At the earliest possible age, we need to talk to our children about sex. During diaper changes, singing, “Head, shoulders, knees and toes,” we need to add a verse about vulvas or scrotums. These are parts of our bodies, and they are not shameful. They are not “dirty” at all. Understanding them simply as parts of our bodies encourages a healthy body image from the get-go.
When a child is empowered by the knowledge of the names of their body parts, and of their uses, they are empowered to protect themselves from predators. They are empowered with the ability to say, “This isn’t okay.” They are empowered to report what has happened to them, using language they understand. No, “show me on the doll”. But more: “So-and-so touched my vulva.” So much of the language of predators is reliant on the mystery. On “our little secret” or “special places.”
To know what something is, is to have some power over it. So to explain anatomy and the mechanics of sex to a child is to give them a line of defense.
The Pressuring Partner:
Healthy sexuality is more than knowing the mechanics of sex, it’s knowing sexual right from wrong. It’s teaching that sex only happens when all parties involved want it to happen. It’s teaching boys that girls become sexually aroused in discernible ways. It’s teaching girls that boys get erections that don’t accompany sexual desire. It’s dispelling the mystery of the opposite sex.
It’s dispelling the notion that pornography represents reality.
With a healthy view of sexuality, first sexual experiences can be more intimate. But most importantly, healthy sexuality teaches children that sex is something that should only be done when both parties are ready and willing. That just like you can use your hand to pat somebody on the back, a hand can also hit. If a person uses their body, their penis or their vagina or any part, to engage in a sex-like act without consent, that is rape. When we give our children these tools, this information, fewer teenagers become victims, and fewer become offenders.
Education leads to a healthy sexuality, yes, but more than that, it fights low self-esteem.
All the notions our culture has about sexuality and personal worth, all of these are tied to the preservation of sex as a mystery. “Slut” is an insult that only holds power if female sexuality is considered dirty or shameful. With an understanding of what body parts are and what they can do, it’s easier to foster a healthy body image. And with good self-esteem, sexually oppressive insults hold little or no power.
Because the most important lesson about sexuality? Is that it is yours. It is personal and unique, and still healthy and normal. And with a sense of ownership over their body and their use of it, every person is better equipped to enter adulthood and sexual activity in a way that keeps them safe, healthy, and happy.
*Sexual health is the ability to embrace and enjoy our sexuality throughout our lives. It is an important part of our physical and emotional health. Being sexually healthy means:
- Understanding that sexuality is a natural part of life and involves more than sexual behavior.
- Recognizing and respecting the sexual rights we all share.
- Having access to sexual health information, education, and care.
- Making an effort to prevent unintended pregnancies and STDs and seek care and treatment when needed.
- Being able to experience sexual pleasure, satisfaction, and intimacy when desired.
- Being able to communicate about sexual health with others including sexual partners and healthcare providers.
American Sexual Health Association