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Music lyrics have power. How do you talk with your kids about music lyrics?

It’s More Like “Girl Crash!”

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Yesterday my daughters, ages 6 and 11, and I were driving down the road on our way to a doctor’s appointment about 50 miles away. I flipped through radio stations on the way, stopping when something met our fancy. At one point I landed on a station and heard an unfamiliar melody sung by a smooth female voice. I stopped and listened.

Frequently I can listen to an entire song and focus so intently on the music, the voice, or the harmony line that I completely miss the lyrics. For whatever reason, this time I caught the words.

Music lyrics have power. How do you talk with your kids about music lyrics?

The song was Girl Crush, and I suppose I was somewhere in the middle of the second verse when I clued in to the fact that this song was about Girl A who envied Girl B because Girl B was with a boy that Girl A wanted. I think I had just gotten to the following part.

“I want to drown myself

In a bottle of her perfume.

I want her long blonde hair.

I want her magic touch.

Yeah, ‘cause maybe then

You’d want me just as much.”

I’d like to say something really intelligent and insightful came out of my mouth at this point, but that would be a lie. Instead I blurted, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!” and clicked to a different station. Then the 11 year old voice in the back seat said, “No kidding! I was thinking the same thing.”

Whoa, I didn’t realize she’d been listening, taking all of that nonsense in. The immediate image that came to mind was of the Sirens. You know, the sultry crooning mythological creatures who lure you with their sweet song until you’re shipwrecked on their island and you meet your ultimate demise. We were lulled by a pretty song and drifted lazily along until we snapped to and saw the sharp rocks ahead.

                        “I got it real bad,

                        Want everything she has…

                        I don’t get no sleep.

                        I don’t get no peace.”

 

No! No! No! Hell to the nah!

I’ve got an eleven year old girl in the backseat. She starts junior high next year. I don’t want her drowning herself in anything, much less some other girl’s identity. My mind started racing, processing all the things that were wrong with this picture.

I want my daughters to be able to admire and respect other people without desiring to become them. It’s a good thing to be able to appreciate another person’s talent or beauty, but recognizing that another person has some positive attributes should happen in conjunction with recognizing your own talent and beauty. “They have it all, and I have nothing” is a messed up equation. It’s not balanced and we aren’t studying that kind of math. The idea of shape shifting into someone else’s image so you can be “good enough” or “acceptable” is not where we want to go.

Not to mention, the attributes that are touted as desirable for adoption in the song all had to do with physical appearance or sexual prowess. And, the tone of the whole darn thing was acquisitional. (i.e. “How can I acquire her long blonde hair, her magic touch, her whisper, so the guy will want to acquire me?”)

Yuck! I don’t want my daughters to view themselves as a commodity to be marketed. Likewise, I don’t want them to buy in to some caricature of masculinity that suggests men only chase blondes with magic fingers and throaty whispers.

I get that the song probably wasn’t written with an 11-year-old audience in mind, but that song wafted through the speakers of my Kia Sorento carried on the waves of a Top-40 station. I guarantee when she walks into junior high in a few weeks, 90% of the 6th grade will have heard it. I wondered just how far the song had burrowed into her brain, so this morning I asked her if she remembered the song we heard on the radio yesterday. Her response: “You mean the one about the girl wanting to drown herself in some other girl’s perfume and steal her blonde hair?”

            Yep, that’s the one.

So, here’s what we’re gonna do. My husband and I can’t shield her from the reality that our society depicts and encourages images of people and relationships that we find to be inaccurate and unhealthy. We can use some of society’s distortion as a starting point for a conversation in which we share our perceptions about healthy women and men. We can ask questions about the underlying assumptions that would inspire a person to create a song like that, and then we can share our foundational beliefs about people’s worth and identity.

My hope is that conversations like this when my daughter is 11 will prevent her from polluting the airwaves with songs like this when she’s a young adult.

Practical tips for talking about gender roles with your kids

Getting Social: A Gender Neutral Dialogue

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In the world we live, there is a constant sliding scale that is our social evolvement. In social evolution, not all of us are at the same place, there are many factors, background, exposure, education just being a few. This is an exciting time to be a parent, as many social issues are coming to the forefront, and that sliding scale is moving forward for many. It is a perfect time to start a dialogue now with your kids about social justice, and discuss issues, like gender, race, equality and consent. Our children are not only advocates for the future, but also advocates for change now. This is the first part in a series of articles about the discussions of social justice with my kids.

Practical tips for talking about gender roles with your kids

MY BEGINNINGS WITH GENDER NEUTRAL PARENTING:

First of all, there are many, many misgivings on gender-neutral parenting: (discussed here.) As a kid, I liked Boy George, and Depeche Mode, and wore earrings, and even once had my naval pierced. It never seemed odd to me, but it did seem odd to others in West Texas.

When I became a parent, the phrase ‘gender-neutral’ was not at all on my radar. As I continue the process of parenting, I have learned a lot. I hope to raise my kids in an environment that encourages freedom for personal growth, period. Wait, that lacks emphasis, I guess I should type it in all caps: FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION. PERIOD.

