Owning the Awkward

If I had a dollar for every time my kids said, “Mom, that’s so awkward!” I could fund universal childcare for us all. Since they’re teenagers now, I can look back over the years and see how awkward has evolved. Cuz while the exclamation is the same… what provokes it has changed.

Me dating is no longer awkward (it totally once was) but me talking to them about them dating? SO much awkward. And yet, we have a template. Tackling the awkward head on is what our relationship is built on. At each stage, of both their development and my own, there is “teh awkward” that we have to face, discuss, own and in some ways obliterate.

I want to stress that one families’ awkward can be another families’ easy and yet another families’ straight up traumatic. The matrix of our history and current situation create the framework that our awkward defines itself within. What’s easy for you to talk about off the cuff with your kids may be something that I would need to do with the help of a coach to discuss. It’s all relative.

Having on open and ongoing age-appropriate conversation about sexuality with your kids is crucial to their wellbeing and safety. One way they know it’s an important aspect of their lives is that we are willing to face down the awkward. My strategy has always been to own the awkward. Call it out, claim it. And then do the damn thing anyway. Sometimes I’m the only one with the bubbly gut over a situation. Other times, I’m totally non-plussed by a subject while their ears are turning red. Either way, I have to say, “This awkward and this is how we’re gonna get through it.”

In my house, we’ve been talking a lot about gender and the cost of not conforming to the binary. And I’m grateful that, for my teens, it’s not an awkward topic. They can see that it’s fucking tragic that kids get kicked out of their homes for being trans, or get beaten and abused, or commit suicide. We’re talking about how to be supportive to any of their friends who come out as trans or who don’t identify with the gender binary. What’s awkward for me is that I have to be honest with them and say, “Yep parents are abusive to their own kids because of gender.” That shit sucks. Informing your children about the cruelty other children experience is fucking awkward. And necessary. And tragic. And scary.

Being real with your kids about child abuse kinda makes talking about periods and how babies are made no big deal, right? Easy peasy. Talking with your kids about sexual assault? AWKWARD. But if you’re going to teach them about consent (…and you’re going to teach them about consent, right?) you have to include that part of it.

What I really want to impart upon you, fellow Awkwardian, is that talking to your kids about their 4691_791953586513_1247099_45324321_5253646_nsexual health, or gender, or consent or pornography is going to be awkward and you get to do it anyway. As parents we are constantly modeling behaviors; how we handle awkward topics and conversations is most likely how they will handle awkward topics and conversations. And we’re also who they compare other people’s reaction to awkward situations to. Consider yourself the Royal Ambassador to Awkwardlandia.

 

 

 

 

 

Normalize Not Scandalize

Last week a journalist from Denmark reached out to me. She wants to know, and apparently her readers at the Danish magazine she writes for also want to know, why parents in the US have such a hard time discussing sex and gender with our children while parents in Denmark find it quite natural.

Damn. You ever been asked to describe your own culture’s hang ups to an outsider? It’s a bit of a challenge. Here’s my attempt:

Q. Why is it so difficult for so many American parents to talk about sex with their children?

This is a big problem here, so the root causes are many. Two reasons I see: religious beliefs and rape culture. Sexual abuse in the US is not handled very well. We live in a rape culture where victims are often blamed for their assaults. This leads parents to fear for their children. If a child knows too much about sex, then that child will be seen as “asking” for abuse. So parents keep their children ignorant as a way to protect them. It doesn’t work, of course. That is the also the religious framing. Religious sects that teach sex as a vile act are numerous and popular here. Which also leads to the homophobia that is so strong. Keeping children ignorant of the natural spectrum of sexual identities and genders is a main goal of religious conservatives in the US.  We just had a President who believed in abstinence only education and would only fund sex education programs that taught abstinence. Many people supported his view that children are in danger if they are provided with a comprehensive sexual health education.  

Q. Does this have any consequences for the children?

The consequences are severe. We have high STI rates, high sexual assault rates, prevalent homophobia and really, really sexually frustrated young adults. Also, we have young children mimicking adult sexuality. Kids don’t have time to decide for themselves, they aren’t given the safe spaces to explore. 

Q. Can you please try to describe this new movement towards a more sex positive parenting in your country?

I don’t think of sex-positive parenting as new, so much as waves of influence. The first person I ever heard use the term “sex-positive parenting” was Susie Bright from In Bed With Susie B and that was over a decade ago. Her daughter is in her mid-20’s now I believe. Being a sex-positive parent simply means prioritizing your child’s sexual health in the same way we prioritize their mental and physical health. I’m sure there have always been sex-positive parents. But, it’s true we’re seeing more parenting blogs and advice columns saying things like masturbation is normal, same sex attraction is normal, gender blending is normal, utilizing birth control and learning safer sex practices is normal. The goal is to normalize rather than to scandalize sexual health and I think a lot of parents find that comforting and practical.

