At Good Vibrations, we know how important sex education is. And we also know how hard parents work to juggle protecting kids from information that they aren’t ready for while also giving them what they need to grow into sexually healthy people. Many of our Sexy Mama writers have talked about how they’ve walked that very fine line, often without role models or support.
When I heard that the wonderful Airial Clark was launching The Sex-Positive Parent, I knew that it was going to be a really important resource. I had a few questions for Airial about the project. Check out what she said- it’s amazing.
1) What gave you the idea for this project? What’s the story behind it?
Two primary motivations: First, I wanted to make the sexuality education resource for parents that I wish my parents had had. Second, I know how important it is for parent’s to get information from other parents. I am clearly a mother who is in the midst of raising children and navigating the social expectations of sexuality. So that’s what I did by creating The Sex-Positive Parent and the Guide. It’s most about supporting parents in their role of sex educator. I want to provide strategies for parents to be real with their children in much the same way as my mother was real with me. She didn’t have the luxury to sugar coat sex, and she broke a lot of silence at great personal cost to be honest with me about her experiences. I often share about my family’s communication dynamics by positioning myself in the center as both a parent and a child. The intergenerational context for how we teach children about sexuality and gender needs to be focussed on.
2) There are lots of different ideas about what sex-positive means. What does it mean for you?
To me, being a sex-positive parent means we are open to educating our kids about sexuality rather than avoiding the topic. I chose to use the term ‘sex-positive’ because, for me, it conveys that parents and children come in all genders and sexualities. It also means respecting lived experiences of sexuality. If a person has had mostly traumatic experiences around sex or gender roles, which is very easy to have happen in our society, then that needs to be acknowledged and respected. I fully support the skepticism of any blanket term seeking to describe something as personal as sex. What I really like about sex-positivity is the unshakable tenet of consent as the requirement for all sexual behavior. And it’s more than just enthusiastic consent, it is also informed consent, which protects children in a profound way.
3) What are some of the skills or information that you think more parents need? What’s the biggest barrier you see parents deal with when it comes to sex?
We need a structure, a scaffolding of practical ways of communicating our beliefs and values about sexuality. Parents are afraid and unsure of what to say and how to say it because we don’t have enough examples. Think of how much structure sex-negative narratives have; we don’t have that for people who want to teach their kids that their sexual health is important. The fear of saying too much about sex too soon, or violating a boundary is very real for parents, so we often choose silence because it feels safest.
Above everything, parents want their kids to be secure, and my perspective is that comprehensively educating them about both the physical and social realities of sexuality is most protective thing we can do. Parents need to feel empowered to speak up. A lot of liberal, progressive parents don’t want to be viewed as dogmatic, as if they are pushing their beliefs unto their children. I feel that way as well. I want to raise critical thinkers. So I end up asking my kids a lot of questions, trying to expose them to the constructions underlying social norms around sexuality and gender roles. It’s a negotiation between not wanting to raise bigots and wanting them to come to those decisions on their own.
4) How have other parents you know responded? What about the parents of your kid’s friends and classmates?
This whole project is a response to a demand made by parents that I’ve interacted with over years and years. I have a toe in many different communities and consistently I hear, “We need a resource. We need some guidance. We need someone who is doing it and writing about parenting and sexuality.” I’ve been the parent that other parents reach out to for advice for a long time. I’m very matter of fact, and other parents appreciate it.
There’ve been many times when my kids’ friends’ parents have said, “Uh, can I ask you if this is normal…” and most times it is totally normal! Having an advanced degree in Sexuality Studies means I can cite a study or refer them to a professional with confidence. I’ve received nothing but support and for that I am so grateful. I respect other parents’ values and beliefs about sex and gender and I strive to be informative without pushing an agenda even in casual conversation on the soccer field. Especially when it’s on the soccer field! I am balancing my kids’ social connections. I don’t want to alienate them from their peers. I wish we didn’t have to be so guarded, but when it comes to our children, we have to be. I don’t wonder about proselytizing the benefits of any one kind of sexuality.
5) What do your children say about what you do? How do you talk about your work with them?
When I decided to do graduate level work in Sexuality Studies, my kids could not conceptualize of what that meant. They had no frame of reference for what studying human sexuality means. When I brought home my Advanced Bio text during my first semester, they had some evidence that I was studying science. It was’t until a sex educator came to their school for their introductory courses in Sex Ed that it finally clicked for them that, “Oh, this is what Mom is doing.” Their instructor had graduated from the same Master’s degree program that I was completing. They just needed to see another person in that role.
When I was in grad school they told their friends that I was learning to be a Sex Ed Teacher and left it at that. Now that I’m finished with school, they refer to me as a writer. My older son reads some of my work, the posts where I refer to conversations he and I have had especially. There is much casual debate in my household. We’re really very talkative and highly opinionated. We’ve talked a lot about the power of sharing stories, about how important it is for people to be able to be honest about their sexuality. They’re both very proud of me since they’ve been with me every step of this journey, from community college to graduate school. Which also means they’ve witnessed my struggle to keep all the balls in the air and now get to see other parents view me as an expert.
6) Where can people go for more info?
Plus, I have a two day series of parenting classes being held at the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco on August 25th and 26th, more info and advance tickets can be found here.