Human sexuality starts at birth. The way parents touch their baby and let babies interact with their own bodies influences their sexuality. Parents touch their baby’s body but tend to skip touching the genitals of their kids. This is a delicate issue because a grown-up (even a parent) touching a child evokes a power dynamic that can be subject to abuse. However, for a baby who does not have the sexual feelings as grown ups do, there is no difference in someone stroking its neck, its belly or its penis. It all simply feels good. By not touching babies genitals we send out the message that this part of their body is shameful, wrong or not worth the touch. If it feels ok to touch your child, it is because it is.
Daily verbal and non-verbal signals influence the way children perceive their sexuality both as a child and later as an adult. Children are very curious and discover the world they live in by asking questions. For adults, questions about sex or sexuality might come as a surprise and are sometimes difficult to answer. The reason we find it hard to answer a child’s question concerning sexuality is because of our own views of sexuality. We see sexuality as something that belongs to adults and involves adult sexual behavior such as sexual intercourse. We need to change this way of viewing sexuality. Humans are sexual beings from birth till death. Children’s sexuality is not comparable to adult sexuality but is a part of a child’s life. Having an open mind about your child’s sexuality and answering their questions will help them develop positive feelings towards their sexuality now and in later life.
Children discover their world by playing, this includes playing doctor or playing house, which often involves touch. Even though it might be upsetting for adults to see, what is wrong with this exactly? When you walk into children carrying out this kind of play, it is ok to check if everything is right and if everyone is enjoying it. If it is, let them continue. There is a difference when the play involves children from different ages because older children might use their age and power to let the younger children do things they are not ready for. Otherwise, try to remember that sending out negative signals towards these kinds of play will send out a message of shame and negativity about their sexuality.
Talking About Sexuality
Some people believe that by talking about sexuality with children you stimulate early sexual behavior. This is in no way true, there is actually evidence for the opposite. Talking about basic human boundaries, consent, and sex with your child or teenager makes them better informed and gives them the confidence and skills to act in a way that feels right to them. Talking about sex and sexuality with your child does not come down to one “talk”. Instead, it can be something ongoing and extemporaneous. When you’re in the car and drive past a “sexy” billboard or when a family friend has a newborn, these are all great times to perk up and start conversations about love, sex, relationships, family, boundaries, and birth control.
Please keep in mind that we are sexual beings from birth to death even if that entails different things at different life stages. Your child does not think about, and experience sexuality the same way you do. In order for them to have a healthy, safe, but also enjoyable sex life later (when they are adult), it is important to handle these issues while they are young as well as older.
Help your child understand what is private and what is public, but don’t punish them for asking about or wanting to understand their sexuality.
Featured image courtesy of artur84 via FreeDigitalPhotos.