Months ago, I saw a request for proposals for a conference on sexuality and relationships. I jumped at the opportunity, excited to offer myself in some capacity to talk specifically from the perspective of a parent about the language around the more complex parts of sexuality. This weekend, I had the pleasure of presenting at the first Playground Conference, held in Toronto. Below, I’ll share the basic content of my part of the session, as well as a critique of both my own performance and the session as a whole.
Part the First
As a co-presenter of “Birds, Bees, and Ball Gags,” I chose to approach my piece both thematically and personally. I set up a theme/issue/tip, and followed it with an anecdote to illustrate how that worked (and sometimes didn’t) in my family.
I covered the following:
1. This is about communication, first and foremost
2. Keep it age-appropriate, and revisit what that means regularly
3. Provide kids with the language and concepts around sexuality early so that they have the opportunity to internalize (and therefore normalize) their own sexual interests as they grow
4. Offer opportunities for your kids to moderate their own level of knowledge as you go — give them the opportunity to “safeword” their way out of a discussion, with the option of returning to the topic when ready
5. Have books around to supplement their sexual education learning (incidentally, Good for Her‘s display window is currently devoted to books on how to talk with kids about sexuality.)
6. Common advice is to wait until they ask about stuff, but as children get older, if you wait for them to ask, they’re asking because they’ve already heard about/experienced it somewhere else, and you’re going to have the job of helping them unlearn inaccurate (and sometimes dangerous) information
7. Emphasize the difference between education/information and nosiness/privacy/boundary violations. You can be very open with your children about sexuality and relationships without bringing your own personal experiences and preferences into the conversation. Don’t be afraid to say, “That’s none of your business” to your child, while keeping the door open to discuss the general pieces of that question. This is going to look different for everyone, as we all have different boundaries around what is and isn’t private. The same can be said for our children – reinforcing that privacy is important to us as adults lets them know that we respect their privacy as well (assuming “privacy” isn’t being used to mask unsafe, unethical, and illegal activity).
8. Be aware that being out about anything to your children – even out as someone who is open to discussing the murkier complex pieces of sexuality – will mean that you’re opening yourself to the probability that your parents, neighbours, children’s friends and possibly teachers will know about what you’ve told your children.
9. The opposite side of that is to be prepared to have your child be really uncomfortable as she/he/zie gets older with anything you’re comfortably out about in your community, as it affects her/his/hir levels of privacy.
10. All of this may be more complicated if you and your partner(s)/ex(es) aren’t on the same page about just how much information your child should have about sexuality issues.
Part the Second – What went well, what could have been done better
I feel like I covered the bases of what I set out to do. What I could have done better is used the flip chart to ink out the specific themes I was discussing – to give it more structure and make it look less like I was randomly pulling bits and bobs from my head.
It also would have run a lot more smoothly had I had a chance to go over things in more detail with my co-facilitator. We really weren’t on the same page with our approaches, and it made for a bit of a fractured presentation.
We lost a few people as we went through, and I would love to know why they left, so I could figure out ways to reduce the possibility of that happening in future sessions (should they exist).
Very few people attended this session at all. We had eight, including one person who sat in the corner, outside of the conversation, and worked on her laptop the whole time. To be fair, we were “competing” against Queer Sex 101, which I hear was wildly popular. But I think there might be more to it than that.
Part the Third – “Child” is a four-letter word
Early in the day on Saturday, I was talking with a few people about my session. Every single person I spoke with said, rolling their eyes and making dismissive hand gestures, “Oh, yeah, that wasn’t even on my radar.” They don’t have kids, they don’t want kids, and they have no interest in being involved with those who do. I think, even without being offered at the same time as a popular session, mine would still have had low attendance simply because the place of children (and those who parent them) is a marginal place in alternative sexuality communities.
It takes more organization and forethought for parents involved in these communities to participate in events due to child care and other family responsibilities, but we’re also going to hesitate to participate if how we have chosen to live the pieces of our lives that aren’t directly linked to our sex lives is treated disdainfully or as unimportant. Don’t get me wrong: my children are not welcome in these parts of my life, and that is a good thing. What is not a good thing is that by association, my identity as parent is also not welcome.
I’m not arguing that all people should have a bunch of kids. I’m not arguing that parents should have special privileges simply because they’ve bred or adopted or inherited children through a number of means. What I am saying is that for a bunch of people who can readily identify that many of us had really shitty sex ed experiences, and who can see that education for young people leads to healthier communities overall, not a lot of support is given to those of us who are actively engaged in DOING that work. That needs to be addressed.