Many things we do, without even thinking about them, encourage gender stereotypes.

Girls: We talk more to them. We compliment them, how they look, how pretty they are. Words we use: cute, pretty, princess, sweetie, cupcake, etc.

Boys: We talk about their future conquests, how they could end up as the next linebacker for The Cowboys, how they are so tough, no one will mess with them.   Words we use: heartbreaker, lady killer, or the less insidious but equally divisive; athletic, strong, wild, brute.

ELSA SPARKS A DIALOGUE 

So, let’s go into when I realized I needed to have this dialogue. Way way back in the Frozen –crazed days of 2014 (shudder: I swore I’d never speak of them), there was an argument in our house:

My daughter tells my son: “You can’t be Elsa, she’s a girl, you can be Sven.”

This was a pretty telling statement, 1. That gender trumped species, (though to be honest, my 3 year and Sven share similar eating – and likely, hygiene habits.) 2. There was an understanding that in play, boys were boys and girls were girls, regardless of species even. That’s when I started to be more aware of the gender-controlled world we live in.

Just after the SCOTUS decision on gay marriage, I talked with my daughter about love and gender.

Me: Adelaide, do you think that men can love men and women can love women, like I love your mom?

A:  Yeah, I know that.

Me: What do you think of that?

A: I like it. Wait, Do you mean like mommies and daddies?

Me: Well yeah. Some families have a mommy and daddy like you, some have 2 daddies, some have 2 mommies. 

A: Aww, how sweet.

Me: Yeah, 2 men and 2 women can love each other, and can have families, just like a man and a woman can. But not everyone likes that. Some people don’t think that people of the same gender
should be married.

A: That’s so mean of them. I think they should be married.

Me: I agree with you, and so does the law now. I think that love is love, and it doesn’t matter what gender you are.

Adelaide smiles in agreement.


But a couple days later, it was a harder discussion about clothes and toys:

Me: Adelaide, do you think there are some clothes just for girls?

A: Ummm, dresses, and skirts.

Me: Do you know that in some places, boys and men wear something called kilts?

We look it up on google images.

A: That’s only in pretend land.

Me: Let me ask you this, is it OK for you to wear boys clothes?

A: I can wear what Asher wears. Pants and shorts and shirts.

Me: Ok, so, can he wear what you wear?

A: No, silly, boys don’t wear pink.

Me: I wear pink.

A: Well, my teacher said boys don’t wear girl’s stuff, and she knows everything.

This helped me realize that there are lots of influences that a child has, and I’m only one of them. In many classrooms, there definitely exists very specific gender lines and roles – that go along with toys, dress up clothes and even class jobs. Getting to know them is part of being an advocate for your child, and will help in your continued dialogue.

Me: What about pretend play? Is it OK to pretend to be a boy or a girl?

A: yes. I like to pretend I am a boy –I’m Batman (in a gruff, and surprisingly accurate Lego Batman voice)

Me: And your brother?

A: Yes. He likes to be me, and play with my toys.

Me: You like that he likes to be you? (shocked)

A: Yes… sometimes – as long as he doesn’t copy.

BUILDING PARENTING WINS – 1 VIRTUAL LEGO AT A TIME

So, we had this proud parenting moment in our house recently when playing The Lego Movie video game. In the game, you can switch between a wide assortment of Lego characters and superheroes.

She felt an affinity for Batman, while she was curious about Wonder Woman, she decided she definitely preferred Batman. She ran around the house for days saying “I’m Batman!” in legit Batman voice. It made us happy that our daughter didn’t feel she HAD to be Wonder Woman, just because Wonder Woman happens to identify as Wonder Woman.

I know some people that I know would stop her if they heard, and correct her “You can be batgirl. Haven’t you heard of her?” She also wants to be Batman for Halloween. Boom.

DSC_1133

 

(Wanna have some fun? If you have both a girl and a boy, challenge them to get dressed in each other’s closet. It is a guaranteed good time. It seemed they felt like they were breaking the rules that society already set- and we all know breaking the rules feels really good.

EMOTIONS ARE FOR GIRLS AND WORK IS FOR BOYS

I have accepted that I will never have the communication skills of my wife. For instance, she can go into such detail explaining what happened during her day on the drive home from school. I have trouble mustering a 4 word statement to explain my day. “Good” or “Not bad” will usually be all I can muster. I am aware of this, and really try at it. But growing up as a male, I don’t think society challenged me to develop my communication skills.

I want both of my children to learn to deal with their emotions and communicate better than I have myself. So far so good, as Asher already is able to recognize and express his emotions more quickly than his 5 year old sister.

Ash: I’m mad

Me: You’re mad? What are you mad about?

Ash: I wanted to close the car door and jump out.

Me: Did you ask?

Ash: No.

Pauses for effect and stares at me.

Can I close the car door and jump out?

Me: Sure, just reverse the order.

At just 3 he is able to express his feelings so well, and communicate them to me, I have a lot to learn from him.