Q. Why do you think more American parents are getting aware of this subject?

 Right now, in this moment, I feel like we are trying to reclaim the right to educate our children. As I mentioned before, under the George W. Bush administration we were hauled back into the dark ages. Parents who were raised with comprehensive sex ed back in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s in school find it deplorable that their own children are being taught religiously biased, inaccurate and dangerous misinformation at public schools. We quite literally slid backward. I think this current interest is a reaction to that. Also, this generation of parents are more socially liberal in regards to LGBT rights and identities. There are more “out” parents than ever before. Parents want to be educated about the gender spectrum and want to support their LGBT children in ways prior generations have not. We have more awareness now of the devastating results of not educating and embracing our children’s individual sexual identity. We don’t want our kids to have traumatizing sexual experiences. 

Q. Why is it important to change the attitude among parents?

Every child has the human right to age appropriate and accurate information about their bodies. But more than that, we have to give kids all the support we can. In the US, most kids on the streets were either kicked out for being LGBT or are escaping an abusive, often sexually abusive, home. These are teenagers who are seen as dirty or damaged or not deserving of help. I would love it if no child was ever kicked out of their home because of their sexual identity ever again. I would really be glad that we as a society supported those teens and affirmed them. We’re also trying to fight the hyper-sexualization of children. That’s the other side of the coin here. There is no cultural standard of sexual education so what comes in it’s place is consumerism and exploitation. It’s really gross and I feel like more and more parents are fighting it. 

Q. How do you help people who wants to talk about sex with their kids? Do you have any good advices?

My job is to support parents in having a running dialogue with their children about both sexual health and sexual identity. Most parents who come to me know what they want to say, but have no idea how to go about saying it. They also want practical advice on how to implement safe boundaries for their children. I have lots of good advice. That’s why I do coaching and blogging. 

***The interview is going to be published in Danish, but I’ll post the link here once it’s up.***

Feminist Father’s Day 2014: #feministfathersday

I’m sharing this call to make this Father’s Day a Feminist Father’s Day and for dads, papas, bapas, and all parents along the masculine gender spectrum to embrace feminism and resist misogyny in our families and society written by Tomas Moniz, Chris Crass and the Rad Dad Magazine Collective for Feminist Father’s Day 2014.

In the wake of the Santa Barbara mass shooting and the misogynistic and racist manifesto the killer left behind, women all over the world launched a Twitter-based rebellion that put misogyny and sexism front and center. Far too many men have responded, “but not all men act that way,” using the hashtag #notallmen. At best, that such a defense is even needed proves that there is a very real, unavoidable problem; at worst, it sounds as though they are saying, “don’t blame me.”

Rad Dad Magazine believes patriarchal violence in society is epidemic and takes place in a vast culture of misogyny, male entitlement and male privilege. Against the reactionary cry “not all men,” we say, “all men need to actively challenge misogyny and cultivate feminism in their lives, families, communities and society.”

Rad Dad Magazine recognizes that fighting patriarchy requires more than believing that, individually, we are not like “those other men”—because privilege doesn’t work that way. We can’t be silent about it or pretend we don’t have it. In the pages of Rad Dad, we embrace feminist struggle against patriarchy as key to creating healthy families. We offer stories of people struggling to be better men, to be better community members, to be better people.

We believe that the key lies in changing masculinity–to raise boys to feel cared for, to be aware of their own feelings, to see women as people like themselves and not objects, to hold men accountable for their behavior and reward them for demonstrating compassion and empathy. In addition to including our sons when imagining and practicing feminist parenting, we also know that in order to end misogyny and patriarchal violence, men in the millions need to make feminism central in our lives.

How can we make feminist commitments this Father’s Day? Let us join together and make this Father’s Day a Feminist Father’s Day. Let us be bold and courageous, knowing that we can make a huge difference in the lives of our children, families and communities. Let us join with feminist movements to help change society, one diaper, load of dishes, conversation, public stand, direct action, mass convergence, at a time.

We know subscribing to a magazine or reading a book is a poor substitute for action. So we’re asking for Father’s Day 2014 we encourage you to post a picture or video of you and your child illustrating what rad parenting means to you. Tag it #feministfathersday. Then Join us in making a commitment to take at least one action against patriarchy and misogyny in real life.  If you need ideas, the list below includes actions that some of us are already taking, just getting started with, or finding the strength to take on in the future, ranging from the civic to the personal, the playful to the political but each one is geared so that feminism is at the heart of our families.

