One of the things that I hear time and time again from parents is that it feels like parenthood is a constant tightrope walk. And knowing how to meet our children’s curiosity about sex without projecting our own (often complicated) feelings onto the conversation is certainly no exception.
Here to offer some clarity on how we can set developmentally appropriate expectations of our kids and gentle expectations of ourselves when it comes to talking to them about sex is Dr. Holly Richmond.
From learning language that can help keep your child safe, when and how to set appropriate boundaries, and how to introduce the concept of consent to young children, in this episode we will offer you a framework that you can use no matter your comfort level, so you can introduce topics related to sexual health in a manner that feels authentic and genuine to you.
Dr. Holly (00:00):
When we make it a secret or when we shame, that automatically goes to that place of: I did something wrong. I was broken. I have to hide this. I have to hide a piece of myself. I have to hide my curiosity. And I know a hundred percent that is not good for our children.
Dr. Sarah (00:22):
Talking to our kids about sex can be challenging, overwhelming, and even just thinking about it can make us uncomfortable. In our culture many of us are taught that sex is shameful. So it’s no wonder that many parents feel apprehensive about this topic. But by being conscious of this societal stigma, we can work to change it so we don’t pass it on to our children. So that they can grow up to be sex positive rather than have to hold onto that same shame. Joining me today to talk about exactly what it means to be sex positive and how we can introduce these concepts in a healthy and age appropriate manner is Dr. Holly Richmond. Dr. Holly is a licensed marriage and family therapist, a certified sex therapist, and she holds a PhD in somatic psychology. Plus she is the mother of two young boys navigating the same questions and conversations that all parents do about sex, sexuality, and body autonomy. I really encourage you, if this subject makes you feel uncomfortable, to simply listen to this episode and see if your feelings begin to shift as you identify the roots of this discomfort and hopefully set yourself on a path to tackle these topics in a way that feels authentic, intentional, and safe.
Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology, and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights so you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.
Hi, I’m so thrilled to have Holly Richmond here with us today. Thank you so much for being here.
Dr. Holly (02:22):
Sarah, I’m so excited to be here and have this conversation, so thank you for the invitation.
Dr. Sarah (02:28):
Yes I am in love with the work that you do. I think it’s so important to have really eloquent and educated voices talking about sexuality and bodies from a science perspective. It’s really refreshing and as a woman and a mother, we need that.
Dr. Holly (02:50):
Thank you. Yes, I love the work I do and I work in the sexuality field and I’m also a mother and there’s no way I can move through the world and not kind of wear both shoes. So again, thank you for this podcast and having these, they’re not hard conversations, they’re necessary conversations that we’re just still not having enough on a daily basis, I think.
Dr. Sarah (03:12):
Yeah, and I’m curious, you do a lot of work with sex positivity, sexual trauma. There’s a lot of those two things are really hard to coexist in the world. And I’m curious, and I cannot imagine that there are parents who are listening to this that not, some people that are listening to this haven’t grappled with the intersection of the two or perhaps just the impact our society has with the relationship to sex, and that makes it hard to have these conversations with ourselves, with our partners, with our kids in appropriate ways. And that’s what I’m hoping to talk to you about today. What’s the landscape for parents who maybe are trying to figure out how they feel about sex as something we talk about in our family and with our children?
Dr. Holly (04:12):
I love those two pillars that you’ve presented. So on the one hand, the sex positivity and sexual health, and on the other hand, sexual trauma and obviously keeping our kids safe. So I just wanted to start this conversation out by, I know some of the parents listening are going to be survivors of sexual trauma because the statistics show us that they have to be so one out of every six women, one out of every 33 men in the United States have experienced some form of sexual trauma every 68 seconds in the United States, someone experience a sexual trauma. So this is not me scaring people, it’s just to really highlight that the parents listening know someone or they’ve experienced that. So their radar is probably very attuned to keeping their kids safe, which necessarily absolutely a hundred percent. But Sarah, what I’m eager for us to do is really parse out how we can keep ourselves our kids sex positive and safe and kind of hold space for the creative things that kids do with their bodies. The funny ways they are with themselves, just the freedom that they seem to be born with. I’m a mother of a seven and a nine year old. I did not teach that. That’s just how my kids show up in the world, and I think there’s some sense of wanting to promote that and hold onto that and again, keep them safe.