Emotions are not girl stuff. It’s life stuff. Learning how to handle your emotions is going to be pivotal in our child’s lives, and in their relationships the rest of their lives. Why would we prepare our daughters for heartbreak and conflict, but not our sons?

What’s your son going to do when he suffers his first breakup? What is he going to do when he has a conflict at work? “toughen up” is no longer an acceptable strategy.

It’s important that our kids understand their emotions, and have productive, helpful strategies to get through the big and powerful ones.

Breathing exercises have been great for our family, and we practice often when we’re happy. And sure, sometimes, when she is especially mad at me, my daughter chooses to hold her breath.

PRACTICAL LIFE SKILLS ARE FOR EVERYONE

Asher loves to help cook. And he has always wanted to “put back” whatever he is playing with. Montessori schooling only tells part of the story, Adelaide on the other hand would rather do anything but cook or clean. She will occasionally spread her bed, or put clothes away, but only ever under duress. Asher doesn’t mind, ever. And he loves to do dishes.

Oh how I wait for the day when kids are doing work independently around the house, cooking, dishes, trash, and, dare I say it: laundry. It is hard to believe there was a time when laundry was thought of as girls work. Learning how to cook, to clean after yourself, to take care of things, these are life skills. How did anyone make it without this crucial training? My wife will tell you these people just found someone else to do the work for them. Ahem. But if we want to raise independent, capable, confident little humans, how can household chores be skipped?


Giving our kids the opportunities to be themselves, enjoy a wide variety of things – instead of just boy and just girl things is a great start. But I encourage you to start a dialogue with your kids, about their thoughts on all this boy/girl stuff.

 

 

Resources for talking with your kids about transgender

Let’s Talk about Sex(uality): Transgender

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Resources for talking with your kids about transgender

Unless you’re off the grid, unplugged or under a rock, somewhere on your feed, in your paper or on your television, the news of former Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner openly living as Caitlyn Jenner appeared.

Maybe you watched the Diane Sawyer interview (I haven’t) or read the Vanity Fair cover story. (I’ve skimmed it.)

I have not bathed in the details because of my mixed feelings. To be clear, these feelings aren’t about Jenner being transgender. Parts of her 65 years of life break my heart. I don’t want to be a gawker. I’d like her and everyone else to live life authentically without judgement, discrimination and objectification. Ironically, living her life publicly, may pave the way for others to live authentically.

Talking to our kids

Maybe you’re wondering how to talk to kids about transgender. That’s why I’m writing this. But, first, I decided to go to the source. My almost-teen boy.

“So, what do you think about Bruce, now Caitlyn Jenner?”

“I don’t care. Doesn’t matter to me she’s a woman now.”

“Biologically, she’s not a woman.” Inside, I’m happy-dancing he used the feminine pronoun. We’d talked about transgender transitions a few days ago – including the anatomy details.

Boy, attempting to walk away and escape this conversation, fingers in ears, “Whatever. She feels like a woman, looks like a woman. I’m okay with that.”

Me, grabbing his arm, “What if it was your father?”

Boy, stopped in his steps as wheels turn in his brain, “Later, I’m outta here,” – as in ‘later dad, been nice knowing you.’

“Why is that so different?”

“That’s my dad, now he’d be my mom.” Enter gender roles, norms, society, etc.

“It wouldn’t change that he’d fathered you,” I explain. His fingers go for the ears.

“Relax. I’m not gonna talk about sex. Get those fingers out of your ears.

“He’d still be your biological father. Would that change? All of the things he’s been to you? Would it change your love for him?” I pelted him with questions.

transgender_quiz4.0“Well, no. What would I call him or her or …?” He’s concerned with practicalities.

“Dude, that’s simple, you’d ask, ‘Hey, what do I call you?’”

“Ok. That’s easy,” Problem solved, he turns to walk away. “I’ve got to feed horses. Later mom. I love you,” And that was as much as he offered. He was done.

Ever the persistent teacher, I add, “Really, you know, lots of things affect someone’s gender,” I follow him across the room pointing to the Genderbread Person “…biologically their anatomy:  you know penis, vagina, etc.; who they’re attracted to; who they feel……..” and with that, his 12-year-old brain hit Charlie Brown overload. The door opened and shut.

There you have it. Not the first time we broached it, and not the last. (I will finish explaining the Genderbread Person, come hell or high water.) In one way or another, we’d discussed sexuality, gender, and more, since he was born. What began with calling a penis a penis, continues with things that influence gender. To borrow from my favorite author: so it goes.

Genderbread-Person-3.3
There’s a lot of information in this one graphic. It’s nearly overload. That’s ok. Just consider it. We’ll talk about it in another post. Another day. No quiz.

