One of the main goals of life for most humans is to work. (In our western world, our whole childhood and adolescence is leading up to it: start learning early so you’ll be prepared for school, go to school to gain skills, achieve high ranks to gain scholarships for more school, study specified skills and knowledge, until finally all of that journey on a resume gets you a paying job). And so, as a society, we set kids up to explore this part of their identity: toys and stories the encourage different careers, camps and apprenticeships, introduction to career fairs and role models. Kids spend a whole lot of their childhood pondering “what they want to do when they grow up,” hoping to find what makes them happy and helps them reach their goals. What if we spent this much energy helping them explore another central part of being human: their sexuality? Helping them discover what makes them sexually happy and helps them reach their relationship goals?
This week I explore the last of the ways we promote sex-positive parenting: encouraging openness to sexual diversity. This topic is most tricky right now because it’s the only one that is explicitly sexual, which just isn’t applicable to a toddler yet. But because foundations are laid early, here’s what we’re trying:
1. Exposure to Sexual Diversity
Our daughter’s not asking these questions or thinking about this yet (neither for her career nor her sexuality) so for the moment, we just want her to know she has options when she does. For us, this is simply about exposure. In her life, there is a spectrum of heterosexual and homosexual individuals living a variety of lives: married, partnered for life, single, with children, without children, multi-racial, inter-religious. We obviously we have plenty of room to grow for more exposure, and diversity in storybooks can help with places we lack. But mainly, we just want the mere presentation of options without discussion or shame to say this is normal and this is good.
2. Acceptance of Identity
The ultimate point of the exposure to diversity is to help our daughter find her place in it. So in little ways, we’re practicing letting her know that someday these options will be part of her identity. We do this by using unassuming language about the future, (and at this point it’s mostly when the conversation of her future comes up with others adults): we talk about dating, marriage, and having kids with “ifs” not “whens” and we talk about future romance with boys or girls. But part of diversity of sexuality, for me, is understanding that there are also diverse levels of comfort in this area for others. So, we’re also not militant about it. I’m not going to correct someone who alludes to a boy liking my daughter someday or her liking them. All of it is part of the diversity and we believe all of it should be handled with openness.
3. Encouragement of Exploration
All of the exposure and acceptance of a sexually diverse identity is for naught if our daughter doesn’t feel the freedom to explore this area for herself. The best way I know how to encourage that it’s worth exploring is to model that in my own life.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t plan on discussing my sexual preferences in the bedroom with my children. But I do want to exude uninhibited curiosity, joy, and confidence with my own body and sexuality. Even if our children someday cover their eyes and say “eeewww,” I want to normalize sexual playfulness and flirtation between myself and my partner (something my parents’ seemingly constant state of "inlove"-ness with each other taught me.) I want to dance with the freedom of someone who loves her body when music blasts from our kitchen during dinner prep. I want to dress my body with confidence and self-love, which carries over in the way I share my body with my partner. And I hope, if I set these a goals for being a sexual woman, my daughter will feel the freedom to explore whatever she needs to get herself there as well.
This last point is the hardest, because I’m talking about it in future tense. I’m still working on being the woman I want my daughter to see. But I hope that the hard work I’m doing in this area of my own identity lets her know the freedom on the other side is worth it. And I hope that the sex-positive parenting we’re doing now, removes some of the obstacles in her road to getting there.