Dr. Sarah (05:34):
And I think a lot of parents want that in theory, but either are scared that they don’t have the skills to do it effectively, or they have learned through society’s messaging that that’s not okay to do that. It’s not that there’s some sort of bias or stigma around sexuality in children that is developmentally appropriate that we are afraid of,
Dr. Holly (06:06):
Right, because I think the languaging becomes is this a gateway drug is a book about a queer boy, a gateway drug is letting the kids run around the house a gateway drug. I don’t have another word for this. This is just what I hear some parents reflect to me, well, how far do I let them be free? How much do I let them express themselves without not being safe? So this is a necessary conversation to have. So yeah. Sarah, are there questions specifically that you feel like parents often ask you?
Dr. Sarah (06:41):
Yeah. I get a lot of questions about, I think a lot of parents feel conflicted. They see their child engage in a behavior sexual in nature. Maybe it’s sticking their hand in their pants all the time at the dinner table. Maybe it’s exploring curiosity in other children’s body parts at a young age, maybe they’re wanting to touch their parents in the shower, all kinds of things that are, depending on the age, pretty developmentally appropriate and typical. But parents are then saying, well, I don’t know. I don’t have a language for giving them a context, a explanation, a boundary around this behavior I have. And then there’s all these other pieces that get kicked up. Where does that come from? Where does our lack of language around this, our discomfort, our fear around this come from? And I guess those are kind of two separate things.
Dr. Holly (07:46):
Yes. So the answer to that second question is our puritanical and patriarchal culture to some degree. So we’re still that intergenerational piece of holding onto that is there. I wonder if it would help to start with some definitions and nothing too clinical, but this word sex positivity. I think many of us think we know what it means. I have a really simple definition that I hope it’s okay to offer to the listeners. So sex positivity means all sex is good sex as long as it’s consensual and pleasurable. All sex is good sex as long as it’s consensual and pleasurable. Now, when we’re talking about kids under the age of consent, which in most states is 18, we have to take that into consideration. So again, in a clinical context, kids within, again, every state is different, so it makes it confusing. But when your kids get to the teenager piece of their development, so if a child, one child is 15 and one child is 17, they can consent.
But if one child is 15 and one child is 18 or 19, that sexual abuse, so two or three years difference in age is usually okay. When you get anything more than that, it is not right. So when we’re looking at consent, but again this idea of sex, positivity, pleasure and consent, sexual trauma, on the other hand that’s the negation of consent. So we know sexual trauma is anything that hasn’t been consented to within that framework. Then we get in the scenarios that you brought up with the kids, this idea of privacy versus secrecy. And we all deserve privacy and kids need to learn the boundaries around privacy. And these are great conversations to have without shaming. But when we make it a secret or when we shame, that automatically goes to that place of I’m, I did something wrong. I was broken. I have to hide this. I have to hide a piece of myself, I have to hide my curiosity. And I know a hundred percent that is not good for our children
Dr. Sarah (09:56):
So how can we set appropriate boundaries for young children in the sense that we can give them a safe place to have privacy in a positive shame-free way when we ourselves are like, I don’t have a language for this. It makes me so uncomfortable. Can I say the word masturbation? At what age is it masturbation? Maybe it’s not actually yet.
Dr. Holly (10:25):
Yes, that’s a great question. The first part of your question is a big one and we will circle back this word masturbation. If we’re talking about kids between the ages of three and 12, maybe three and 11 masturbation isn’t a word that I would use. I use the word or touch that feels good just because again, masturbation and I’m thinking with my adult clients masturbation is usually a means to an end. Masturbation is heading towards orgasm when most children between those ages are talk touching themselves, it’s not about having an orgasm, it’s just because it feels good or maybe even for some, it’s just interesting. This thing is usually in my pants and now it’s not because I’m naked and I’m gonna see what it’s all about. It’s this innate curiosity that they have, which again, I just feel like is something that needs to be preserved and cherished in our kids and their sexuality, their sexual health gets to be a part of that story. Now it is 2022, our sexual health has to be as important as our physical health, as important as our mental health.