  1. Believe in other men’s ability to parent. Talk to other men about fathering.
  2. Strive to do more than half of the labor of raising a kid, building a family, and maintaining a home. This is part of living our feminist values in our family and being a good role model for our kids and their friends.
  3. Do your kid’s hair, cook, clean and/or other responsibilities that “women” usually do that are also intimate bonding experiences.
  4. Pick flowers for your little boy and fix stuff around the house with your little girl.
  5. Play pretend.
  6. Listen to when a child says stop. Then stop!
  7. Encourage the boys in your life to enter the worlds created by girls during play, and encourage them to invite girls into theirs. The invitation is the key. Stop them if they try to impose their worlds.
  8. Teach your kids how to do the stuff you know how to do, regardless of gender.
  9. Talk with other parents about how they practice feminism in their parenting and families. This is useful both to gather insights, and to help normalize the conversation between parents, particularly for dads.
  10. Talk with your kids about mainstream beauty standards.
  11. Vocalize your support of breastfeeding moms
  12. Read books about feminism, to your kids and to your self.
  13. Say, “Everyone gets to choose for their own body” often enough that your kids think of it as one of your catch phrases.
  14. Use “feminism,” “patriarchy,” “misogyny,” “sexism” and related words in your everyday conversations with kids, and take time to listen to their use of those words.  They have brilliant insights about the oppression they see.
  15. Talk to your kids about how women used to be treated when talking about history.  (And how a lot of change is still needed.)
  16. Commit to eliminating violence, aggression, and force with women and children.
  17. Teach your kids about mansplaining and male entitlement and why it hurts all of us.
  18. Teach them about male privilege at an early age. Teach them to use their privilege in the service of others until the time they are ready to attempt to eradicate it.
  19. Let your kids hear you defend your feminism. At first you might feel like your talk about feminism is forced and mechanical, like swimming against the current; in time, we will find our own voices, develop our confidence, and speak from our hearts in ways that are both healing and empowering to ourselves and our families.
  20. Once a day or once a week, talk about an example you saw of patriarchy or sexism.
  21. Don’t shame kids of any gender for being girly – feminine gender expression is as valuable and wonderful as any other! Read books like Princess Boy to help normalize and celebrate boys who wear dresses and embrace feminine gender expressions. While “tomboys” are generally accepted, it’s good for all kids to see that boys like girlie things too.
  22. Don’t let your kids hear you make generalizations about people based on gender.  “It’s a boy thing.” and “It’s a girl thing.” harm kids of all genders. If and when you do say it, be honest and compassionate with yourself, saying something like, “Why did I say that, is that actually true, I don’t think so?”
  23. Reject the pink/blue color code.
  24. Do not assign female gender/sex traits to inanimate objects. Your car is a car. Do not refer to it as ‘her’ or ‘she’ or any other anthropomorphized designation.
  25. Talk about stereotypes with your kids.
  26. Combat images of bumbling fathers in the media. Talk to your kids as you encounter these stereotypes. Dadcott Adam Sandler movies!
  27. Make a point to ask if there are changing tables in the men’s restrooms everywhere you go.
  28. Speak up when you see unwanted tickling.
  29. Teach consent every day. Teach your child that we need permission to touch each other’s bodies. Raise our daughters to be safety conscious and to have a healthy self-esteem against the onslaught of sexism and misogyny. Raise our sons to promote consent culture.
  30. Make a plan for how you are going to teach your kids about rape. Men, have conversations with other dads about this and ask them what they’re thinking of doing. Be ready to share about why you think it’s so important that we talk with all our kids about it. Again, our goal is to create a culture of men working together to support each other to end misogyny and generate feminist power.
  31. Men: tell your kids when patriarchy hurts you. Be emotionally open about challenges and difficulties. Times when you were told “act like a man, don’t cry” and how that impacted you. Our example of taking emotion risks will speak louder then encouraging our kids to do it.
  32. When you do something wrong, let your kids see you own up to it rather than blaming someone else.
  33. Don’t argue or get defensive when women talk about their experiences.
  34. Listen when women are talking.
  35. Teach sons (and daughters, too) to listen and ask questions.
  36. Sex positive is a family value. When sex comes up, be open, honest, and positive.
  37. Work with your child to write a letter to a politician, local newspaper or blog about an issue that affects women in your community.
  38. Figure out how you are going to talk to you kids about abortion and reproductive justice.
  39. Explain to your teenager why you are pro-choice.
  40. Talk to your kids about how to stand up when they see someone treated badly.
  41. Discuss unfair power with your kids.
  42. Teach your kids about a feminist activist, famous or not.
  43. Learn and teach each your kids about Mujeres Libres, the Combahee River Collective, Riot Grrrls, and other movements for women’s liberation.
  44. Don’t be an asshole to women or girls. It is not calculus. Treat women/girls with respect, always, but especially in the presence of young boys. You’ll be all the example the boys in your life need.
  45. Teach them that sensitivity; caring, and empathy make you strong.
  46. Call out gender/sex-based discrimination in public—if it is safe to do so. If it is not acceptable in the home, it damn well shouldn’t be acceptable in the world.
  47. As a family go to demonstrations and community events that support feminist politics and use the experience to talk with your kids. Think about ways to make it as enjoyable for your kids as possible, whether that’s going with friends, or getting a special treat afterwards that makes it part of a fun family outing.
  48. Talk with one or two close friends about ways you can support each other and share in the joys, difficulties, heartbreaks, and beauty of liberation parenting.
  49. Strive to be compassionate, forgiving and reliable in doing this work. Beating yourself up for mistakes and missed opportunities will lead to burnout and self-hatred, neither of which we want for ourselves or to model for our kids. Be the parent to yourself that you are for your kid, believing in yourself, ready to pick yourself back up with a pep talk about what we learned so as to be better prepared next time.
  50. Men, be expressive with your love and tenderness. Strive to be emotionally open and fluent in love, appreciation, and gratitude. Patriarchy teaches men to be fiercely competitive with other men and to be oblivious to the contributions of women. Naming and speaking our love, appreciation and gratitude helps counter this.

