Talking to children: Sex, masturbation, homosexuality

One of my friends has been urging me to write more parenting blogs.  She has been particularly keen for me to write about how I discuss masturbation with my daughter.  While we were having a general conversation about sex and the body masturbation came up, and here is how it went.

Daughter:  “I sometimes touch myself there.”

Me:  “Yeah, it’s a bit like picking your nose.  Everyone does it, but no one talks about it.”

That was it.

However, for the sake of having a slightly longer blog post here are my own personal rules for talking to my child about sex.  Please note, these are my own rules based on my own world view and personal circumstances – they won’t necessarily fit yours.  I’m not a doctor, psychiatrist or an expert.  You don’t have to follow them, or even agree.  No one is forcing you to read any further…

  1.  Let the child lead.  Children’s job is pretty much to discover the world and what place they want to take in it.  They are always learning and absorbing information.  Generally they will ask for the information when they are ready for it or need to know it.  With my daughter, who adores babies, all the questions started with “How do you get babies?”  “How do babies come out?” etc.  The trick is to answer honestly, but without being dogmatic.  Use tact, kindness, flexibility and compassion.  With this method by the time my daughter got to seven she’d put it all together herself and found it “Gross!”  A completely age appropriate response.  It all happened naturally because information hadn’t been either thrust upon her when she wasn’t ready, or withheld from her when she was.
  2. Make consent part of the talk.  I believe that talk about consent is necessary and vital with children.  However it can be a tricky one to negotiate.  I love the NSPCC underwear rule.  It’s a very helpful website, with loads of advice for parents so you don’t have to do the tricky stuff all on your own.
  3. It’s a continual conversation. Learning about your own body and sex is not something that happens once and never again. My daughters questions started when she was three, and they’re still going.  I believe that both gender and sexual orientation are fluid, which means discussion should be fluid.   I feel as a parent this also takes the pressure off me.  If I phrase something badly, I can come back to it.  If I realise I could have explained something better, I’ve not blown the only chance to get it right.  As your child grows, so will their personal boundaries and knowledge.  It’s important to adjust to those changes, and let the child lead.  It’s kind of like a slow dance.  I think of parenting as being a bit like Tai Chi.
  4. Talking about homosexuality.  “Some boys like to hold hands and kiss boys.  Some girls like to hold hands and kiss girls.”  My daughter has pretty much accepted this at face value.  It also helps that we watch TV together with openly gay characters.  We were both quite gripped by the Alec/Magnus, will-they-won’t-they story line in Shadowhunters.  When we talk about the future I try to include lines like “When you have a boyfriend or girlfriend you might…”  Although I have to fess up and say that giving these signals to my daughter, that whomever she becomes is ok with me, isn’t my strong suit.  Growing up in a homophobic household and hetronormative society takes a while to break down. I do need to improve on this.
  5. Children follow your emotional ques. If you think something is scary, and you model it being scary in your behaviour, your children will find it scary.  If you are confident in an area of your life, it’s likely your children will pick up on that confidence and feel the same way.  The same is true for sex, if you talk about it in a relaxed way that makes it a normal healthy part of everyday life, this is the que your child will take from you.  It’s not quite so cut and dried though.  Emotions are messy, slippery little things, that jump out on you and surprise you, and get all tangled up in each other.  Being an adult is absolutely no guarantee that you will always model the best emotional behaviour in every conversation and interaction your child observes.  If you think it does, you are probably in some very deep form of denial.  Two phrases I say to my daughter “I’m sorry,” and “I realise I could have done that better”.  Both have the plus side of also showing your child it’s ok and forgiveable to make mistakes, and to learning how to adjust behaviour is a normal thing.
  6. Make yourself a safe space.  It’s my belief that the main role of being a parent is to make yourself a safe space for your child.  If they know they can come to you with anything and they will not be judged, or ridiculed or punished, then they will.  This is really important when it comes to sex.  Children are negotiating a tougher world than the one I grew up in.  You can never protect your child from the world, but you can give them the tools to deal with it, and a safe haven where they can rest.  When they are older, if you’ve mainly done it right, they may even forgive you for the parenting mistakes you’re bound to make.

Happy parenting!

 

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