If I say the word sexuality, what comes to mind?
Maybe something you’ve seen online? Or something you’ve experienced? Maybe you have positive feelings toward it. Maybe you feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed or appalled.
What if I say the word healthy? What comes to mind then?
I imagine you think of basic ideas like including more produce in your diet, getting regular exercise and losing weight. Maybe even some of the latest health trends like yoga, coconut oil, and fitness tracker apps come to mind.
Hopefully you also think of the word healthy in broader terms — like addressing mental health challenges and improving social skills and strengthening family relationships.
The word healthy may come with a host of emotions depending on the level of your health currently. But despite where you or I personally fall on the health scale at the moment, we all have to admit that a lifetime of health, vitality, and happiness is something that we all hope to obtain.
And that idea of health, vitality, and happiness? We want it for our kids too.
Kids and sexuality messages
If I say the phrase healthy sexuality, what comes to mind?
Suddenly feels a little more challenging to explain, doesn’t it?
What if I combine the two phrases healthy sexuality and your child?
“Hold on!” you might say. “Kids are not sexual. They’re not old enough to know stuff like this.”
And in many ways, you’re right. There are lots of sexual things that kids simply don’t need to know about. Their brains are not yet developed enough to have a healthy understanding of it, and for their own mental, emotional, and physical health, it would be best to wait until they are ready to receive that information and process it in healthy ways.
The problem is that kids are already receiving messages about bodies, love, and sexuality day in and day out. Some of these messages are constant, persuasive, and misleading.
And these messages may be the exact opposite of what YOU envision for your child’s future health, vitality, and happiness.
There are so many different voices from so many different sources telling us what we should think as parents. Media implies that sexuality is needed to achieve status. Some experts tell us that kids exposure to pornography is no big deal as long as kids know it’s for entertainment. One day we hear that we should be passing out the condoms on Friday nights and the next day we’re told we shouldn’t be overinforming our kids.
These messages are so confusing.
But there is a fundamental component many of these messages lack. And it’s not the word sexuality.
They lack the word healthy.
What is healthy sexuality?
To better understand, let’s get a refresher on what these two words mean. Healthy is defined as something that is beneficial to one’s physical, mental, or emotional state. Sexuality refers to your capacity for sexual feelings, your sexual actions and behaviors, and the condition of reproduction.
The combined term healthy sexuality encompasses a much broader idea.
It includes positive self image and respect for oneself as a human being — not a sexual object.
It means being able to give and receive love and affection in a way that fits within your personal limits or boundaries — not someone else’s.
It promotes easily discussing your feelings, attitudes, and values regarding appropriate physical behaviors — and seeking relationships with those like minded.
It also includes the right to enjoy sexual expression within your own values and limits — without the addition of fear, guilt or shame.
These components, among others, are benchmarks of healthy sexuality.
Kids are sexual beings too.
So, “kids are not sexual!” you say.
Whether we want to think of them as sexual human beings or not, our kids will be making decisions related to sexual behavior and attitudes sooner than we think — like in elementary school.
Don’t misunderstand. I’m not talking about engaging in intercourse. I’m talking about preliminary thoughts, feelings and actions that set the stage for more mature sexuality later in life. You know, little behaviors like hand holding and touching and having crushes. Even wonderful hugs in loving families and general feelings about bodies and consent and privacy are preparing kids for more mature sexuality.
All of these feelings, attitudes and behaviors will eventually evolve into more complex behaviors as kids grow older and experience the confusing and boisterous voices of puberty.
By the time they are in kindergarten, kids are already developing attitudes and feelings about their gender and appropriate interactions between themselves and others. They notice what words and actions and even body parts get the most attention. That’s why being aware of the often loud and persuasive messages that surround your child is an important parenting tool.
Which voice is going to be the loudest in YOUR child’s life?
I hope you already said, “MY voice!”
Your voice will be the one promoting the belief of positive self image and respect for oneself as a human being — not a sexual object.
Your voice will impress the importance of giving and receiving love and affection in a way that fits within your personal limits or boundaries — not someone else’s.
Your voice will advocate for easily discussing feelings, attitudes, and values regarding appropriate physical behaviors — and seeking relationships with those like minded.
Your voice will assert the right to enjoy sexual expression within your own values and limits — without the addition of fear, guilt or shame.
How will you be that place that promotes these truths for your child’s future health, vitality and happiness?