June’s Resource Round Up!

Hiya parents!

Every few weeks I check in with my folks on Facebook and twitter to see what resources they’re looking for. Based on last week’s responses I’ve got some good info to share.

First up, from Lily:

“How to help educate parents about normal [as if there is a normal, using it for lack of a better word] for childhood sexuality so they don’t just automatically assume any sexuality children exhibit always indicates foul play. As a clinician, this is tricky especially as you must always rule out any sex abuse/trauma/foul play, but once that is completely ruled out, what are great resources that lay out developmental stages of sexuality for children and adolescents to show parents. Thanks!”

Thank you Lily for such a great question! My go-to web referral for all things developmental and age-appropriate is Stop It Now. Check out their concise list of common vs uncommon sexual behaviors in each developmental stage. As parents, we need to know what is typical for each age group. I love this site because it is not gender biased nor slut shamey.

Here’s your link, Lily: http://www.stopitnow.org/age_appropriate_sexual_behavior 

Next resource request comes from Nadine:

“Sex poz resources with kids and teens of colour/Indigenous kids. Also: pre/teen appropriate pieces that examine race and sexuality.”

Thank you Nadine! Sex positivity is not a one size fits all idea, as sexual health information needs to resonate with the individual. I don’t buy into color-blind nonsense or any of that post-racial bullshit. My preferred version of sex ed is intersectional! I am always happy to inform people about the Native Youth Sexual health Network. They do ALL the things. It’s sex-positive, youth led, intersectional, Indigenous-centered sexual health information.

Here’s your link Nadine: http://www.nativeyouthsexualhealth.com/index.html

And finally, this last request came in a private message:

“My daughter is identifying as asexual. A friend of hers identifies as queer. Through her, I am hearing all kinds of terms that make up the rainbow, and I am getting downright confused! I was hoping for a primer? Gay, lesbian, transexual and bisexual all make sense to me. But there are some others that are less straight forward. What might be some information or resources for sharing with these kids to help them navigate their worlds more safely?”

This is a question I hear more and more from parents, especially those outside the Bay Area Bubble! My first instinct is to refer parents to Tumblr so you can search through the various labels. Really, this is where young people are figuring their sexual identities out in real time. You can learn a lot by following the tags in Tumblr. So I’ve got a bit of a homework assignment for the parents who are feeling out of the loop.

First, check out this list of terms related to both the LGBTQIA community as well as general social justice terms from the UC Davis LGB Center: http://lgbcenter.ucdavis.edu/lgbt-education/lgbtqia-glossary  THEN I want you to go to Tumblr and search for those terms. Do some poking around. Maybe report back in the comments if you feel so inclined!

As always I hope these links serve you well. Thanks for reading and being the bad ass parents and parent allies you are!

xo

Airial

You wanna know what pisses me off?

