: 07/29/2014 11:47 am EDT Updated: 07/29/2014 2:59 pm EDT

“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? andWhat 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?

The truth is that human beings, almost universally, like sex. It feels good. And it’s supposed to feel good. If it didn’t, the human race would die out. The truth is that sex isn’t special and magical just because it’s sex. The truth is that you can have spectacular sex with strangers whose names you don’t even know. The truth is that just because you can, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should.

And that’s what sex-positive parenting really is. Not telling my kids lies about sex to keep them from behaviors I don’t think are healthy. It’s telling them the truth, the whole truth, and letting it sink in so they can make their own good choices.

It’s telling them that sex is good, but that it’s dangerous if you’re not careful. It’s teaching them to require their partners to use condoms, to buy their own condoms if they’re planning on having sex. It’s teaching them that while sex feels good, they can feel good on their own too. (Just not at the table.) That while sex combined with love is often the best sex — transcendent sex — that grows the bond of love and builds a closeness that is almost impossible to find otherwise, sex isn’t always like that, even with people you love. That sex can lead to pregnancy, even with protection, so engaging in it is a commitment to deal with any consequences.

It’s telling them they’re not wrong, or sinful, or bad, if they have sexual feelings. Or even if they have sex. It’s teaching them that sex happens, whether people always make good choices or not. And it’s giving them the tools to ensure that when they’re ready, they’re smart and cautious and conscientious.

There’s a lot of black-and-white comparisons when it comes to sex education. Some people think that once kids hit puberty, if they don’t have a strong fear of sex they’ll have as much as they can, as often as they can. There’s a lot of abstinence-only sex education, based on telling kids, “SEX IS SCARY! DON’T DO IT!” and it appears to be about the least successful program anyone has ever invented.

Telling children the truth about sex isn’t giving permission for them to have it — and this is the most important part — because when the right time comes, nobody has the right to deny them permission for sex but themselves.

And that’s the thing I try to keep in mind when I say things like, “We don’t touch our vulvas at the table.” Sex is something that ONLY happens when both people WANT it to happen. And that means that the only people in the entire world with any kind of say over whether or not my daughters have sex is them.

I don’t get to tell my daughters they have to have sex, but I also don’t get to tell them they can’t. They’re in charge. Your body, your decision.

I never want to be responsible for setting the precedent that another person gets to tell them what to do with their bodies, and especially with their sexuality. I don’t want to be the gateway for a manipulative, potentially abusive boyfriend.

So I teach boundaries. Appropriate places. Hygiene. I teach my children that nobody is allowed to touch their bodies without permission. When we get in tickle fights and they say, “Stop!” I stop.

And when we talk about pregnant friends, we talk about uteruses and sperm and eggs.

And most of the time, it’s not uncomfortable. Most of the time, I’m verifying information and the conversation lasts 15 seconds.

And someday the conversation is going to be a lot uglier. Someday, we’ll have to actually talk about rape, and explicit and enthusiastic consent, and contraception. Someday we’ll have to talk about healthy masturbation and pornography and realistic expectations of sex and sex partners and body image and a lack of shame for their bodies. And those conversations are not going to be as brief or straightforward.

But I’m ready. Whenever that day comes, I’m prepared. Because the groundwork is there.

“We don’t touch our vulvas at the table.” It’s absurd, but it’s got all the important pieces. It’s a micro-lesson in safety and consent and social propriety. I don’t think I’ll be able to say “We don’t lose our virginity in the backseat of a car after a prom party” with a straight face, but I will be able to say, “We don’t have sex without thinking long and hard about it first, and we certainly don’t do it without being careful, and being safe, and being totally confident in the maturity of our partner and our ability to handle the repercussions if we get a disease or get pregnant.”

Because it’s true. We don’t.

But I like that when that time comes, I’m part of the “we.” Because if I can tell my girls, “we” have to be careful, they’ll know that no matter what happens, I’m still in their corner. I’ve still got their backs. Even if “we” make bad choices, I’ll still be there to help make things right again.

Originally published on Becoming SuperMommy

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REVIEW | ‘Girlfriend’: Fine, Fizzy Romance with Killer Soundtrack

Credit Alan Simons / Actors Theatre of Louisville
Curt Hansen as Mike and Ryder Bach as Will in “Girlfriend” at Actors Theatre.

By 

“Let’s flash back to 1993, to the days before texting and ready Internet access, when living in a small town really could feel like living on the moon. We are in Nebraska, but it might as well be any small town in Kentucky, Indiana, England. Let us say we are dorks, friendless and stilted, moving through high school like occasionally kicked stray dogs. Or. We are wearing someone else’s life, someone popular and ambitious and accomplished and right, holding our breath until we can leave this town and shed the fake skin like a bad sweater.

Let us say that one of us grew up and wrote a lovely play about this corner of the moon, and set it to the music of our favorite tape, beginning with Matthew Sweet’s “I’ve Been Waiting,” the sweetest song this side of Big Star’s “Thirteen.”

Todd Almond’s “Girlfriend,” a rock musical set to Matthew Sweet’s iconic 1991 power pop album of the same name, opened last night at Actors Theatre of Louisville. “Girlfriend” is a winsome crowd-pleaser, a finely acted, delicate and charming romance between two adorable protagonists, Will (Ryder Bach), a nerd who finds himself being courted, sort of, by Mike (Curt Hansen), the handsome jock who turns out to be much more. Almond’s intelligent, witty and unabashedly romantic scriptbrims with authentic dialog, astute observations and heart-stopping moments of pure vulnerability – every muttered “whatever” contains multitudes. 

