Guest post by Takeallah Rivera.
Oftentimes, when “sex education” and “sex positivity” is mentioned, people immediately think of preteens and teenagers. It is time to change that!
It is possible to use age-appropriate tactics to promote sex positivity among small children! If there can be a national Head Start program for toddlers to prepare for college, there is no reason why they should not get a “head start” on learning about sex, bodies, and autonomy! Here are three ways we can promote sex positivity among toddlers:
Use Anatomically Correct Terms
It is very uncommon to hear the anatomically correct terms for genitals- “down there” seems to be the most widely used term at parks, playgrounds, and preschools.
Using “cutesy” words to describe body parts not only creates confusion about our anatomies , but also creates a sense of shame around bodies and sexuality. Normalizing words such as “penis, vulva, vagina, breasts, nipples, and anus” enables toddlers to learn at an early age that body parts are not shameful and prevents stigma from being formed about bodies.
Furthermore, if instances were to arise, a child would be fully capable of communicating to a trustworthy adult about the encounter; for example, a child stating “I was touched on my vulva” is more clear than saying “I was touched where the sun doesn’t shine”, which could mean an armpit, a foot, or a shoulder.
Teach Your Toddler About Consent- Then Practice What You Preach!
Consent is the most important concept of comprehensive sex education, and normalizing consent is the first step in creating sex positive children.
Consent can be applied to any scenario- from the dinner table to the playground. Encourage your children to develop boundaries by asking them questions, such as “How did you feel when (insert friend/sibling’s name here) did that?” and “Did you say it was okay for (insert friend/sibling’s name here) to touch you?”
Asking these questions allows for children to assess their own feelings and to create solutions to issues that arise, rather than a parent/guardian/caregiver to dictate solutions.
Parents, you aren’t off the hook! This applies to you as well!
After you teach your toddler about consent, practice what you preach! Get into the habit of asking your toddler “Would you like a hug?” “Is it okay if I pick you up?” “May I have a kiss?”
It is natural to want to console an upset toddler, but asking for consent to enter a child’s space further promotes autonomy with your little ones.
*Also, for the love of all things feminist, please don’t force your children to hug or kiss strangers or other family members.*
Choose A Pediatrician and Dentist With Feminist Values
Ahh, the doctor’s office. A place where many parents come in with high hopes and leave flustered, embarrassed, and frazzled.
Well-Child Check-ups can be nerve-wrecking for toddlers. In an examination room, a toddler can feel outnumbered, overpowered, and vulnerable, which can lead to a less than cooperative patient and an unpleasant experience.
Select a physician and dentist who engage directly with your child (instead of talking over them and only engaging with the parent), such as stating “I am going to check your vulva/penis now, if that is okay” or “Can you open your mouth so I can check to see if your teeth are healthy and strong?”
A doctor and/or dentist who values your child as a patient and an individual is key in building trust and alleviating anxiety when it is time for a check-up.
Let’s set our youth up for success! It is never too early to teach children about boundaries and their bodies!
Takeallah Rivera is a Full Spectrum Doula, Reproductive Justice Activist, Writer, Childbirth and Breastfeeding Educator, and Survivor. Through her work as a Doula and Educator in her community, she continues to advocate for reproductive justice and education equity. You can find her at www.takeallahrivera.com.
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