I just got home from my daily BART ride. I should be cooking dinner, but there’s no way that’s gonna happen until I write what happened down. You ever get like that? Have to write something down so that you can get on with your day? Just me? Damn, ok.

On today’s episode of “what happens when Airial rides public transit” (there really should be a whole webseries based on this, I swear) a child predator almost got his ass handed to him by one very pissed off mama bear.

So the BART was delayed today, making the early afternoon cars more crowded than usual. Normally at this time of day it’s teenagers riding home from school or parents on their way to pick up their kids from school- like me. Plus there is an A’s game so baseball fans in green and yellow filled the cars too. I get on the train, a man pushes past me. I notice that he’s in a hurry to get the interior doors. Maybe he really really wants to find a less crowded car, I think. Then at the next stop more people get on and I end up shuffling towards the back and who do I see, man-in-a-hurry. Except now, he’s not in a hurry. Now he’s adopted the slouchy stance of a teenager. Why? Because he is chatting up a girl. A girl who is obviously the same age as my kids. 13 or 14. She’s tiny. She’s young. And this grown ass man is coming on to her. He’s older than me. Well, maybe he’s the same age as me and just not aging well.

Fucking Hell. I’m watching their interaction. She’s got that smile going. The one where you hope that if you’re nice enough the creepy guy will like you enough to leave you alone. The smile of look I’m playing along, please don’t hurt me. The smile of I’m not threatening in any way can you please see me as a person. Yeah. That smile. He’s complimenting her on her clothes, her hair, her shoes. She’s wearing sneakers and pajama pants. Her hair is “I’ve been in school all day” untidy. She’s a fucking kid.

I step closer to them. Closer than necessary. I’m staring at him. This is where I love love love being a tall thick as a tank woman. I’m in flip flops and we’re eye level. I’m sizing him up. My shoulders are stronger than his. If I stand just a lil straighter he’ll be looking up at me. For now, I know the look I’ve got on my face. I know exactly what my expression is saying. I see you. You’ve been made. He’s stopped turning his head in my direction but he’s staring at me from the corner of his eye. I know that because she follows his gaze and looks up at me. I swear she’s barely 5 feet tall.

I’ve done this before. I soften my expression and make eye contact with her. She gives me the look. I step closer. He’s telling her to text him. He’s asking if her mom is waiting for her at the station she’s getting off at. He’s acting like he doesn’t care. He’s acting like it’s all so super casual. She’s smiling that smile. I shift my position so that my bag is between them. She immediately steps around me, like a bunny hopping over barbed wire. I stay put. Wait to see if he tries to push past me. Wait to see if he says excuse me. Wait to see if he’s gonna tap me on the shoulder. Part of me wishing he would. I’m loud. Loudest person I know actually. The sonic boom that would have resulted from him tapping my shoulder would have shook the train off it’s tracks. He doesn’t.

Adults who target children hate being seen by other adults who know what they are.

I walk to the middle of the car where she is standing face perfectly blank.

I ask her, “Do you know that guy?”

“No!” She says her eyes widening, voice lowered, “I was like, ‘Can you stop talking to me?’ the whole time!”

“He shouldn’t have been talking to you. I’m sorry he did that. It’s not your fault.”

“He just asked me if I knew someone who could braid his hair, out of nowhere.”

“You sure don’t know anyone,” I say raising my voice, looking back over my shoulder to where he’s watching us.

We get off the train at the same stop. I turn to see if he’s getting off. He’s not. I stand and watch him from the platform as the train slides away. I see you.

I learned to do this from my mother. My mom gives no fucks about the social order when it comes to protecting children from creepy ass motherfuckers. The social order requires silence and looking away and not interfering. The etiquette of our culture demands we not presume bad things are happening when in fact they’re happening right in front of our fucking faces. Not one other person in the packed train car lifted an eyebrow at that grown man chatting up a very young teenager.

And man that pisses me off.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top 10 tips to sex-positive parenting

heart cloudMy top 10 tips to start being a sex-positive parent today:

1. Decide what your values around gender and sexuality actually are.

2. Make the decision to act on those values.

3. Accept that as a parent, conversations with your children about sexual behavior, sexuality and gender will happen continuously throughout your relationship.

4. Communicate and respect boundaries.

5. Look for teachable moments.

6. Ask more questions than you answer.

7. Ask other adults for support.

8. Seek out media resources to counter the over-arching sex-negative narratives your child is surrounded by.

9. Be honest about your own lived experiences of sexuality and gender.

10. Be proud!

Do you have any time tested tools you want to share with other parents?

