By Kendra Holliday | July 7, 2020
Ed Note: This is a guest post by an amazing member of the Sex Positive St. Louis community, Amy Van Slyke.
As a parent of two young children, I have spent hours agonizing over how to talk to them about sex. I mull over questions like, “When should I buy my daughter her first vibrator?” and, “How do I teach my son to be an attentive lover?”
I was not far into Read Me: A Parental Primer for The Talk, by Lanae St. John, DHS, CSC, ACS, “The Mama Sutra”, when I realized I had fallen into the trap that has snared so many parents before me… I was focused on the “how” instead of helping my kids develop a healthy understanding of, and attitude toward, sex.
First, I want to clarify that Read Me is not a step-by-step manual for parents about how or when to have “The Talk” with their kids. It is a guide for those who want to develop a safe, trusting, and open environment for ongoing conversations. Dr. St. John argues that our culture of shame and unwillingness to talk openly about sex condemns children to ignorance, misinformation and makes them vulnerable to abuse, STI, and unwanted pregnancy. She urges parents to take an active interest in helping their children develop a healthy sexuality since they cannot depend on others or institutional sex education to give kids the information they need. Through her use of research-based findings and personal anecdotes, The Mama Sutra, mother of two, provides parents with “The 5 building blocks” that they can use to navigate the awkward conversations about sex, and engage with children in an honest and constructive manner.
Communication, Consent, Respect, Pleasure, and Fantasy
I highly recommend that you read the book in its entirety as Dr. St. John shares many enlightening perspectives and personal stories. Below, you will find just some of the insights I gleaned from this primer that proved to be the most powerful for me as a mother…
Communication, block #1, helps us build a safe and supportive environment in which to talk to our children:
- How we communicate with our kids gives them cues on how to communicate with us.
- How we react to their questions can impact their willingness to engage with us in the future.
- Our choice of words can color the message we communicate, so we must be mindful of what we say.
- Always share the truth. If we tell our children lies, it undermines our credibility.
- If you don’t know the answer to their question, or need a moment to think about it, tell them so. “Your vulnerability about the subject is human and important for children to see, so they don’t have to think they are just supposed to ‘know’ everything as well.”
- As adults, our embarrassment about topics of sexuality is not our children’s embarrassment and we should do our best not to pass that embarrassment along.
Consent, block #2, is one of the most important things parents can teach their children:
- It is imperative to teach children about boundaries an early age so they learn how to enforce their own and respect others.
- Send consistent messages about their bodily autonomy so children learn they are in control of their own space.
- Enforce ‘No’ or ‘Stop’ through modeling behavior (i.e. stop tickling your child when they ask you to the first time)
Respect, block #3, is important for developing relationships.
- Help our children maintain a healthy body image and teach them to love themselves.
- Teach children to respect others and respect boundaries
- When discussing our personal / family values with children, ensure they understand that other values and perspectives are okay.
Pleasure, block #4, is fundamental to the human experience and may be one of the most awkward to discuss.
- Pleasure can be non-sexual (hugs, a foot rub, a delicious dinner)
- Not all touch is inherently sexual and is imperative to our well-being
- Partnered sex always includes the pleasure of BOTH partners
- Pleasure does not necessarily = orgasm
- There are more ways to experience sexual pleasure than through PIV sex (i.e. Masturbation, same sex encounters)
Fantasy, block #5, is an important part of childhood play and adult sexuality, we need to be there to help kids understand…
- Fantasy is not reality (porn may be someone’s fantasy but it is not realistic sex)
- We don’t need to be ashamed of our fantasies
- Fantasies do not have to be acted upon to be enjoyed
I hope that after reading my summary you decide to pick up a copy of Read Me. It is refreshing to finally find a book that provides insight into how I can support my children in developing a sex-positive attitude. And honestly, I think a lot of adults could benefit from these reassuring lessons as well!