It’s Never Too Soon
With a look of relief on her face, a mother of a three year old told me, “My son is too young for me to start giving him a lesson in sexuality.” I smile and respond, “You started the lesson three years ago.”
With the dread of most parents, this mother is probably thinking about answering the almighty sexual intercourse question. But let’s clarify something. Even with fear in our hearts, we know that sexuality is much more than sexual intercourse. It includes our psychological, biological, emotional, social and spiritual selves. It surrounds us daily in the media with what some would argue are unhealthy and distorted messages and images. Such issues as body image, relationships, self-esteem, decision-making, abuse, contraception, sexual pleasure, gender identity, sex role stereotypes, values and beliefs, disease, emotional responses, etc. etc. are all an enormous part of our sexual selves. And we begin to communicate about many of these issues by our actions and behaviours long before our children utters their first words.
Infancy is probably the most sensual time of our lives – a sad statement when you consider that we are slowly approaching or passing middle-age. However, consider how a baby is talked to in a low, soothing, gentle voice; is cuddled, massaged, caressed, held and stroked; had it’s genitalia and bottom wiped, perfumed, powdered and dried. From these interactions an infant not only learns to trust but also learns how to receive love – a skill that will come in handy with later relationships. Just by caring for your child you are playing an important role in his/her future as a sexual being.
Another rather mind boggling responsibility that parents of young children have is as a role model. Actions are much more powerful than words and have an influence long before a child can verbalize. I’m not suggesting that our intimate sexual behaviours should be put on a pedestal for our children to learn from. Our sexual lives are private and when our children become adolescents it may be hard to acknowledge that theirs are private too. Our sexual lives are much more than our sexual behaviours. Our children will learn about sexuality by how we interact with a partner, how we respond to the person on the street who whistles at us, if we are comfortable with our own nudity, if we cover our bodies when we go to the beach, if we are constantly on diets or referring to “bad” foods, if we push our child’s hand away from his/her genitalia when we are reading them a bedtime story, if we talk to our sons in a loud, rambunctious voice about their skills and to our daughters in gentle, high voices about how nice they look, if we try to ignore the couple kissing on TV when our children are in the room or whoosh them off to bed when the kissing starts. The list goes on and on. Unfortunately, we all make mistakes, wishing we could turn back time to do it all over again. Fortunately, when we become aware of the ways we influence our children and their sexuality, our mistakes can be corrected in the future or at least acknowledged as mistakes.
To the parents who sigh with relief when listening to parents of older children talk about how they dropped the dinner on the floor when the question, “How are babies made?” was asked, you’ve already begun to set the stage to answer the question. You’re in the midst of giving your child a seven day per week sexuality lesson. I can just hear you growling with fatigue, “Oh great, not only do I have to change diapers to avoid a rash, feed the kid so he gains the right amount of weight on time, keep track of doctor’s appointments, immunizations, try to sleep when the baby naps… now I have to worry about sex ed!” Oh well, have fun and look forward to the next stage in their sexual development. The part when they ask questions!
Sally O’Neill and Joanne Anderson