More on transgender

Imagine attending a gala honoring your best friend: tux, and gowns required. No matter how long you look in your closet, there’s no tux. Not even a ball gown. (Hey, you’re flexible that way.) There are corduroy pants, an 80’s tie and a worn oxford shirt. She’s your best friend. She doesn’t care. She wants you there. Clad in corduroys you spend the evening feeling out of place. You leave, depressed about never fitting in. You feel worthless and judge yourself the way you believe everyone judged you. Imagine this feeling every day of your life. Every day for 65 years. That’s 23, 725 days. 569,400 hours. 34,164,000 minutes.

I’ll never know for sure, I imagine this is sort of what it feels like to be transgender – when you feel like a girl but your physical body screams boy! or vice versa. I’d guess the actual feelings are much worse. Like wearing corduroys to the gala – similar feelings on steroids and exponentially multiplied.

It’s accepted that most people form their gender identities by the time they’re 3 years old. If how they feel is aligned with their biological bodies – that’s cisgender.

For those who are transgender, born with one biological body and identifying as another, it’s the beginning of those “not fitting in” feelings. Society expects them to fulfill specific gender roles based on those physical bodies – regardless of how they feel inside. You get the picture. Maybe you begin to understand why 41% of transgender individuals attempt suicide and why more than 30% of LGBTQ youth reported at least one suicide attempt within the last year and more than 50% of transgender youth attempt suicide at least once by their 20th birthday. LGBTQ youth are twice, TWICE as likely to attempt suicide than their hetereosexual peers. Not to mention the increased likelihood of being victims of bullying and violence.

It’s hard to find an analogy to explain the intricacies of gender to my kids. It’s not perfect, but it’s an opening to compare it to eye color.* You’re born with the color of your eyes. You can’t change it. You can wear different clothes may bring out one color or another. You can buy colored contacts. At the end of the day, you’re still blue-eyed, but you’re so much more than just your eyes.

At the end of my day, I want my children (and the world, because I dare to dream big) to treat others with kindness, respect and compassion. I want us all to see the whole person – not only eyes, gender or sexuality. We are all so much more than a sum of our parts.

I want a world where Caitlyn Jenner doesn’t have adult children before being authentic. There is a poignancy in my son’s response to, “What if it were your dad?” The answer is different when it shouldn’t be. Suddenly, it’s real. It’s got to be challenging, maybe even painful for Jenner’s children. How much better would it have been if she could’ve been herself all along? The truth is, she’ll never know. Hopefully, her very public steps now pave the way for future walks of others. Not only for transgender individuals, but for those who love and support them.

So, this is way more than your basic sex ed. Or, is it?

Many of us talk with our kids about the physical act of sex. Some of us start young. As a former sexuality educator, I believe starting early and continuing the dialogue throughout childhood and into adulthood is where it’s at. The “act” of sex is a small part of a large ongoing dialogue. Like putting gas in a car is a small part of driving. It’s not the whole story. A solid foundation comes in handy when things like Jenner’s transformation take center stage over floods, wars, and earthquakes. (I’m looking at you fracking.)

Society, as a whole, recently started defining gender. Our understanding is new. Understanding leads to empathy and compassion. As Sam Killermann said, “Gender is something we all learn about as kids, but we learn a very limited concept of a concept that’s truly unlimited. ” When we consider about 40 years ago homosexuality was classified as an illness, we realize we’ve come a long way. I’m here to tell you, there are miles to go before we sleep.

How do you talk about these things with your children? Let me know in the comments. In the future, I hope to post more on gender, sexuality, and conversations with our children.

Here are some resources you may find helpful. Not all are perfect, but they’re all a good start:

18 Books to Teach Kids About the LGBT Experience

Great info for parents, educators, guardians, etc.

The Genderbread Person and more

Teaching Tolerance: The Gender Spectrum

Some jumping off questions for discussing gender stereotypes

Transgender

Parenting and Family: The Gender Spectrum

*Most experts believe there are many influences on our gender.

One Father's Desire for His Daughter's Equality

A Father for Feminism

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One Father's Desire for His Daughter's Equality

I have made that joke about the shotgun. You know, someone says to the father that his daughter is beautiful or that she’s growing up fast or that she’ll be a heartbreaker, and the father smiles knowingly and says, yeah, he’s already shopping for shotguns. He’ll spend his daughter’s teenage years sitting on the porch and cleaning the sucker all day, just to make sure every boy who comes by sees him.

Because, of course, a daughter is a father’s property and he needs to protect his property from being stolen and potentially defiled by another man.

by Gabriel Amadeus © 2012
by Gabriel Amadeus © 2012

Not such a great joke when it’s put in those terms, is it?

But I’ve made the joke. Multiple times. Because I don’t always think before I try to be funny. And because, while I want my daughter to grow into a strong woman who loves deeply and who experiences life fully, I am afraid of the men who will, indeed, attempt to treat her like property.

Almost every culture throughout the world oppresses women. Our culture is not nearly as bad as some but that doesn’t mean our culture doesn’t have a lot of work to do. American fathers don’t make jokes about needing a shotgun when their sons come of age. We assume our sons will be mostly fine. I want a world in which we can assume our daughters will be mostly fine too.

I have a strategy for this. And a metaphor.

Fathers: Feminism is our shotgun.

