The important thing you're forgetting when talking to your kids about sex

Rachel Grumman Bender
Writer
It’s important for parents to go beyond the mechanics of how babies are made when talking about sex. (Photo: Getty Images)

Like many dutiful parents who want to protect their kids and raise empowered little people, I’ve made sure that my young daughters already know the proper names for their private parts (no cutesy euphemisms here) and that they understand the basic mechanics of how babies are made (if you ask them, they will tell you that a sperm and an egg need to meet to make a baby). I’ve taught them — and will continue to teach them — that their body belongs to them. And my husband and I don’t force our girls to hug or kiss anyone they don’t want to. But it’s not enough.

A friend of mine recently shared a woman’s powerful #MeToo story about how she was repeatedly date-raped by her boyfriend in high school and how, years later as a mom herself, that’s affected how she raises her own daughter and son. Nicole Blaine — who despite the serious subject of her post is a standup comedian — is raising her son to be a “GENTLEman,” as she puts it, and is teaching her daughter that no one is allowed to touch her body without her permission. In her post on RealMomDaily.com, Blaine talks about how, when she was a teenager and enduring this abuse from her boyfriend (including forced blow jobs that badly bruised the back of her throat and regularly caused her to throw up), no one ever talked to her about how sex wasn’t supposed to feel like that.

In the blog, Blaine writes, “Throughout high school, my vagina is raw, dry, and bleeds during and after sex. Adrian is very rough. I can’t say no, no matter how much pain I’m in. He tells me this is what being in a relationship is, and this is my first relationship. He’s older than me, he obviously knows best, and besides, no one’s ever told me differently. My mom taught me about the birds and the bees when I was a child, how procreation worked on a scientific level, and that, to quote my favorite Schwarzenegger movie, ‘Boys have a penis, and girls have a vagina,’ but I don’t remember discussing how we should respect each other when it comes to sex, or that a girl’s vagina isn’t meant to act as a punching bag for a boy’s penis.”

As a woman, and as a mom in particular, reading Blaine’s story hit me like a ton of bricks. It made me realize that I was teaching my young daughters only half of the lesson when it comes to sex and empowerment. Yes, it’s good that my daughters already know what their vulva is and understand how babies are made, but when they’re a bit older, they also need to know that sex — when they’ve found a loving, caring person to share it with and are mature enough — should feel good. It shouldn’t be painful or forced or humiliating or one-sided or leave them with a bad feeling in their gut.

Not explaining that last part — when your children are at an appropriate age — is leaving out something essential: that they deserve to experience pleasure, and also that it’s important for them to have a partner who cares for and respects them.

“Parents are so uncomfortable when it comes to talking to their kids about sexuality, and when they finally do, what they primarily focus on are the mechanics and not to get STDs,” child and adolescent psychologist Barbara Greenberg tells Yahoo Lifestyle.

“An important part of this is that sex and physical contact are one of the really lovely parts of life,” says Greenberg. “Sex is supposed to be pleasurable, consensual, soothing, and connecting.”

My girls are still too little for me to get into the pleasure part just yet, but Blaine’s impactful story has left me mentally earmarking that important conversation for the future.

That said, even young kids — both boys and girls — aren’t too young to start learning about consent. Greenberg recommends keeping it simple and age-appropriate for children. “When they’re young, you teach them ‘my body, my rules,’” she says. “Nobody should touch you if you don’t want to be touched, and that includes family members, teachers, babysitters, and even trusted others in your life.”

Greenberg recommends presenting your kids with different scenarios — such as the difference between your pediatrician touching you during a physical examination and, say, a friend’s father, even if he says he’s a doctor. And then talk about why they’re different and ways to respond. When they’re older, you can focus those talks about consent around romantic relationships.

Body autonomy doesn’t pertain only to girls. As Greenberg points out, “Young boys get touched inappropriately too. We often forget about the boys. What I see in my practice when the boys have been molested, there’s a lot more shame and they’re a lot more reluctant to talk about it. At an early age, talk about how they too have power over their bodies and should give people permission.”

She adds, “First you teach boys they should respect their own bodies. And then you get into it with them that they need permission to touch somebody. Just as you want to be honored, you honor others.”

As for Blaine, sharing her story was a vulnerable experience, but she sees it as part of her healing process. When asked if she could give advice to her younger self, this is what she said: “If I could time-travel and talk to my younger self, I’d beg her to break up with him,” she shares with Yahoo Lifestyle. “I’d promise her that being alone isn’t as painful as being raped. High school is better spent with friends than with abusive boyfriends. A romantic relationship is supposed to feel good, in every way; in your heart, your head, and in your body. I’d promise her that the ‘right guy’ will come, and to hang in there. Because he is most certainly worth the wait.”

She hopes that her candid post motivates people to have those tough conversations with their children. “Sex talks can be so hard and uncomfortable with kids, but they are certainly worth it if they end up saving someone from sexual assault or abuse. When it is age-appropriate, I will open up to both my son and daughter about my past abuse and how it felt. I will make sure that they understand what love is supposed to feel like. And if I talk to them early enough, I will plant these healthy seeds and ideas so that when they get older, and might be too uncomfortable to open up to me, they will remember what we discussed and have the strength to make the best decisions.”

Blaine’s own mom, who had no idea that her daughter was going through this during high school and learned about it through the essay, wrote a heartbreaking comment on Blaine’s post. “I never knew this….my heart is breaking for all your years of silence… Your pain. Your shame. Your abuse. Your secrets. I should have known….but I didn’t. I wonder why? How I failed in so many ways. Ways I never even knew? I am so sorry…. I don’t know where to even go with this.”

The next time Blaine saw her mom, they didn’t speak of it. “But at the end of the day together, she grabbed me, pulled me in for a hug, and whispered, ‘I love you.’”

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