Guest Post by Mama K- When The Book You Gave Someone’s Child Has Content They Might Not Approve of (aka Whoops)!

I’ve got another guest post for your reading enjoyment. Pleased as punch to introduce you to Mama K! (Cross-posted from moms in Babeland blog with the authors permission.)

This post is about books and stories that help us to understand life, but that might not be so easy to digest. I remember falling in love with reading when I encountered my favorite author, Tom Robbins, in my teens. I wonder what my parents would have thought if they had snatched Another Roadside Attraction out of my hands as I was devouring it at age 16.

I want to share with you this lovely story, telling of fertility and the cycle of life. Connecting a trip to Babeland and (a big Dildo!) in a Sherman Alexie story. Along with some other big dildo magic.

“For those of us who were not immaculately conceived, we need sex to have babies. And we need a lot of laughter to survive pregnancy and parenting in a healthy state of mind.”

My story of stories is actually about another Sherman Alexie book: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. I knew of Sherman Alexie from school in Arizona, reading Reservation Blues seems almost like a lifetime ago.

This is my experience, life as a mom and a babe and someone dating another single parent… and the holidays. I purchased this book in an actual bookstore over the holidays for my lover’s son who is about my daughter’s age. I didn’t read the book, but I read the reviews. I thought it couldn’t be more scathing than the video games he plays where he tauts guns and bombs and someone dies every second, so I got it for him. I had already decided I was going to get him a book.

“A book?” my lover said. “I think he would prefer a nerf gun”.
“Nope I will buy you a gun, (shaped object) but I will not get one for a kid.”

So I snatched up the Alexie book and thought it should be a good read! Well let me tell you this boy really likes this book. He read right through it and I still saw it around by his stuff. His dad said he loved it. Now remember I said I didn’t read the book? It turns out this young boy’s mom eventually did read it after her son seemed to love it so much, and found that it made reference to OMGoodness…masturbation and boners.

Oh no!! What had I done!? Had I exposed this 11 year old to his first dose of sexuality in the form of literature? I doubt it.

I am pretty sure this t’ween knows what a boner is. Not that I wasn’t slightly mortified to hear of his mother’s reaction. Which as far as I could tell was mostly chastising of the book and the boy’s father and likely me, although I was spared the actual words.

I do regret not reading this book before I gave it as a gift. Would I not have given it if I knew it talked about masturbation? Would you? Part of me wants to get a copy for my daughter and I to read. I see that the book was actually banned and then un-banned by people who originally didn’t read it.

I personally think it is important to keep the library open and full of books that might be controversial to some, because the truth is we are all born of “the sacred in the profane.” I think reading is so important to our expanding and growing minds. If a child finds a book they love or connect with that is a beautiful thing. And I don’t think sexuality and real language should be kept away from young people while they are unquestionably exposed to violence. What do you think? Tell me, I can take it.

 

About Mama K: She is a single mom to a thoughtful 13 year old. She’s also a workaholic, a lover, a dreamer and a connector of random things with a passion for social media, innovation, online privacy, cupcakes, rollerskating and making people smile. Her background includes a BA in linguistics and a JD with a focus on international human rights and indigenous peoples law and policy from the University of Arizona. Experience in law, publishing, media and the sex industry have provided her with invaluable perspective. 

Guest Post by the amazing Julie Barr

This post is written by another sex-positive parent, Julie Barr. Julie is a 42-yr-old mom of two sons, ages 13 and 8 years old. This post was originally published on the Good Vibrations magazine site and is cross posted with Julie’s permission. 

Last week I wrote about raising sex positive kids and touched on my dreams of providing space for my kids to explore their sexuality in a safe environment where they don’t have to fear getting in trouble with their parents or the cops or the neighbor down the street who might “catch” them. This sparked all kinds of conversation in my community about how we, as parents, can provide that space without setting off any taboo radars, without being arrested for child molestation/voyeurism or abuse, and without grossing out our teens with our obnoxious thoughts and questions about their sexual feelings and ideas.

My thoughts turned to when I was young and I asked about sex. My mom gave me the message that sex was something you do when you are married. From an early age, I was convinced that I would have sex by the time I was 17 yrs old. This left me as a young teen with a dilemma about whether I could talk to my mother about sex or not. I decided that because my parents had a rigid idea of what was “okay”, I was not able to tell them if and when I chose a different path. For most of my teenage years, I fumbled, sometimes literally, through exploring my sexuality without the guidance of any adult, relying on the advice of others my age. I learned many lessons in the most difficult ways possible.