I know. Feminism is a loaded word (pun unavoidable). But it’s the right word because it means creating a culture where women have the same opportunities as men. Unfortunately, too many men see the current lopsided distribution of power as “the natural order of things” and thus perceive any attempt to level the playing field as an attack upon men. Children who horde all the toys also tend to see a request that they share as an attack. Temper tantrums ensue. Which is to say: I recognize my choice of the word feminism can create a certain amount of discord. Nevertheless, I’m committed to both the word and the principle.

I want my daughter to be strong. I want her to be independent. I want her to be resilient. And yet there is only so far personal initiative can take someone. Eventually, we all face obstacles that are not in our control. This is part of life, of course. But what’s unfair—what’s harmful to our society—is that, on the whole, women face more obstacles than men thanks to the long history and the continued prevalence of men intimidating, denigrating and injuring women.

I can’t list all the ways and all the places this happens. In my attempt to do so, this essay ballooned to 6,000 words and I was still only in the preamble. But I will say this: the first thing I worry about is sexual assault, because my daughter will be threatened by that possibility the moment she is old enough to date or so much as attend a party. And that threat will restrict her choices and her options in ways that will make her life less free and less enjoyable than the lives being led by the young men around her.

by Steven Depolo ©2013
by Steven Depolo ©2013

While we cannot expect a world free of people who harm others, can’t we at least expect a world where college-aged men don’t sexually assault their fellow students? Can’t we at least work toward raising our sons so that, when a young man comes to pick up my daughter, she (and I) can be sure he respects her fully and that she is in no more danger from him than any young man might be from a young woman?

Feminism is not just about raising our girls to be strong. It’s about raising our boys to respect and support our girls. That’s what I mean about feminism being our shotgun. The only way to dramatically lower the instances of sexual assault on young women without confining those young women to a life of limited liberty is to stop our boys from growing up to be the type of men who intimidate, denigrate and/or injure women.

I don’t claim this to be an easy task. A few talks about respecting women won’t cut it. Boys have to be raised from the get-go to view women as equals. And to do this, fathers must themselves be feminists, treating all women as equal and engaging in none of the women-demeaning banter often engaged in by men. Those demeaning words we hear (c— and b—- and wh—), they teach boys and young men that women should be denigrated whenever they don’t behave exactly as a man might like. And calling a boy slang terms for female genitalia or accusing him of acting/throwing/running like a girl teaches him that women are lesser than men and that being a woman means being something unworthy of respect. And I won’t even go into the myriad of ways men refer to sex as if it’s a conquest, except to say that if you believe sex is a conquest, then you, at heart, believe sex is a battle. Is it no surprise that some men raised this way will resort to coercion and even violence in order to “win”?

I know this essay is incomplete. I need a 100,000 more words with links to a 100,000,000 more words from other people. But I’d rather be incomplete than silent.

Father and Daughter

We fear for the safety of our children. We fear accident and disease and dumb mistakes and car crashes and drownings and falls and so much more. Unfortunately, we can’t remove all of our fears. But that doesn’t mean we have to accept a culture that makes us fear more for our daughters than for our sons. We shouldn’t have to consider shotguns on the porch. We shouldn’t even feel the need to joke about their usefulness.

I believe, with work, we can build a culture where our daughters are as safe and free as our sons. But we fathers will have to contribute to that work. We will have to be feminists.

 

Parenting Resources for Sexual Assault

20 Parenting Resources for Sexual Assault Awareness

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Parenting Resources for Sexual AssaultIt’s difficult raising sexually ethical kids. The world moves fast and our kids are exposed to lots of images and information. As parents, we’re at an advantage if we have an open and honest dialogue with our kids about sexuality.

Check out the resources we put together to help you, in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.


Raising Sexually Ethical Children

Talking with your kids about sexuality may not come naturally to you. Even if it does, unless you are a sexuality educator, you probably need help getting all the details straight and sequencing when to say what. Check out these resources:

This Woman Just Explained Consent with the Most Perfect Metaphor

“Do you want a cup of tea?” Check out how  explains consent. Just substitute ice cream and get rid of the expletives and the metaphor works for kids, too.

Teaching Sexual Consent – One French Fry at a Time

Sex. French Fries. Kids. How early childhood boundaries lay the foundation for understanding sexual consent later in life.

A Letter to My Son for Sexual Assault Awareness Month

Sometimes parents have to break tradition from how their parents did it. Read this mom’s hopes about how she can do things differently with her son and develop an open dialogue about human sexuality.

This is What Sex Positive Parenting Really Looks Like

“As parents, we lie all the time. About the Easter Bunny or Santa or the Tooth Fairy, about how long 10 minutes is, about whether or not we remembered they wanted to have grilled cheese for dinner again… We lie a lot. But one thing I never lie about is sex.

I don’t want them to grow up ashamed of their bodies or confused about what they do. I don’t tell them about cabbage patches or storks; I make an effort, always, to be honest about human reproduction. Every aspect of it.”