Dr. Sarah (11:34):
I could not agree with you more. And I think it is really empowering for parents to have a language like, oh wow, the difference between masturbation, which feels too big. It doesn’t feel like it fits. It doesn’t feel a good appropriate word, but what’s a different word? What can I say to my five year old who’s got his hand in his pants while we’re watching SpongeBob? Can I say it feels really good to touch your body there. That’s something that you can do in your room or in the bathroom, but we’re not doing that in the family room while we’re all together watching tv.
Dr. Holly (12:05):
Yes, I think that’s fantastic. That’s wonderful language for it. And Sarah, I’m curious for you, because I know we have kids similar age. Mine are a little bit older but the community that we created really from the get go, so I’m thinking about their pediatrician who used, who just naturally, he used wonderful language. He said when they were two, can I look at your genitals? Can I look at your penis and your scrotum? But I am gonna ask your mom first. And he literally turned to me cuz they didn’t know what to say. I mean, he’s the doctor. He’s the boss. So they just kind of sat there quiet and the doctor looked at me and he said, can I have permission to check their penis and their scrotum? And I said, yes you can. And then he looked at them and he said, no one can do this without your mom’s permission until you’re 18.
Which was a joke. I mean he was being funny. But they very much in every single well visit from that day on has been, can I have your permission? So the doctor was asking, so that’s a piece of the community I know from my two boys, their godparents are Uncle Dave and Uncle Lance. They’re our married best friends that are a gay couple. So they’ve always had that language. We go to pride festivals. Obviously I’m a sex therapist, so I don’t talk about sex that way in an adult way in front of them. But it’s also, the information is always there and accessible.
Dr. Sarah (13:36):
That’s really interesting. And I think, you know brought up another sort of example with the pediatrician is like, can I touch your genitals? Can I look at your penis and your scrotum using, I mean, I’m sure there are parents that are just cringing right now at those words. And I say that not to shame any parent, I think I myself had to get over my own a version to the sounds of certain words that I did not grow up hearing and that I had associations with that made me a little uncomfortable. And I didn’t grow up in a puritanical home. My family was pretty open and no one was very shaming of anything. But I do believe there’s osmosis of shame. It just comes from our world. But go back to my point, when we use anatomically accurate language for our kids body parts, all of them, we’re communicating, they’re all equal, they’re all important. They all have names, they’re all part of your body. They all deserve respect and attention at times. And it kind of neutralizes some of that shame, I think.
Dr. Holly (14:48):
It absolutely does. And I just wanna say for little girls or female body girls to make sure, for parents, this is just a little pet peeve of mine to know the difference between vagina and vulva. So what you see on the outside is a vulva that is not her vagina. Her vagina is the canal, the inside parts. I have a friend the other day who said her three year old was in the bath and she said, mommy, on my vulva this. And my friend was just as pleased as punched, so proud. She’s like, oh my gosh, I taught her right. She said vulva. And again, when we give it, and vulva is not a particularly sexy word, you guys, I dunno what it sounds like but just to have that, so they can again tell us what’s happening too. What if something is not feeling great? What if there’s pain somewhere so our kids can communicate to us and then communicate to a doctor or a nurse if necessary.
Dr. Sarah (15:43):
And from the point of sexual abuse, prevention and trauma, and I’ve talked about this before on the podcast, but this idea that when a child is able to use the correct language for their body parts, one, we know that sexual people, people who perpetrate sexual abuse are going to pause. It’s going to make them uncomfortable because they’re looking for kids who don’t know those things. They’re easier targets and easier victims because they can’t report very well. And if a child’s using that language, it sort of says to the potential perpetrator of abuse, one, I can report you, but two people are teaching me to pay attention to this. I’m educated and I know very likely that you know what to do in a situation like this. So they’re just less likely to be groomed sadly. But it’s a safety measure.