Many of my first experiences with sex were wild, exciting and what I thought was fun, while simultaneously being cramped, dirty and shameful. I was often drunk, having met my lovers at drunken teen parties or even at adult bars. I had no idea what I was doing except following the lead of the guy I was with or my friends; none of them suggested I have a “safe sex” talk or that I could say “no” or even ask for what I wanted from these men. I spent years trying to find love and affection by offering my body to men. I had my first orgasm at 20 yrs old after almost 5 years of being sexually active. And I didn’t learn what my own desires and needs were until I was well into my 20’s.

Now when I imagine the “perfect parent” who could have been helpful to me, I envision someone who was willing to hear what I was experiencing or thinking without judging me for my actions or thoughts. I would have wanted guidance around how to get what I wanted without losing my sense of self in the process. Most of all, when I made dumb decisions and really fucked up, I yearned for someone to help me pick up the pieces, clean up the mistakes and support me to get back to feeling whole again.

When I turned 21, after years of making innumerable poor decisions about my sexuality, I told my mother some of the major mistakes I made. It was very important at the time for her to understand the serious impact her rigid message about sex had on my life. I wanted her to understand my lack of ability to make informed decisions about sex throughout my teen years. My mother could not tell me what decisions she might have made if I had shared my struggles with her back when I was young, but she was very sad that I had not trusted her enough to share this with her. There are two pieces that I learned were crucial and lacking in this process: information and practice.

In our modern world, with our advanced technology, young folk may or may not need information from their parents about sex. There is a lot of decent information today on the internet and in some school programs; well informed teachers give kids a broad understanding of their bodies and others and how they can interact with each other sexually. I want to be available for my kids for whatever questions they have after receiving this information. Clearly, they may choose not to ask me those questions, but I frequently make sure that they know I am there, willing to talk and will not put them down in the process.

One reader left a comment on my blog last week about a book called “The Guide to Getting It On” by Paul Joannides. She suggested that as a child, she found it helpful when her father left this book lying around, giving her the chance to pick it up and read it at her leisure. She later told me that she might have actually asked her father for information about sex and this was his response. Education through books seems a great resource for kids who are self motivated and need to do things at their own pace.

I have found with my kids that subjects come up in the car, at the dinner table or in particular, after 5th grade when “sex ed” classes start at school and we are able to actively start conversations about how the class is going. Because I am eager to discuss these ideas with my kids, I often jump at the chance to talk about the subject. Sometimes this is good, and sometimes it is too much for the kids.

I want my kids to know that whatever questions they have about sex, they do not need to feel as if they might be ridiculed or demeaned for asking questions or having a thought in the first place. My youngest son recently made a statement in the car about not wanting to look “gay” because he liked a boy. We spent some time discussing this idea and not necessarily whether it was bad to be “gay” or even “not gay” but rather that it was not nice to use “gay” as an insult about other people. I made sure that my boys know that they can be attracted to whomever they want and they will not be judged. My 7 year old, with eye rolling irritation replies, “I KNOW, Mom.”

What seems more difficult to discern is a clear path to how to allow the kids a space to “practice”. When do we ever see young kids encouraged to have sex and enjoy themselves? We are bombarded by the media with sex and the use of sex to sell products is rampant, but the message gets lost in translation. We are not necessarily saying, “Hey kids, sex is a lot of hard work and emotionally difficult, but a lot of fun in the process.” Sex IS hot, sex IS awesome, but sex is not EVERYTHING. And it takes practice.

But where do we expect them to get that practice? Another friend of mine is an incredible planner of epic and super sexy events for adults. Although I loved the conversation about how he could make this also work for teens, I tend to operate on a smaller scale. Again, I can envision my kids having a space at my house to “practice”. However, I can also imagine that I could run into some difficult conversations with my kids’ friends’ parents. I can imagine that how I communicate with them about the space will be very important. I believe in direct, honest communication in most areas of my life. This seems like a crucial place to continue that trend.

I would tell other parents my beliefs about sex, my beliefs about how we should talk to our kids about sex, my beliefs about how if we take the mystery and riskiness out of sex, perhaps our kids might not even rush to do it so soon, and might be more conscious about how they relate to sex. I would tell other parents that if they do NOT want their kids to have sex with my kids who are aware of safe sex practices; if they do NOT want their kids to have sex with my kids who are taught to be respectful of boundaries and respect a “no”; if they do NOT want their kids to have sex with my kids who are learning how to ask for what they want; if they do NOT want their kids to have sex with my kids who are learning how to recognize their feelings and speak up for themselves when they feel uncomfortable; and if they do NOT want their kids to have sex in a safe, comfortable environment without the stress of being caught or arrested, then they should NOT let their kids come over to my house. Otherwise, send them over and their kids might get the same message my kids get: be safe, be respectful, ask for what you want, notice what you are feeling, relax and have fun!