From Diapers to Dating

Written by a sex educator, this is a practical, step-by-step guide for helping parents provide accurate information and communicate their own values to their children.

Secrets to Surviving Your Child’s Sexual Development

If you’ve ever tried to tell your six-year-old how babies are made or your fourteen-year-old how condoms work, you know that grappling with telling your kids about sex can be a sweat-drenched exercise. But it doesn’t have to be.

This is a one-of-a-kind survival guide that will help you stay sane through every stage of your child’s sexual development.

Top 10 Sex Ed Books for the Modern Parent

Written by the folks at Geek Dad, this guide is for the 21st Century parent, looking to educate children of all ages, including older teens. Each of these books has a suggested age range; please keep that in mind before bringing one of these books into discussions with your kids.

Our Whole Lives

If you are looking for accurate, developmentally appropriate information about a range of topics, including relationships, gender identity, sexual orientation, sexual health, and cultural influences on sexuality, check out Our Whole Lives.

This curriculum is meant for small groups and has age appropriate programs starting with kids in kindergarten. While written by a religious organization, the curriculum contains no religious references nor doctrine, but does encourage self exploration and clarification of personal and group morals and boundaries.

Survivor Stories

If you don’t have a personal experience with sexual assault (and I hope you don’t), it can be hard to understand and empathize with how devastating sexual violence is. These stories do a great job illustrating the betrayal of acquaintance rape, the insensitivity of the judicial system and how your body and mind simultaneously protect and betray you during an attack. Hopefully they shed a little light on what sexual violence really is.

Even When It is Your Best Friend, It Is Still Rape

A very personal story about the night her best friend raped her and coming to accept what actually happened.

Sexually Assaulted at UVA

A story from the late 1990’s about one woman’s journey through the campus disciplinary and local judicial systems following her rape on campus.

Fight. Flight. Freeze. My Responses to an Attempted Assault

A late night, would be assault and the unexpected way one woman reacted.

Resources for Survivors

If you, or someone you know, needs assistance following a sexual assault, the following organizations can help:

Ways to Get Help Following Assault

Rape, Abuse, Incest National Network focuses on education, victim services and public policy advocacy to end sexual assault in the United States.

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE or online

The You Have Options Program

Learn about your options for reporting sexual assault to law enforcement.

Love is Respect

Resources for Teens in Abusive Relationships. They provide education, resources and support for helping teens end abusive relationships.

National Organization for Victims Assistance

NOVA is a victims assistance organization working with victims of crime, including sexual violence. They provide information about victim’s rights and advocacy services for victims of crime.

Statistics, Facts & Public Policy

Types of Sexual Violence

One of the most detailed resources about the different types of sexual violence – from the folks at RAINN.

CDC, The National Sexual Violence Resource Center and RAINN

Sexual violence statistics in the United States.

Jon Krakauer Tells A ‘Depressingly Typical’ Story Of College Town Rapes

Jon Krakauer, author of Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town, talks to NPR about what he learned about rape and the justice system while researching his book.

National Sexual Violence Resource Center

A national leader is preventing and responding to sexual violence. They provide programs for use in school settings and have an excellent library for public policy research on sexual violence.

 

Sexual Consent & French Fries

Teaching Sexual Consent – One French Fry at a Time

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French Fried Consent, Keep Your Eyes on Your Fries…

 

It’s frustrating when someone steals your fries. Sometimes it takes bold defensive maneuvers to protect them. Watch that video again. Those fry thieves are brutal!

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month. Let’s talk about consensual sexual activity. And French fries. What do fries have to do with sex? Maybe more than you think.

Recently, our society struggled to comprehend consensual sex.  So as not to repeat this confusion, we must raise children with strong voices and an understanding and respect for each other.

Sexual Consent & French Fries

Early Boundaries and Consent

Our newborn baby cries. We respond, pick her up, swaddle, and rock. We listen. The young voice is valued. The needs, wants, desires of a newborn are important. In fact, her innate needs and wants are the same. (Here and here.)

The same baby becomes a squirming 6-month-old. On a blanket, safe from outlets, knives and scissors, we allow exploration. Boundaries.

Fast forward. A toddler reaches for a hot cup of java. Gently, firmly, she hears, “That’s my cup. It’s hot.” The mug is placed a safe distance away.

A toddler noshes on apple pieces pinched between little fingers. I reach for one. He says “No, mine!”

I pull back and quietly ask, “Can Momma have one, please?” Stubbly fingers put one in my hand, closing my fingers over it. “Thank you,” I say. Boundaries. Boundaries, sticky palms and mushy apple bites.

Elementary school. When he’s not looking, she steals greasy, steamy, French fries. “Don’t. Touch. My. Fries! Mooooooom!” Mom reminds his sister those are her brother’s fries. She can ask, but sharing is his decision. What he has is his. What he does with what he has is his choice. Boundaries.

Sometimes being family means “Please, share with your sister, she’s hungry, too.” This is the exception, not the norm for boundaries. If something is given to a specific child, respect the ownership.