In his brief pre-show speech, artistic director Les Waters, who directed this production as well as the 2010 world premiere at Berkeley Repertory Theatre, entreated the audience to “open your hearts very wide” to “Girlfriend.” The house complied – I haven’t witnessed such an openly appreciative group in the Pamela Brown in years. For once, the standing ovation felt spontaneous and  genuine, not obligatory, a satisfying end for an audience whose laughter and audible oh!s rang throughout the performance.

In an impressive season brimming with skillful and heartbreaking depictions of doomed, tragic dysfunction, “Girlfriend” is a sweet, fizzy treat, a show I can recommend without qualifying first that “it’s excellent, but I wouldn’t exactly say it’sfun.”

Let me say that I graduated high school in the flannelled late spring of 1994 and I am a sucker for watching cute boys fall in love, so “Girlfriend” pretty much had me from the overture. Like Sweet himself, this is a Nineties show with a hefty dose of New Sincerity, missing most of the weary cynicism and all of the bad haircuts of our actual youth. It’s a musical for the baggy cardigan, hands-stuffed-in-pockets shuffle-swaying at the show set, hearkening back to the days pre-“Glee” and “Smash” and whatever else that’s made musical theater cool again.

“Girlfriend” really is fun, from Will and Mike driving the back roads screaming along to their favorite songs to nearly every bizarrely funny thing that comes out of Will’s mouth (“I’ve been waiting my entire life for a boy to ask me to run errands with him.”). Their romance is so delicately wrought that to simply watch their hands inch close, only to retreat in haste, is as satisfying as the most epic on-stage journey.

Bach originated the role of Will in the Berkeley Rep production, and it’s hard to imagine another actor so fully embodying this character. This isn’t a heavily choreographed musical – Joe Goode has wisely designed dance moves that feel more like private goofing around than full-blown gotta-sing-gotta-dance numbers – but Bach moves at all times with the kinesthetic intelligence of a born dancer, allowing his body to react when Will’s face and voice cannot. And he’s hilarious – his deadpan delivery of Almond’s witty lines allow the private Will to shine, even as public Will shrinks in fear of the future and the wide world. Hansen is a charming foil, his bravado melting as he slowly makes himself as vulnerable as Will has been all along. 

Both are strong singers, but they steer clear of that familiar musical theater gloss, allowing their vocals the raw emotion of the shotgun seat aria and the shared, half-hummed chorus. Bandleader Julie Wolf strikes a nice balance between faithful renditions of Sweet’s classics and new arrangements that better fit individual scenes, and with Sara Lee, Kelly Richey and Jyn Yates, the band is on point and ever-present, but never overshadows the action.

David Zinn’s dual-hemisphere set is suitably spare up front where the action happens. A couch functions as Mike’s car, home base for their romance, as well as the centerpiece of his bedroom. Behind them, though, an authentically cluttered basement practice room, complete with wood paneling, overlapping posters and Christmas lights, houses the band. It looks like a music video set from the early Nineties, straight out of “120 Minutes,” – which is to say, perfect.

Social media buzzed with “remember your first love!” after opening night, but I’ll go one further and say that “Girlfriend” gives audiences, gay and straight, the first love experience any lonely teen could have wished for, minus any of the awful, selfish, mean, regrettable things we might have actually said and done to one another in our awkward pasts. It’s absolution with an amazing soundtrack. Will and Mike are good guys who like each other, so sit back, roll down the windows, and enjoy the ride. 

“Girlfriend” runs through February 17.”

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February 1, 2013 · 7:57 pm

‘Girlfriend’

book by Todd Almond
music and lyrics by Matthew Sweet
directed by Artistic Director Les Waters

January 29 – February 17, 2013
Presented by Actors Theatre of Louisville as part of the Brown-Forman Series
Nebraska, the 1990s. Two teenage boys—one a social outcast, the other the quintessential jock—explore a relationship during a summer of self-discovery between high school graduation and the rest of their lives. Set to irresistible songs from Matthew Sweet’s landmark pop album of the same name, this rock musical gives voice to those of us who grew up in small towns, those of us who didn’t quite fit in and learned we were somehow different, and anybody who remembers the terror and thrill of first love.

Recommended for High school and up (Grade 9)
Contains strong language

For tickets and more information visit http://www.actorstheatre.org or call 502-584-1205

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February 1, 2013 · 5:28 pm

Embracing Children for Who They Are

NOVEMBER 5, 2012, 12:01 AM

By JANE E. BRODY

While I agree with the overarching moral behind this article (that parents should accept children for who they are and encourage them to be the best they can be), I am very disturbed by:

(a) the fact that we are still talking about this whole acceptance-of-the-“not-normal” as if it were a novel idea (I thought we had covered that in the Postmodern era),

(b) the fact that, apparently, parents who try to force “children to follow a prescribed formula ” still exist (everyone who has every worked with or raised children know that if you try to force them to do anything, it will most likely backfire), and

(c) the fact that these authors are grouping together homosexuals, the “deaf, dwarfs, autistic, schizophrenic, transgender, … prodigies or have Down syndrome, as well as those who were conceived in rape or became criminals” into one category as if all the above people have congenital diseases that prevent them from being viewed as “normal.”

Really guys? Really??

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December 3, 2012 · 2:42 pm

Harvey Milk

Today we should all stop and remember a great man Harvey Milk. On this day he was killed as he was trying to get equality for the LGBT community.

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November 27, 2012 · 1:58 pm