 

juliebarJulie Barr, MA, MFT, has been licensed in California since 2002 and has worked for the last 21 years with children, families, adults and couples to create richer, more rewarding relationships and help individuals and families process and heal from serious trauma and mental health issues. More recently, Julie has begun to lead workshops and facilitate community events to increase a sense of shared responsibility for caring for others in a healthy and loving manner.

Talking to your Teens about Condoms

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So I came of age in California during the 1990’s and we had some seriously awesome sex ed. By the age of 15 my entire peer group knew to use condoms to prevent pregnancy and stop the spread of HIV. Every teenager I came into contact with understood the importance of condom use. There was no doubt if you were having sex you were supposed to be using a condom.

Yay us! Yay comprehensive sex ed! Yay society!

But here is the caveat. Nobody really had a clue as to how to wear one. You had to be having sex with someone who already knew how to put one on in order to learn how to put one on. So two inexperienced people had a helluva time trying to figure that out. Which increased their risk. They knew enough that they needed to be using a condom, they just didn’t know how to actually use it correctly.

Next problem- the free condoms never fit! Penises come in a range of sizes and shapes. Do we teach that enough in sex ed? Vulvas and vagina’s come in a plethora of varieties as do their opposite sex counterparts. The only standard is variation. We’re all so different it makes us alike. So penises are not all the same. You have to find the right condom for you.

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I know there is this machismo, braggadocio thing around men saying that they need bigger condoms when they really don’t. And I know there are men who just don’t like the way condoms feel. That’s not what I’m talking about.

What I’m talking about is being a young person with sexual partners who were genuinely too big or too small for the freebie Lifestyle condoms given out to sexually active teenagers. In fact, it wasn’t until I was 21 that I even knew condoms came in different sizes. When I found out all I could think of was how useful that information could have been in high school. How much safer people would have been had they had proper fitting condoms.

Here is my advice, when you talk to your teenager about condom use- make sure to mention fit. There are different sized condoms available and finding the right fit keeps you safer.

There’s nothing wrong with showing your teen where the condoms are located in the pharmacy/grocery store/Target. You don’t have to hang out there with them while they survey the options, it’s ok to point them in that direction and tell them to meet you in the bread aisle. Let them know that variation is normal and using birth control is normal and that being responsible for their own safety is normal. Also, you could tell them that a single drop of lube inside the condom can make a world of difference. You don’t have to share that bit, but it would be awesome if you did. 

Or you could show them this video: Teenagers and contraception video by NHS of the UK

If you need some data, read this post at HuffPo by Ron Dicker that cites (and links to) studies that link penis size and condom usage: 

CHEST Study Reveals Penis Size Linked To Condom Usage

 

Good luck! And be safe out there!

Sex-Positive Parenting in Stereo

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I’ve got three ways for you to hear more about sex-positive parenting.

The first is a podcast you may or may not be familiar with depending on your relationship to non-monogamy. “Life on the Swingset” is podcast that discusses ethical non-monogamy in a group format. I was invited to the swingset to discuss parenting while being openly non-monogamous. This is a podcast chock full of information on polyamory. If that’s your thing, click the link for a listen: http://www.lifeontheswingset.com/13460/ss-96-sex-positive-parenting-with-airial-clark/

Have you read Go the Fuck to Sleep? Better yet, have you heard Go the Fuck to Sleep read aloud? Ok, if no, go do that. Now. If yes, did you know the author of that book, Adam Mansbach co-hosts the radio show “Father Figures” on Berkeley’s KPFA every Saturday morning at 10AM PST? Each week he and co-host Weyland South gather together a group of “Badass Dads” and one “Token Mom” and discuss the intersection of parenting and pop culture. This Saturday, 12/1 the topic is talking to your kids about sexuality, and I’ll be on as the “Token Mom.” You can listen live here: http://www.kpfa.org/short-run-series/father-figures

And finally, you can hear me in person! I’ll be reading at the Radical Families Social on December 15th at the Holdout in Oakland. For more info check out the facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/382910911788370/

If you like what you hear, be sure to download your copy of my Quick Start Guide to Sex-Positive Parenting while it’s still free. I’ll be announcing the details for my next series of workshops in the East Bay coming up in January, so stay tuned for that.