Playing Doctor and I’ll Show you Mine - How to Manage that first sex/bodies/consent talk with your kids without panicking.
I was on the playground doing after school pick up this week talking to a friend and fellow mom and as happens to me often we got talking about how to address and talk to our kids about sex and bodies and consent.
In our house lately we’ve started getting questions about bodies. In talking to a whole range of families I have heard questions from kids about the difference between breastfeeding and sex. I mean it’s a mouth on a private part so what’s the difference? I’ve heard that sex will make you live forever. I’ve heard penis and vagina jokes. I’ve heard more and more potty humour as the cohort of kids we are around gets older. I’m sure many of you have walked in to a room to see someone with their pants down or a game of doctor happening. And I’m sure many of you internally panicked and did not know what to do.
Most of the moms I talk to want to raise kids who don’t experience the shame and taboo they did around sex and genitals. They want to raise kids who understand consent, kids who are respectful of their own body and the bodies of others, kids who know their own limits, kids who know how to say no, kids who know how to keep themselves safe from unwanted touch.
This is a biiiig topic, with lots to unpack. As usual we’ll scratch the surface today. I would love to hear your questions on this topic so I can create some materials for you. Email me at email@example.com and send me your Qs so I can get you some resources.
A few things to know before we start.
Curiosity about bodies is natural and inevitable.
A desire to see and touch different bodies and understand how they work is also very natural. We teach kids about digestion, about pee and poo, about their hearts and their blood and their circulatory system, we teach them about their muscles and their skeleton, and we can teach them about their reproductive system.
Masturbation is normal. Babies in utero spend time touching their genitals because it feels nice. If your child is touching their genitals you can tell them its ok and stress that it needs to be done in private. We tend to focus most of our teaching about sexuality to how babies are made - but an awareness of pleasure is key as well. This paves the way for a healthy relationship with our sexuality later in life. Yes it feels good to touch your body. And yes that is ok.
When kids know the correct names of their body parts and they can name them with confidence. When they are self assured and they have been taught that their body is theirs they are far less likely to attract sexual predators. When a kid can yell “Don’t touch my vulva” to an adult they are less likely to experience abuse and they are more likely to report it. This is what we want for our kids.
Our main goal is to acknowledge curiosity, normalize conversations about sex and get our kids used to coming to us for this information. If they don’t know they can come to us they will get information in other ways as they age - friends and the internet and experimentation are not reliable sources of information.
We can still set limits and be clear in our messages. Kids can’t have sex. In fact, no child under 12 can legally consent to sex. Kids can’t have sex because a) their bodies are not ready and b) you need really good relationship skills to do so without hurting anyone. If you find your child is doing a lot of pants down exploring than they might just require a bit more supervised play time for a while so they don’t have opportunities to play this game.
How to proceed:
Check your own values and beliefs. What makes you uncomfortable, why? What beliefs do you want to pass on to your kids. And which do you want to change?
Start early with dialogue and books. Normalize the conversation and make it OK to ask questions - any questions. As our kids get older they will naturally start to seek out information. We can’t count on the schools to cover it all and we definitely can’t count on playground from peers. We need to establish early on with our children that questions are normal, and ok and it is safe to ask us anytime.
Make sure you aren’t observing kid motivations through adult eyes.
Kids are not sexualized yet. Their intent is not sexual. Their intent, most often, is curiosity. If you see something happening, like your child touching themselves, or two kids showing each other their genitals - try not to see this with your adult glasses. Invite yourself to imagine what their kid perspective is. What are they are trying to learn or do? Are they trying to gross each other out? Are they just curious what different bodies look like? The more you can find out about their thinking and their curiosity, the better able you are to get the right information for them.
If you walk in on something don’t freak out. Take a deep breath and practice your neutral face. This is totally normal. Interrupt the activity and ask everyone to put their clothes on. Get curious about their motivations. What were they trying to see or learn about? Then offer alternatives and better sources of information. Let them know that:
Bodies are fascinating and it’s totally normal to have questions about them
The best way to learn about bodies is to talk to a trusted adult and to read books together
We need to respect people’s bodies. It’s not ok to look at or touch other people’s genitals because we might hurt them.
Touching your own body can feel really nice. It is ok to do this in a private place when we are alone.
When we freak out we send the message that something bad and wrong is happening here. When we stay neutral we let them know that there is nothing crazy to react to but we don’t let the activity continue.
If you don’t know the answer - let them know. If you feel awkward admit it.
Kids can sense when we feel uncomfortable with something. The best approach is to put your cards on the table. You can say something like “You know, nobody ever really taught me about this stuff when I was little, or if they did, they made me feel bad about it so sometimes I get a little uncomfortable - but I want you to feel totally safe and comfortable asking me questions about this topic. If I don’t know the answer to something we will look it up together.”
Get some Resources
I probably raised more questions than I answered here. But it’s a start. Send me your questions. I would love to hear them.
Also, there are so many books about sexuality - you can start reading about bodies and the birds and the bees with your 2 year old. Comment below and I’ll happily send you my recommendations.
Book an in-home workshop. Gather your parent crew together for a night of wine and puberty 101. I’ll cover everything you need to know about sexuality appropriate to the ages of your kids, and give you scripts and tools to open up the dialogue in your home.
Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.
That’s all for today.
The Happy V