Sex-Positive Sex Education
So here’s a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately. With two pre-teen boys in the house, I think it’s a good idea to check in with them periodically to see what they’re thinking and going through, and to reiterate our family’s position and expectations on various topics with them. As they get older the topics of puberty, sex, and related issues come up, and if they don’t then I feel like it’s my responsibility to bring those topics up with them.
Sex is by no means a ‘new’ topic for my children; I’ve been a breastfeeding counselor and worked as a birth doula for a many years, so they’ve had access to age-appropriate information about the birds and bees all along. When they were old enough to start asking questions, we always answered factually, but let them guide the depth of the conversation. We started with simple, factual answers, using proper names for body parts and terms – no ‘cutesy’ stuff that might muddy the waters – because I feel that information is good for them. It also normalizes those conversations that have the potential to become ‘uncomfortable’ if you wait until kids are old enough for body-awareness and self-consciousness issues to come up. Not to say that it erases it completely, but open communication as a staple of family life is important, IMO.
Once we started homeschooling, we added in a more ‘formal’ health class, which included use of the FLASH curriculum. We’ve gone through it once already, and will be covering it again this year, with added material from Planned Parenthood and other websites (most of which are linked in various place throughout this post). I’ve bought the boys several of the ‘growing up’ and ‘about my body’ books for them to read through at their leisure, and added some kid-friendly health websites to their computer desktops so they can research on their own. We also worked through a lapbook on puberty and sex that I made (which will be posted eventually). We’ve even tackled conversations about having sex for the first time, proper use of condoms, and what kinds of things they would want to do afterwards (like condom disposal and washing up). They’ve never been restricted as far as information goes pertaining to what they ask about, and I’d not have it any other way.
The approach we take is called ‘sex-positive’ sex education. It’s talks about sex as a normal, natural, pleasurable experience. It’s open and honest communication, without the tinge of embarrassment, guilt and shame that often accompanies the topic of sex.
It’s pretty much the polar opposite of what’s ‘allowed’ to be taught in Texas schools, which uses shame and religious oppression in a failing attempt to reduce teen pregnancy and transmission of STDs by promoting ‘abstinence only’ education. I won’t go into how ineffective that method is; the fact that Texas is among the highest in the USA for teen (and even pre-teen) pregnancy (5th, actually), and first in the US for repeat teen pregnancy speaks for itself. If their goal is kids having kids, then I say, ‘Well done!’
Additionally, for many in the religious set, children are often coerced into entering verbal contracts with their parents, peer groups and/or youth pastors to remain ‘pure’ until marriage. This trend of tying a child’s self-worth to their sexual status is disturbing at best; abusive and creepy at worst. For something that’s a natural biological process, supposedly instilled in us by the Creator, to be so vehemently linked to sin and corruption and impurity just begs for sexual dysfunction later in life. I really love that quote by Bertrand Russell. It states exactly how I feel about ‘biblical morality’.
Before I go much farther, let me address something (because I KNOW this will come up). I am, in no way, advocating that persons under the age of consent (in Texas, see: Texas Penal Code Section 21.11) engage in any type of sexual activity. What I AM addressing is that I believe that all children, including yours, have the right to know what will happen, or is happening, to their body at the onset of and during puberty, and that they have the right to know that masturbation and sex are normal, biological functions, and that their self-worth is in no way related to their virgin status. I believe that they are entitled to factual information, free from constraints put in place by a puritanical history with no medical or scientific basis. Furthermore, I believe that all children, especially those near or undergoing puberty, should have enough knowledge about sex and sex acts to protect themselves and their partner(s) should they find themselves in a situation where such knowledge is critical.
So what level of education is appropriate for pre-teens?
Well, that depends on a lot of things, including but not limited to: your personal beliefs and stance; your child’s maturity level (both mental/emotional as well as physical – meaning that if your child is physically more mature, then s/he probably needs at least some of the information even if you aren’t sure if s/he’s emotionally or mentally ready for the full picture); your environment and his/her associates – is s/he likely to get this information from peers, and if so, is that where you want your child’s support to come from? (not that that’s inherently a bad thing, but you do want to ensure that the information s/he’s getting is factual, and you still want that open line of communication with your kid).
