Sex was like a three-letter boogie monster in my house growing up. My sex education started with my mom when I was 11 or 12 during a random conversation. She told me, “Wait until you meet someone you love to have sex. Boys just want to use and dump you.” (For the record, I did wait until I felt I was in love —absolutely wasn’t — but I didn’t wait until that individual loved me.)
Other than that, I learned about sex in school and it was always a secret—something written in ’90s style middle school notes between friends or whispered between boys in hallways. For young girls, sex was often riddled with shame because having it, especially if you weren’t in a relationship, made you “fast.” In my late teens when I became staunchly religious, sex was forbidden unless I was married. The word “fornication” haunted me every time I felt sexual urges. And masturbation? Just open the gates of hell and throw me in.
Now that I’m supposedly “grown enough” to have sex and even got a whole baby out of it, I often think about how I want to raise a sex-positive son. When the time comes, I want him to explore his sexuality without judgment or shame. However, to help him, I first have to help myself, which is one of many reasons my therapist gets my money and my time. Seeing as I still have so much unlearning to do, she’s going to continue getting a lot more of both.
Over the past two years, I’ve been working through truckloads of sexual trauma and shame because most of my early experiences with sex were unpleasant. These experiences affected my ability to truly feel good about sex, enjoy pleasure, and be present in my sexual interactions.
So, how am I raising a sex-positive child? My son is still a toddler, so I’m starting with age-appropriate things. An example is naming his body part with the proper name and not “private part,” because it’s not a forbidden or shameful thing. I still squirm sometimes, but eventually it will become less awkward. We are learning together.
Another thing I do is have him stand in front of the mirror and compliment and admire himself. Being sex-positive means being body positive and that applies to both genders. I remember being picked at by family members and peers about my body. I was too skinny or didn’t have a big enough backside, and that affected how I showed up during sex. Oftentimes, I was ashamed and self-conscious.
Physical boundaries are another part of sex-positive parenting for me. I want my son to know his body is his and physical boundaries are normal. Reclaiming ownership of my body has been huge for me on my sex-positive journey. Many of us are forced to hug and kiss relatives as children even when we don’t want to. The subconscious messaging there is you don’t have the right to say no and set boundaries around your body. Although hard, I’ve started taking baby steps to change this practice with my son by asking him if he wants hugs and kisses from me and respecting his wishes when he declines. I also try to ask if he wants to hug family members or friends instead of making it mandatory. Likewise, I encourage him to respect other people’s personal space—mine included.
Lastly, I describe what inappropriate touch is and tell him he can feel safe to tell me if it ever happens. I was inappropriately touched as a child and when I told a loved one, I wasn’t protected.
The bottom line is that sex should be pleasurable and it’s a healthy and normal form of intimacy. I am starting to believe this more daily. Hopefully, by the time my son is old enough to learn about sex, I’ll believe it wholeheartedly.