Dr. Holly (16:42):
It is. This education and using the words in the home is really where it has to start. Now let’s talk about a little bit of a gray space there, Sarah, if you’re open to it. So with siblings, that rough house or boys or girls, that rough house and explore each other’s bodies. So again, there it’s not, if you see so I’ll just, in my house, if my boys are roughhousing and one of ’em grabs a butt or hits in the penis, we’re gonna talk about that. But it would, I’m gonna talk about it almost in the same way. If they hit them on the face, which is not okay either. So it’s all not good. We don’t hit like that. Yes, if you guys wanna wrestle, let’s do that. But nobody touches other people’s. And so at seven and nine, I’m still using privates. Sometimes I’ll say, that’s a language that seems to work for them. Okay. But again, we’re not gonna shame it and be like, don’t touch that. Did you just do that? That’s just going, that’s not gonna help either.
Dr. Sarah (17:45):
And I think you make a good point. We have to talk authentically and naturally too. I don’t think every single time our kids bump into one another’s private parts, you touched his penis and how did he feel about that? We can also just be like, Hey, easy chill out a bit. We don’t have to get, but we also, it’s like you said, it’s what happens in the family life. If our day to day language includes these words and it’s neutral, that’s setting a clear communication as well. This is safe to talk about.
Dr. Holly (18:17):
It absolutely is. I just wanted to share one story fairly recently. So obviously June is pride month. So my son was still six then it had been a week or so since we had come from a pride event. And we were out for a walk and he just looked up at me and he said, mom, so dad’s gay right? And I just got this big smile on my face and a look of curiosity and I said, I don’t think so, but why do you ask? And then immediately in my head, and I do this for a living, I am a sex therapist for a living. I work mostly with adults, but the wheels are spinning. So mom, dad’s gay right? And he was authentic and he felt it. And I said, no, why do you think so? And he said, because I love him and he loves me and we’re both boys.
Dr. Sarah (19:09):
Dr. Holly (19:11):
Mhmm. So then to all the parents out there, if I can mess this up, you can mess this up. And it is okay I didn’t do a great job because this came out of the blue and I said something like, if dad was gay, that would be okay. I don’t think he is gay is usually for people who are over 18, which was not the right thing to say. So I’m giving this example of where I effed up because I really did, because I was on the spot. I said, when two boys decide they’re gay, it’s usually two adults and they decide that they’re gonna be together. What you and dad have is family love, so you’re not gay. But then I just kept talking. I was like, but if you decide to be gay, that’s fine. I mean it got bad you guys.
Dr. Sarah (19:55):
Oh my God, I totally empathize need to it. To that feeling of being like, oh my god, I’m in something and I keep digging a bigger hole and I’m not helping, but I can’t stop talking. We get flooded. This, I think this is a really good example of why this is hard because we’re not like when you’re working with patients, you’re removed, right? You can have objectivity and you have your prefrontal cortex accessed, you know? Got it. Yeah. When your kids say something you’re not expecting, especially when it comes to things that are a little bit emotionally charged or emotionally laden for us, we do get flooded. We do lose access to our clarity of thinking and we just sort go. But we could always go back. I’m really curious what the next conversation looked like.
Dr. Holly (20:48):
Yes. So I did go back, but not too soon. I really didn’t want him to feel like there was something wrong with this conversation. I mean, he moved on quick. That’s what I said. He was like, oh, okay. So he moved on quick. But I just went back and I said, what do you think when we go to these pride events and all the different people that love each other? And he just really came to, which is language we use, people should be able to love whoever they want and people can be gay or people can be me, is what he said. Okay. So yeah, I think just describing the different types of love for a six year old, seven year old, eight year old, nine year old, I think that’s the way to go. But you can talk about gay, you can talk about queer. And again for that’s a whole other podcast. There’s so much languaging there, on how to explain that. So this is just encouraging to your listeners to really look up some definitions that resonate for you that are appropriate for kids, obviously. Sex is a Funny Word, is a great place to start that book. And the writer there has some other great things coming out too.