For my children, this includes more detailed information as they get older, including the idea that sex is pleasurable, normal and healthy for adults to engage in. We’ve talked about appropriate speech in company – with friends vs. in mixed company (either girls or adults), being conscious of who else is around them (younger children).
At this age, consent is an important topic. They need to understand what consent is, and what it isn’t. How is consent conveyed? How can signals be misinterpreted? How do you voice your consent? How do you express dissent? Consent is important for them to understand, not only for themselves, to know if they’re being coerced or taken advantage of, but also so they can identify consent in their partners. I believe that consent starts from a very early age. Helping children own their bodies is a key factor in developing the confidence to voice dissent when it matters. The GoodMenProject has a great article that can help parents develop good communication habits that help children understand consent from a young age.
Pre-teens and teens also need to know what qualifies as ‘sexual contact’. This is where a lot of parents get sorta squidgy. Who likes talking about sex acts with their kids? Our parents never had to do that… which is probably an ideal example of why we should talk to our kids about sex acts. If you’re super uncomfortable talking about it, at least direct your kids to something appropriate, like PlannedParenthood’s What is Sex? article. Once they know what sex is, then talks about being ready and protection – for your child, and for his or her partner – can begin. Along with talks about sex, talks about drugs and alcohol, ‘partying’ and what to do if/when they get into a situation where they need help are natural progressions. It’s equally important to talk about being victimized, and to make sure your children know that if they are assaulted, it’s not their fault. EVER. Talk about ‘slut-shaming’ and ‘victim-blaming’. Talk about ‘rape culture’, and about how they can be advocates. Talk, talk, TALK!
And if you agree that information is important for kids, it’s absolutely crucial if your child is gay, lesbian, queer, transgendered, bisexual, asexual or falls in any way outside of the mainstream. LGBTQ kids have all of the same pressures that other kids face, as well as the unique issues that falling outside the mainstream brings. The Trevor Project is a great place to learn about how being LGBTQ affects a child, how to deal with your own thoughts and feelings, and most importantly, how you can help them, especially if you think your child might be suicidal. There are websites devoted to helping parents talk to their LGBTQ child, and others that can help parents understand and support their child. Even if your child is straight, help him/her be an ally. Talking with him/her about gender and sexual orientation is important. Because of how society views sex and gender, including promoting homophobia, sexism, and transphobia by not talking about it, it’s important that children are taught that these characteristics are no more exclusionary than skin, hair or eye color – just another variation of ‘normal’ that makes our world such a grand, diverse, beautiful place to live in.
Armed with this information, how do we keep them safe? I think that information is the first string of safety precautions. The more open and communicative your family is, the fewer things get ‘stuffed’. Most kids have smart phones, and there are apps that are specifically designed to help them, like the Circle of 6 app, and the Life 360 app. Others, like the bSafe app, even have a feature that will allow you to program an automatic alarm that will trigger if you have not checked in with your friends or family in time.
You might be asking, ‘ How do we keep them from experimenting? How do you keep them from having sex?’
Honestly? The truth is… you can’t. You can, of course, communicate and express your desires for your children. You can let them know what your feelings are as far as sexual relationships go, and what your expectations for them are. Even the dreaded Planned Parenthood has discussion topics and suggested conversation responses to help parents help their teens delay having sex. But I don’t know of any people who wanted to have sex who didn’t because of an external expectations placed on them. Having an open and honestly communicative relationship helps though.
Given the option, I would prefer my children not have sex until they were in a committed relationship and were old enough to accept and responsibly handle the consequences of a sexual relationship. But another hard truth is that my kids’ sexuality belongs to THEM. Not me. It’s not up to me to dictate to them, once they’ve reached the age of consent, what is right for them. But I can influence their choices, and I would *always* rather them have protected sex (and sexual experimentation) than unprotected sex.
This entry was posted on September 15, 2014 by HT. It was filed under Advocacy, Attachment Parenting, FAQ, Homeschooling Resources, Parenting, Secular Thursday, Sex, She said WHAT? and was tagged with attachment parenting, attachment parenting with older kids, communication, life-lessons, raising responsible adults, secular homeschooling, Secular Thursday, sex ed.