Updated: Nov 1, 2021
I am by no means an expert, but to me, sex-positivity means the ability to embrace your sexuality as a normal, natural part of life and self. This includes respecting others’ sexual practices, preferences, and attitudes, as long as they involve consent among all parties. But more importantly, it means viewing your own body and your health with respect and love.
For many of us, sex was NOT discussed when we were growing up. Personally, my parents made it VERY clear that the only thing we needed to know about sex was that we were not to engage in it until we were married. And genitalia were NEVER to be mentioned. So the messages that I received about my body and my sexuality were that I was to ignore all of it, never talk about it, and to fear it. Virginity was sacred and to be protected at all costs, and burgeoning sexual feelings were to be suppressed.
As an insecure people-pleaser, I saw value in my body and sexuality only through the eyes of the boys who pursued me. I engaged in any and all sexual activity that was NOT vaginal intercourse, because, you know--virginity. Did I give consent? Yeah, pretty much. Sexual contact felt good to me, and I wanted it, but I also felt considerable guilt. I wholeheartedly acknowledge that I entered several situations that, could have had a decidedly different outcome, and I am immensely grateful that they didn’t.
And I don’t think that my experience is that uncommon.
As a pelvic floor physical therapist, I work with many people who have had a range of traumatic experiences related to sex and their bodies, from sexual assault to highly internalized negative attitudes about sex and sexuality. And as a mom of 2 boys, I am acutely aware that children need and deserve to have a solid foundation of self-confidence and love to help them navigate the confusing world of sexual relationships.
And so, I humbly offer a few tips for parents to help develop a more sex-positive household.
Examine your own thoughts and beliefs about sex and sexuality. Our kids are always watching, listening, looking to us for answers. We need to know where we stand, and whether we might need to do some internal work to be able to navigate these conversations respectfully.
Use anatomical terms when talking about genitals. You don’t need to insert penis and vulva into casual conversation, but if your child expresses interest in their genitals, help them understand that they are just as much, and as NORMAL, a part of their body as their hand or belly button.
When you are able to, respect your children’s bodily autonomy. If Aunt Frieda asks Jimmy for a kiss and he says no, help enforce that. This helps build the foundation for consent.
Be honest. Our kids aren’t looking to us for all the answers--at least, not as they get older. In my house, we are entering the teenager “know it all” stage, haha! But they are looking for support, and it is important that we meet them where they are without judgment, and without feeling the need to “know it all.” Which leads me to:
Have resources available if your kids are curious and would like to learn more. You don’t have to have all the answers and your kids might feel just as awkward talking to you as you do talking to them. This can be books, podcasts, shows, trusted adults, etc. I am beginning to put together a resource list to build my own knowledge.
I hope that this helps to begin, or to deepen, the conversation you may be having with your family members about sexuality. Like it or not, our kiddos are growing up. We cherish their curiosity about the world, so let’s not forget that sex, sexuality, and body parts will be normal, natural objects of curiosity. Let’s help nurture this, and support the formation of sex-positivity.