For most of us, this goes against our idea of ‘good’ children. We want smiling, happy, sharing kids. We don’t want ‘ornery,’ ‘spoiled,’ or ‘selfish’ offspring. We also want young self-respecting adults who possess and understand personal boundaries and consent.

Smelly Aunt Martha wants a kiss from a pulling-the-opposite-direction preschooler.  At the next family gathering back home, we don’t want her talking about our ‘misbehaving’ child. C’mon give her a kiss. Just alittle one? Please, for momma? Aunt Martha’s gonna cry without a kiss. And, now, we’ve made a 4-year-old responsible for Aunt Martha’s feelings. Seeing the similarities yet?

Just Say No PenHINT: Twelve years later, a peer of that once-preschooler says, “Please? Just do it. C’mon, have sex with me. Prove your love.” She’s said ‘no’ three times already. Just like when she reluctantly kissed her smelly aunt, her weak voice is ignored. The other teen kissed a smelly Uncle Tom and sees nothing wrong with ignoring a voice and pushing personal desires. Where are the boundaries now?

The road to becoming a young adult with a voice and boundaries is messy and fraught with curves and potholes.  First, they must be young ones with a voice. I’m not gonna lie — it’s not always pink ponies and happy skies raising vocal children. People don’t appreciate it and it certainly doesn’t fall under the heading “Children should be seen and not heard.” We want to ask them the questions while controlling their answers. That strong adult voice? It’s needs a LOT of childhood rehearsal time.

No one praises the mom who sent Aunt Martha on her way sans goodbye kisses. Society commends a mom whose children explicitly mind her and nods approval at the mom whose child cleans his plate or gives up a beloved toy to a friend (who later breaks it – you know the story ends this way.)

At the end of the road, everyone wants well-adjusted individuals who both have and respect consent, voices, and boundaries. These don’t happen over night and the fairy godmother doesn’t magically bestow them when they turn 16 — even if you have ‘the talk’ and leave the right books on their bed. It’s a lifetime of fostering the voice, teaching boundaries, modeling consent AND respect.

A story about a girl and a pony

There was a little girl who LOVED ponies. She loved her Barbie-cute riding instructors. One afternoon, the little girl’s foot slipped from the stirrup as her cantering pony rounded the arena’s far corner. She slid out of the saddle, down the pony’s side and hit the ground knocking the wind from her body.

A diaphragm in spasms is scary. Balancing on one bony shoulder and hip, her spidery limbs flayed as her lungs heaved. She stood, caught her breath and remounted. Despite profuse encouragement and bribery, she didn’t canter again that day. In fact, she didn’t canter for quite some time. On one particular day, encouragement became pushing became too much — she dismounted, firmly placed tiny hot pink-flecked nails on her hips andA Girl and her Pony solidly stood. “I said, I’m not cantering.” Flustered, the instructors brought her to me.

I asked, “Will you canter today?”

She said, “No.”

Turning to the young women, I said, “Looks like it’s a walk-trot lesson. That’s cool.”

There was no one in the world this little girl wanted to please more than her riding instructors (except maybe her dad). Only four years old, she stood up to them – unsure of the outcome but very sure of her voice. Later, I explained to the perplexed instructors it wasn’t about the canter. It was about her voice.

Standing up to them exercised that voice. A voice rehearsal, if you will. One day she’d need that voice for higher stakes. Maybe with someone she’s crushed on who wants to do something she doesn’t want to do. I want her to say “No,” just as solidly then. Today, it’s cantering. Tomorrow, it’s something else. Same girl. Same voice.

For those who wonder, she rode months without cantering. Finally, on the quickest, bumpiest, oldest horse, she got her canter back. In her time. Boundaries.

Reinforce Boundaries, Teach Consent

Simple things in daily parenting life reinforce boundaries, consent and respect. A closed door teaches the youngest to knock before entering. Tickling is a another teachable activity – how many times is a child tickled past pleas to stop? Boundaries. My family gives one warning: “Stop tickling me now, or I’ll pee my pants.” It’s funny, all right. Until you don’t stop in time.

As important as having your own boundaries, is the importance of respecting the boundaries and consent of others. No, it won’t immediately fix all of our problems and no parent is perfect. (I’ve been known to steal my kids fries on occasion.) However, with a respectful philosophy guiding us, it’s a solid beginning.

Simple family philosophies help to build voices, respect boundaries, teach consent:

  1. Respond to your children. Acknowledge the cry, the question, the reluctance to kiss smelly Aunt Martha. “I’ll answer you in 10 minutes,” is an acknowledgement. “Let’s just blow Aunt Martha a kiss from momma’s arms,” is another.
  2. Ask permission before taking that fry. Remember,  “no means no.” (Buy an extra order just in case.) If they’re meant to be shared, set it up that way, from the beginning.
  3. Even if you’re an open-door-raised-in-a-barn family like us, the occasionally closed door teaches the littlest to knock before entering.
  4. If friends are coming over, put up hard-to-share toys. Depending on the age – be available to negotioate sharing; the protection of boundaries and the exercising of voices.
  5. If you ask a question, anticipate and respect the answer. We can become more thoughtful of our questions.
Lay the foundation to make embarrassing incomprehension of consensual sex a thing of the past.
About those fries — a stretch to relate them to understanding sexual consent? Maybe. A good beginning to understanding boundaries and consent? Most definitely.