Dr. Sarah (22:07):
That’s a good idea. And I think another thing you said that makes me really, I know you’re honing in on the part that you were like, oh gosh, I just dug a hole. But reality, I think one thing that you did that was so on point was you asked, well what do you thinking or what do you mean? What’s making you ask that question? That open ended curious response that I think is the best strategy. Cuz a lot of times a kid will ask a question, we’re like, what are you asking? And that’s not necessarily in that situation. But I black think of lots of examples where kids will ask some type of question that makes us flooded, what are you asking me? And we don’t know how to answer. And then reality, they’re not asking quite to the level we think they’re asking, being reflecting back and trying to find out more information about what exactly is it that they’re asking can give us a lot of information. How to actually, what the real question is and what parts to respond to.
Dr. Holly (23:15):
Exactly. And Finn’s question was just like, I love dad and he loves me. And a six year old brain was like, we’re both boys. Clearly we’re gay. Makes sense. Put it in a little summation and there it is. And no again, if they are great, but as far as I know, at least my husband, as far as I know not, and that’s fine too.
Dr. Sarah (23:39):
Right. And I like that too. This idea of family love, how is that different than friend love? How is that different from romantic love and being able to talk about the different types of love with our kids? That’s an interesting idea as well that I kind of like.
Dr. Holly (23:57):
Yeah. And that’s what we do. And in my house, the boys have already come home with the word crush, so that’s another lens to look through. And I just asked, what does crush mean? What do you feel when you’re, because my littlest said I’m crushing on, and I know this is language he’s heard from the older kids on the bus. I know it because I don’t said that in the house and I don’t think he’s watching anything with it. But just what does that feel like when you look at this little girl or when you play with this little girl, does it feel different than when you play with anyone else? And he couldn’t answer. So that was probably too much for seven. But it’s already got the framework. They’ve got familial, they’ve got friend, maybe they have crush.
Dr. Sarah (24:42):
Right? And we could talk about romantic love as mom and dad have or mom and mom have. We could talk about examples that give context for where they see it, maybe not where they experience it because it might be beyond their scope.
Dr. Holly (25:02):
Yes. Yeah, absolutely.
Dr. Sarah (25:04):
Based on that framework.
I’m curious too. Another question I’ll get a lot is if my child, this actually just came up with a good friend of mine where she was, that her daughter was playing with another boy they’re six. He put his hand in her pants and she didn’t want him to, but he did anyway. But she also, she kind of went on with the play, not, they moved on to something else. And then afterwards she told her mom, and her mom was really understandably very concerned and upset and didn’t know what to do necessarily. And also her daughter was not upset. She talked with her and set a boundary but her daughter wasn’t in tremendous distress. Mom was. And I guess how might you navigate a situation like that with a family?
Dr. Holly (26:04):
I think first I would reach out to the parents. That’s what I would do there. And just say, Hey, this happened. And hopefully they would be curious and receptive and have a conversation with their son. And literally the conversation is, Hey, we don’t touch other people in that area. It’s great to rough house and play, but you can’t touch people down there until you’re an adult. And I just use that term. I know teenagers are going to have sex, but it just gets too confusing if you’re talking to a six year old. So I just say until you’re an adult because it’s too much right now.
Dr. Sarah (26:41):
Yes. I think there’s a lot of nuance that comes with age. And at six you can be pretty concrete about it.
Dr. Holly (26:50):
Yeah. And hopefully the parents would be receptive. Sarah, I don’t know if this is in your community, if parents have expressed having difficult conversations with other parents or other family members when things like this come up because it’s a very common scenario, and it doesn’t have to be a big deal if the daughter wasn’t in distress, if she was, I would say she would need an apology and I think she should get one. If she wasn’t in distress, maybe it would just be okay to talk to that family, have them talk to their son and leave it at that.
Dr. Sarah (27:20):
Yeah, and I think it’s interesting. I did a podcast episode, this friend of mine has a podcast on parenting, and we did an episode kind of talking it through. And that’s more or less what we came to. We talked a lot about how to have these boundaries without shaming either child, but also to set those kids up for one tools that they can, tools and skills to say what they need to inhibit an impulse. And also tools for the parents to supervise appropriately knowing that this might be an area that needs more scaffolding. Maybe we’re not gonna let them go play in the bedroom by themselves right now because they’re showing us they’re not really ready for that.
