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.***