Resources:

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

What is Consent?

Talking with Kids Openly and Honestly about Sexuality

10 Ways to Talk to Your Kids about Sexual Abuse

Sexual Assault Awareness Month

A Letter to My Son for Sexual Assault Awareness Month

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Sexual Assault Awareness MonthDear Lil’ C,

Even though you’re only 4, and some might think it’s a little early, I’ve been thinking about your sexual health for a long time.  As a woman, I was always taught that it is my job to keep myself safe. As a mother, I feel it is not only my job to help you keep yourself safe, but it is also my job to make sure that when you go out into this world, you respect others and help keep them safe, too. I want to share a little of what I do and think about to try to help you grow into the best you that you can be.

Things I am doing now to try to raise you to be an ethical sexual person:

  • Recommended by your awesome Aunt Maggie, I made sure that we always (even before you could talk) used proper terminology when we talked about body parts.
  • Starting about the same time, I urged you to always tell me if anyone touched you in a private place or in a way that made you feel uncomfortable.
  • I’ve tried to talk with you about your body in a way that makes you feel good about it, but help you learn that some parts of our body are private. This is a challenge. Your penis is a part of your body that you are very comfortable with – yay! However, I’m finding it challenging to help you understand about keeping it private when you’re not in the house but without attaching shame to the private parts of your body. (We’re still working on “privacy.”) I love your innocence. I love how you do not understand why there needs to be privacy, and it’s hard to be the one to have to teach you that lesson because there is so much not-innocent baggage that comes with it.
  • I want you to understand that each person has the right to make decisions about their body, and you need to respect people if they tell you that something doesn’t feel good or ask you to stop touching them. This goes for you, too. You have the right to have decisions about your body respected (Again, this is especially hard to explain when we have to hold you down at the doctor for shots and allergy testing.), and this might change from moment-to-moment. You know how sometimes you want us to tickle you, but then you ask us to stop? We try our best to respect your choices about your body. We do this because it is so important to us that you are learning that we respect each person’s bodily autonomy. Stop means stop, and No means no.

Things that I think about and wonder how I’m going to handle in the future:

  • Media is not an accurate reflection of the world. Television, movies, music, video games, magazines, and easily accessible online pornography are a part of the world that you live in. Your are a valuable income source for these industries. They are going to show you things that they think you want to see. Please remember to stop look at the real world around you. You don’t have to try to be like these artificial things you see (yes, even “reality” shows). You are real. Your life is “real” life.
  • The “right” things isn’t always obvious, and sometimes it’s hard.  Sometimes the “right” thing to do isn’t what everyone else is doing, and sometimes doing  the “right” thing ostracizes you from people who you think are your friends. My hope for your future is that you will be able speak up, and be a leader when you see another person (or animal!) being harmed, and not just physically harmed. Bragging about sexual experience (real or made up), talking about what others have done sexually, to make yourself feel better or for the amusement of a group, persuading yourself or someone else to have a sexual experience just for the sake of the experience, sexting (sue me, I’m old), or any number of other things where you have an intimate experience for any reason other than it being the right choice for which you are ready.
  • Your body will most likely be ready for sex before your brain, and there’s not necessarily an easy way to know when your brain is ready. I’m sorry, that’s just the way it is. The best way you can do is have someone you trust and respect to talk about this stuff with. Remember, if you can’t talk about this stuff, you’re not ready to do it. I found the right person, but probably could have waited a little longer for my first time. It’s hard for me to think of an example where waiting longer would be a bad thing.
  • Sex isn’t a part of how I, or anyone I know, determine who is an adult or a “real” man. However, being able to wait until you find the right person, being able to listen to and wait for that person if they aren’t ready, are part of maturity and respect for others. Those things are part of how I define an adult or real man.
  • If a person you want to date, acts tentative or cautious, you will respect that person and applaud them for taking care of themselves To be clear, if you are EVER this guy, you will be in so much trouble with me. I will love you, but I will be furious.

Finally, please always remember:

This stuff is hard for me, too. Given that the sex talk my parents gave me consisted of, “We don’t believe in pre-marital sex, so we’re not going to talk about it.” I’m doing the best that I can. I promise that I will always try to do my best to listen to and try to understand you, even when I disagree. I hope that you always know that I am here for you and always love you, no matter what.

Love,

Mom

 

Resources for Sexual Assault Awareness Month:

Statistics: CDC and RAINN

Types of Sexual Violence

Ways to Get Help Following Assault

 

Resources for talking with your kids about human sexuality:

From Diapers to Dating

Secrets to Surviving Your Child’s Sexual Development

Our Whole Lives

 

Photo Credit:

Mother Son – Blue Skyz Studios