Dr. Holly (28:09):
Yeah, I think that’s great. And again it seems like the little girl knew that wasn’t okay. Maybe the little boy’s family had not had any of these discussions about privacy before. Maybe he hadn’t had a pediatrician that asked, maybe he didn’t have any examples of sex positivity or safety consent. Maybe his parents hadn’t done that yet. And that’s no one’s fault. I’m not shaming, blaming, judging as parents, were all winging this and luckily we have podcasts and books like this that can just help give us some language.
Dr. Sarah (28:47):
And if parents are saying to themselves, oh my gosh, I haven’t talked to my kid about this stuff yet. I haven’t explicitly said, this is behavior that you can and can’t do when you’re playing with your friends. And how do they start that conversation? How would you recommend broaching that?
Dr. Holly (29:04):
That, the book I mentioned, Sex is a Funny Word, I think is a pretty good place just to start about the conversation. And then for me it’s always easier if my child, there’s an entry point. So if I see them touching themselves, if I see them rough housing and one touches the other in a way that they shouldn’t, that would be my entry in instead of just walking into the room out of the blue and having this big conversation, which might just automatically be a little I don’t know if I wanna use the word scary, but they just might be that I don’t want them to feel like they’re getting in trouble because they’re not. There’s no getting in trouble here. So I was really paying attention to the next time something around privacy and genitals come up.
Dr. Sarah (29:49):
I think that’s start to have a bridge.
Dr. Holly (29:52):
Dr. Sarah (29:54):
And also keep it short and sweet. Yes. I feel like we, as parents, you were saying, we get nervous, we just keep talking and then we just end up overstimulating our kids and they don’t retain any of the, they, we’ve lost them and then they don’t hold onto the one good nugget that we shared at the beginning. So leave it and move on. Yes. Let them absorb it on their own a little bit too. Yes.
Dr. Holly (30:22):
Sarah, another question I get a lot from the parents in my practice are, when do we stop walking around naked? When do we stop showering or bathing together? This is obviously a really personal and familial decision. We know what they do in Europe is different than what we do in the United States. There’s just more comfortable with nudity at home, at least from my European families. That’s what I’m hearing. The research shows us a little bit more comfort there. My barometer, and honestly, this is a question that I’m bumping up against myself, is watching my children’s body language, watching their facial expressions. If I’m getting dressed in front of them, there’s no embarrassment at seven and nine for me when they’re naked, they have no qualms about being naked in front of me. What I’m paying attention to is, is it still okay for me to be naked in front of them.
Dr. Sarah (31:19):
Dr. Holly (31:19):
And again, this is too little boys. If it was a girl, maybe would it be different? Sure. I think it might be a little bit different. I’m paying attention because it’s not phasing them yet. They don’t stare at my boobs, they don’t stare at my vulva. They’re not really registering it yet. Obviously I’m not trading around the house naked all the time, but they’re completely unphased. I think I’m attuned. I’m an attuned parent. Pretty intuitive as well. I will notice when they are getting uncomfortable and that’s my marker.
Dr. Sarah (31:53):
Yeah. Yeah. I think that’s a really good framework to follow. These sort of subtle cues that our kids are giving us not to wait. So it’s very explicit, but also not to know the difference between their cues and our projected fears.
Dr. Holly (32:12):
Yes. So not to wait too long, but not to preempt. So if my kids walked into the bedroom and I wasn’t dressed not to be like, Ugh, and I’m, I’m covering my breasts right now and pulling up the sheet or whatever, that’s also not gonna make them feel so great.
Dr. Sarah (32:28):
And I could see a child interpreting a emotion like that as what did I do wrong? Versus our feeling is, oh, I shouldn’t be showing you this. And they’re seeing that as, what did I do wrong? So we had to be mindful of also seeing the world through their eyes a little bit and man imagining what they might be experiencing and interpreting.
Dr. Holly (32:53):
Absolutely. And Sarah, to wrap up what you just said so beautifully, we don’t want to push it too far of walking around naked where you can visibly see that your children are uncomfortable. But we also don’t wanna preemptively cover up where they think, oh my gosh, mom is embarrassed or a naked body is a bad thing, so she can’t let me see it.
