(Reprinted from elephant journal, June 19, 2010.)
As a child of the ‘70s, and more-over, a child of the counter-culture, I can say there is such a thing as too much permissiveness. However, sexual positivity and sexual permissiveness are not by nature the same thing.
Conscious parenting has many focuses and aspects. But one area that perennially gets too little attention in the movement toward conscious parenting is that of sex and our kids.
If we, as conscious parents, can’t begin bringing sex out of the closet, who can? Yet again and again I see evidence of a profound split in our (counter) cultural psyche that has sex on one side and everything else on the other.
Recently, our esteemed editor at elephant journal, Waylon Lewis, started a new fan page on facebook. Here’s his post about the new page:
Join our new page (elephant journal gets sexy) where we’ll be posting the Sexy once we have enough friends over there (we’re making this page more family-friendly).
As I understand it, Waylon didn’t do this because he wanted to, but because he had gotten tired of having to apologize for “sexy” content on the elephant journal fan page.
Why does “family friendly” translate to “devoid of any sexual content”?
How are we supposed to have an open conversation with our kids about sex when we can’t have a rational conversation about it as adults? It’s not our kids who are reading the fan page, its us!
Apparently, there is no “middle way” as far as our cultural relationship with sex is concerned.
But here’s the simple truth; we have bodies. We have sex. And according to science, sex is good, and good for us!
Our culture is saturated with sexualized images. It’s drenched in sexual terminology. Sexual energy is a foundational part of social interaction.
Not all of these things are always positive. Many sexualized images are not sex-positive, and much of the sexual terminology at play in the social lexicon of the schoolyard is down-right negative.
But in our blanket negation of sexual expression as part of a healthy life, or even a healthy spiritual reality, we in effect take ourselves out of the conversation.
When things are hidden, they gain importance. Separating sex out makes it simultaneously more important (not always in good ways) and less transparent (rarely a good thing at all).
What we don’t say often says more than what we do say. Leaving sex out of the conversation makes it a dark and hidden topic. Forbidden fruit. Dirty. Unmentionable.
But a question you may want to ask yourself is, “Where do I want my kid getting his/her information about sex from?”
The best tool we can offer our children is sexual literacy.
Sexual literacy begins with awareness and appropriate education. The information you hand down to your child will inevitably be flavored by your own values, morals and ethics. So the more clear you are on what those values, ethics, and morals are, the more consciously you will be able to help your child gain literacy, and develop their own ethical structure.
One starting point for increasing awareness and definition of your sexual ethics is my Sexual Values and Ethics Worksheet (download here). This worksheet can also be a starting point for a group discussion with your family, other parents, or your friends.
Contrary to popular belief, sexual expression does not instantly commence at puberty. Children, like all of us, are sexual beings. They have sexual feelings, and sexual curiosity. They engage – even in utero – in sexual self-stimulation.
Ignoring the fact that our children have their own sexual lives won’t make the fact that they do go away. Yet the idea of seeing “sex” and “child” in the same article, let alone the same paragraph or sentence, puts many parent’s hair on end.
In our household, sex has always been one of the items on the table. Not the only item, not the central item, but not a hidden item either.
Since my kids were little, we’ve parented with a few rules about communication. Rules for us, as parents – not rules for them. Rule number one, and first in importance, has always been, “If the child is old enough to ask a question, she’s old enough for a valid, age-appropriate answer.”
This rule has been implemented regarding everything from ecology to economy to spirituality to sexuality. And this leveling of the conversational playing field has had the effect of ameliorating both super-negative and super-positive charge on the topic of sex and sexuality.
This tack hasn’t removed all embarrassment, nor has it ensured that our children agree with us regarding everything we believe about sex. It hasn’t made it so that our children are automatically going to defer to us without argument when we set a limit.
But those things were never the goal.
Years worth of open, educated, aware, and non-judgmental conversation with our children has allowed for an ongoing and honest dialogue; one where our kids know that sex is a natural part of the conversation. It has made our home a safe place to discuss a socially and culturally charged, complex topic.
And, most importantly, this encouragement of sexual literacy has allowed our kids the ability to make their own well thought-out and conscious choices about sex and sexuality.