April 25th honors Peace Over Violence Denim Day. On this day you are supposed to wear jeans with a purpose, support survivors, and educate yourself and others about sexual assault.
In honor of Peace Over Denim Violence Day, I interviewed a friend who is a New York State Certified Crisis Counselor to help gain more awareness to moms like me. I am lucky to have been able to work alongside her in the South Bronx at a Charter School when she was teaching there with me. It takes a lot to do her job and I wanted to share her knowledge with you because there are some topics that as parenting and adults we just feel uncomfortable talking about with our own kids. When your children are growing up, it is so important to talk to them about topics such as sex and sexual consent and Denise, the Crisis Counselor has discussed how to talk to your child about sex and consent.
Describe your business/Describe what you do:
I do a few different things, all within the realm of sexual health. I’m a big believer that the most powerful sexual organ any person has is in between their…. ears. I’m in the business of address attitudes, opinions, and cultural, societal, religious beliefs about sex, sexuality, and sexual development throughout the life cycle. My “nine to five” is an Education and Training Projects Coordinator at Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic.
I am also a certified rape crisis counselor (RCC) for Victims Information Bureau of Suffolk (VIBS). I have a few shifts a month that I am “on call” for. VIBS partners with a couple different hospitals in Suffolk County. If anyone enters the emergency room at these hospitals and discloses that they have been a victim of sexual assault, rape, or domestic violence, the hospital notifies VIBS who contacts the RCC on call. If the assault or rape happened within the past 96 hours they will be offered a SANE exam a.k.a. a rape kit. The RCC will stay with the victim through the entire process providing whatever support is needed and ensuring all the paperwork is filled out so the victim will receive all the free services and monetary compensations they are entitled to.
I am also a national speaker regarding teaching consent and sexual assault prevention.
Recommendations to Moms
Talking about sex in general – I urge parents to think-really think-about what you want your children’s sexual experiences to be like. I have found that most parents want their children’s sexual experience to be safe, satisfying, and mutually consensual. It’s okay to joke every now and then saying, “no sex until you’re 40”, as long as you are really having conversations with them about what you think they should be waiting for: maybe it is marriage; maybe it is love. Whatever it is, talking to kids about sex and love should mean for them or what you want it to mean to them. Saying “no sex until you’re 40” and then never helping them shape their ideas about what sex should be like only leaves that job up to the media, your children’s friends, and society as a whole – and they are not always the greatest advice givers.
Full disclaimer: I understand that talking to kids about sex at any age can seem overwhelming. But it really is much easier than most people think. I’m going to share some suggestions and I want to make sure that it is understood that what I say next are simply that – suggestions. I would never advocate for parents to do something or teach something that they do not feel comfortable doing. Every parent has their own unique set of values. Use the information I share here, and cherry picks them to fit your own values. My hope is that you will take some of the ideas and figure out your own unique way of instilling those values into your children. I also want to address the fact that I am separating information regarding messaging consent to boys and girls. Boys and girls receive drastically different messages from the media, peers, society, family, etc. This is why from a parent’s perspective discussions about sexual consent may have to vary between a son and a daughter. Whoever they choose to love and whatever gender they choose to identify with has no influence on the way a parent should address sexual consent with their child.
How To Talk To Your Child About Sex and Consent
So, let’s get into it! I’ll start with young children regardless of gender. Talking to kids about sex and consent involves messaging that their body belongs to them and no one, not one single person, is more entitled to their body then they are. Some sexual health experts suggest that forcing children to give hugs or give kisses to friends and family is a contrasting message. I know a few mothers who have told friends and family they need to ask their child for a hug or a kiss. This may seem extreme to some people, but the mothers that have done it say once everyone got on board she saw her child feel more comfortable giving hugs and kisses and never had to worry about whether or not her child would do so again. Sure, it can be awkward if grandma walks up and asks for a kiss and the child says no, but forcing or guilting the child into kissing grandma can send a harmful message. Of course, this could offend grandma so weighing the pros and cons is up to you.
Consent can also be taught during play. Watch your child during playtime and see if they are touching, pulling, hugging, pushing, or grabbing other children. Of course, all that is normal, but a message to your child that just as they are the owners of their own body, their friends are the owners of their own bodies too. It may seem socially awkward from your perspective to have your child asking other children on the playground if they can touch them, but children are learning social norms together. This helps teach them how to ask and that asking isn’t embarrassing or awkward.
Sexual consent isn’t just about how to ask, the other half is how to say “yes”. This seems like a strange concept to address with children but stay with me. Many girls receive the message that sex and their own sexuality are sacred and a prize to be won. There is nothing wrong with teaching girls self-worth, but attention should be paid to the balance between self-worth and shaming sex. It makes it more difficult for girls to feel empowered to tell their partner yes, this is what they want. If they can’t do that then they can’t have conversations about consent. As scary as it sounds, you cannot leave pleasure out of conversations about sex, especially for girls. Some sexuality experts suggest that parents encourage their daughters to masturbate. The reasoning behind this suggestion is something to think about: allowing girls to explore their own body and their own pleasure for themselves put them in the center of their own sexual pleasure rather than waiting for a partner to teach them about their own body. It can help empower them to communicate with a partner rather than take orders from a partner, leading to a safer and healthier experience. Again, going back to my initial disclaimer, I’m sharing these suggestions so that you, as parents, can understand sexuality issues and determine for yourselves how to send these messages to your children. These messages and values can be sent without buying your daughter a vibrator and sending her to the bathroom. I get it, that’s extreme.
Next, in my professional opinion, I would like to urge mothers of boys to not discredit their influence on their son’s sexual development. A few mothers that I have talked to feel that “the talk” is their husband/his father’s job. Not even “the talk” about sex, but puberty and erections and wet dreams! I don’t want to discredit Dad’s out there, but don’t shy away Moms!! Most fathers do an amazing job at having “the talks” with their sons, but messaging to boys that you are only allowed to talk to men about sexuality and cutting the lines of communication regarding sex and sexual development between you and your son can be dangerous.
Mothers represent women as a whole too young boys; there are plenty of people that say sons will marry a person like their mother. Refusing to have open discussions about sex and sexual development messages that women as a whole don’t want to hear about this, shut up and perform sexually. Again, communication is the key to consent – if talking to your child about sex and sexuality has never been done before, how is that boy expected to start communicating with potential partners about what they want to do sexually? Some mothers of college-aged sons have told me they never talking to kids about sex or puberty, that was always the Dad’s job, but when their son left for college they gave them a pack of condoms. How is that helping them ensure they are having safe, satisfying, and mutually consensual experiences. Talk to boys about pleasure and how sexual experiences are far more pleasurable when you ensure your partner is comfortable and having fun.
I have worked as a consultant with a few families on determining their own values regarding sex and identifying the best strategies for passing those along to their children. All families have a wide range of values regarding sex; some that are on the extremely progressive side and some that are on the extremely conservative side. Whatever your family values are it is beneficial to your child’s well-being to reflect on those values and figure out ways to instill those values in your children with the overall goal of them having safe, satisfying and mutually consensual sexual experiences.