Dr. Sarah (33:14):
Right, exactly. One of the things that I was thinking too that comes up in the same idea of, okay, well when do we stop being naked around each other? When are we, when kids start asking where do babies come from and how are babies? There’s a progression of the curiosity around that, especially if people are expanding their family. That’s a big one, I think.
Dr. Holly (33:45):
Yes. Yeah, it is. And at our ages we’re just saying the sperm finds the egg. They haven’t asked beyond how the sperm gets in there. And I feel like little girls tend to be more precocious about this and would probably ask the questions. My boys are just great. The sperm finds the egg, the baby girls in the belly all good. Gosh, I would be fine communicating if they ask, but how does a sperm get into the belly is probably how they would ask it. I would say the penis goes in the vagina, the penis of the man or the dad goes into the vagina of the mom and then the sperm finds the egg.
Dr. Sarah (34:33):
Yeah, I kind of an agreement. I think it’s hard, but I think we answer the exact question with the most accurate information that is in language they can understand and then we stop talking.
Dr. Holly (34:49):
Dr. Sarah (34:49):
I think that that is the hardest part is just give a short answer. And if they ask follow up questions, you can answer those. Or if they get to a place where you’re not ready to have that conversation, say, these are really good questions, I need a little bit of time to think how I wanna answer that. And I can come back to you in a little bit. Or we could read a book together. Because you can buy yourself time too as a parent if you don’t know what to say. You can also say, these are such good questions. I love how curious you are. Let me think about how I’m gonna answer that and then we’ll talk about this again in a little bit.
Dr. Holly (35:23):
I love that. Yes, you can buy yourself time and if like me, you answered a question in a way that you weren’t happy with, you can go back and say to your child, Hey, that question you asked the other day, I didn’t do a great job job with that. Here’s a better answer.
Dr. Sarah (35:39):
I love that. So permission giving for parents to be able to go back. You know, we’re not writing the tones of our history. You can edit, we can go back and say, I gotta try that one again.
Dr. Holly (35:57):
Yes. And they will be so receptive to it. And I think just nothing to do with sexuality, but being human with our kids, letting them know that we make mistakes is so validating. Incredibly important.
Dr. Sarah (36:10):
I agree. There’s one other, this whole conversation started with what are questions parents are asking me? And another thing that’s come up in my practice a couple times now is young kids stumbling upon on the internet, either really graphic pictures or pornography and either closing it down in being very upset and not knowing what to do with it or perhaps being really curious and wanting to continue to engage with that medium for a little while. And only later that information becomes made a parent to the parents or somehow the parents find out and how So I know pornography is there, kids do find it. And sometimes they have that response of like, oh my God, what did I just see? I run away from it. And sometimes they wanna lean in. And I think both of those are really appropriate responses from kids to things that are startling and different and confusing. And I think as parents, how do we support kids who’ve experienced that?
Dr. Holly (37:21):
That’s a great question. And just some statistics around that. What we’re seeing now, the average age is between nine and 11. Nine and 11. Just because they have phones, tablets, all of the things if they’ve stumbled on it, of course, approach with curiosity. Ask them what they think, ask them if there was anything that they were more curious about that they didn’t probably would even be if they were curious. What were you curious about? So you’re asking these open-ended questions, giving them permission to ask. But again at this age, again, between this five, 10 and 11 saying that’s something called pornography or that’s a graphic image. I know when our boys are watching their tablets, we have rules around language and any sexual nudity like that just because it’s not appropriate for them. So we’ve started these conversations since they were three and really having access to tablets, so they know when they stumble across something like that, that that’s too young for it for adults.
Dr. Sarah (38:33):
I like that. Another thing that comes to mind is this idea of a child having spent more time watching porn because they leaned in, no one was aware it was happening, and now we kind of have to address the fact that they’ve been exposed to something more prolonged and have now probably need to process that need to make sense of what they’ve seen in a way that’s very different from a child who sees something freaks out and shuts the computer and runs to their parents. This sort of prolonged exposure to something really graphic that’s really too advanced for them to make sense of in inappropriate way. Is that a time when you would recommend perhaps seeking a therapist or someone to talk about it? How would you follow the child’s cues and know if that’s something that would be helpful or maybe too much for them?
Dr. Holly (39:30):
So first I would try to have a conversation around it and I would probably use the word pornography or to use your word, that’s something really graphic that’s for adults. I’m pro pornography it can be used in clinical settings, but I’m also really porn pro-sex education and sex education is what we’re talking about for this population of children. So, I would even say something like that. Those movies, it’s a movie, it’s for adults. It’s not the real world and it’s not for you. This is not something I want you to be seeing now. Now for kids where it does become problematic and it causes them distress, yes, absolutely. Find a therapist and how you’re probably gonna see that is a little bit of OCD. So the child might say something like, mommy, I can’t stop thinking about what I saw. I can’t get that bad image out of my head. I don’t know what that is. So again, you’re not gonna scare them. That is for adults. I’m so sorry that you saw that. That is not sex education. We’re gonna talk about sex in a way that’s right for you. That’s not for you right now. And that differs with, yeah.
Dr. Sarah (40:40):
I think that’s really helpful and gives parents a lot of, again, permission to have conversations, but also permission to say we’re not gonna talk about that. And also we can get into a whole other thing about ocd, but we don’t wanna reassure and continue to rehash and rehash and rehash with a kid.
Dr. Holly (40:58):
Dr. Sarah (40:59):
We wanna help them give the tools to push those thoughts out of their mind and say, that’s an OCD thought, or that’s a worry thought or that’s a scary thought and I could push it out of my mind. But if that’s going on, definitely seek a therapist because that’s a bigger issue that most parents are just, it’s, you need support for that and that’s an appropriate thing to get support for.
Dr. Holly (41:19):
Dr. Sarah (41:22):
Well, oh, I could ask you a billion questions and we should definitely have a few more conversations at some point cuz I’m sure that parents are gonna have lots of questions about this stuff. But I just so appreciate your time and your insight and your vulnerability as a mother to come and talk about your own experiences and just make it very real.
Dr. Holly (41:44):
Aw, thank you. Thank you. And again, your podcast is amazing. Thank you for this resource for parents out there and I’m happy to come back at any time and we’ll stay connected.
Dr. Sarah (41:55):
Whether you’ve already been using words like vulva and scrotum with your kids since they were born, or you haven’t quite embraced the full sex positive messaging yet, the framework that Dr. Holly discussed in this episode is something that can be applied to all parents no matter where you are at in your comfort level with this topic. It really starts by following our kids’ lead, asking open-ended questions, knowing that as parents, we won’t always hit it out of the park and it’s totally okay if we say the “wrong” thing. Plus we can always say something like, let me think about that if we’re shocked or stumped by one of their questions. And finally, there’s no expiration date on these conversations. If you don’t like how something went, you can always go back and casually reintroduce a concept if you feel like you didn’t quite nail it on the first time around.
The key here is to be authentic to your own voice. As you heard, Dr. Holly and I use slightly different language and that’s totally okay. We want to be conscious of remaining true to what feels natural. Well as much as we can. Because if all of a sudden you start talking like a robot or a therapist, your kids antennas are gonna go up and they might think, mom or dad can’t really talk about this subject. This must be a dangerous thing and I should probably avoid talking about it. The goal is to make our kids feel comfortable being able to come to us with all of their questions and concerns. This can be also a lot more difficult if you have experienced any form of sexual trauma in your past. If that’s the case, Dr. Holly has some really amazing resources on her website, drhollyrichmond.com, including her book, which is called Reclaiming Pleasure: A Sex Positive Guide for Moving Past Sexual Trauma and Living a Passionate Life.
(43:55):If you are feeling ready to start or continue on a process of healing, this book is an accessible and incredibly valuable place to turn. I recommend checking it out. There is only so much we can cover in an hour, so if you still have questions about talking to your child about sex or wanna share how you handled a specific scenario, or maybe you have another parenting question on a completely different topic, I want to hear from you, go to my website, drsarahbren.com and click the podcast tab to submit your questions. Or you can always DM me on Instagram @drsarahbren. As always, thanks for listening and don’t be a stranger.
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