What comes to mind when you picture Victorian-era sex? Corsets? Marriages of convenience and social bartering? Repression? Maybe, like, a lot of repression?
Turns out, how we view that time in sexual history might be more than a little warped. We can start to get a better idea of what women of the time really thought about sex by looking at the work of Clelia Duel Mosher, MD. Years before Alfred Kinsey was even born, Dr. Mosher was already researching and discussing the sexual tendencies of Victorian-era women. (This, it should be noted, is in addition to her research that proved women breathe from the diaphragm, just like men, and that it was the corset and a lack of exercise that was to blame for many women’s health issues.)
Her sexual survey work started in the 1890s and spanned 20 years, during which time she talked to 45 women at length about their sexual habits and preferences, from how often they had an orgasm to whether they experienced lust independent of their male partners (Spoiler alert: They totally did).
Unfortunately, the report was never published in Dr. Mosher’s lifetime. It’s only thanks to Carl Degler, an author, professor, and historian, that we know of it at all. He stumbled upon Dr. Mosher’s papers in Stanford University’s archives in 1973 and published an analysis of her findings the following year.
As others have noted, Dr. Mosher’s research has played a major role in changing how historians think of Victorian attitudes around sex. Then, like today, a variety of perspectives on the subject existed. While this one report doesn’t sum up everything there is to know about how people had sex at this time, it certainly deepens our understanding of Victorian women, who are all too often painted in broad strokes at best.
Below, we’ve listed some of the most interesting findings from Dr. Mosher’s groundbreaking survey.
Not having an orgasm sucked back then, too.
One of the survey’s respondents said, “when no orgasm, [she] took days to recover.” In what might be an early description of blue balls for the vagina, another woman described a lack of climax as feeling “bad, even disastrous,” and added that she underwent “nerve-wracking-unbalancing if such conditions continue for any length of time.”
Yet another woman had something to say about the 19th-century orgasm gap, claiming that “men have not been properly trained” in this area. It seems that women have been taking their own sexual pleasure seriously for hundreds of years — even if the culture at large hasn’t.
Sex wasn’t just for procreation.
In keeping with Victorian stereotypes, one woman said “I cannot recognize as true marriage that relation unaccompanied by a strong desire for children,” and compared a marriage where the couple only has sex for pleasure to “legalized prostitution.” But several others disagreed completely.
One woman said that “pleasure is sufficient warrant” for sex, while another added that babies had nothing to do with it: “Even a slight risk of pregnancy, and then we deny ourselves the intercourse, feeling all the time that we are losing that which keeps us closest to each other.”
One woman even explained that sex helped keep her marriage strong: “In my experience the habitual bodily expression of love has a deep psychological effect in making possible complete mental sympathy, and perfecting the spiritual union that must be the lasting ‘marriage’ after the passion of love has passed away with years.”
Period sex was pretty cool. Over a century before we threw around the term “bloodhound” like it was nothing, at least one trailblazing woman believed that sex was always on the table — whether or not it was your Time of the Month. She added that she was fine with getting down at all hours, too: “during the menstrual period…and in the daylight.” If anyone reading this just happens to be this woman’s lucky descendent, we’d like to send her a posthumous high-five through you.
Why This Is More Than A History Lesson
In his analysis, Degler writes that of course “there was an effort to deny women’s sexual feelings and to deny them legitimate expression” back then, but the women who participated in the survey “were, as a group, neither sexless nor hostile to sexual feelings.” They didn’t let any societal expectations or restraints stop them from having those feelings — and acting on them.
Though we may not live with the same barriers (or dress code) that women did back then, it’s reassuring to know that these women defied their time’s moral code to speak frankly about their sexuality. As frustrating as it is, women still deal with stigmas surrounding sex today, whether they’re at risk of being called prudes or sluts, or being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. This is what we’ll remember most about Dr. Mosher’s work — that, in the face of whatever shame you may be harboring about your own sexuality, or whatever pressures you may be feeling, you are most likely totally normal and definitely not alone. So why hide it? After all, you never know whom you might end up proving wrong a couple hundred years down the line.
The gap between what we learned in sex ed and what we’re learning through sexual experience is big — way too big. So we’re helping to connect those dots by talking about the realities of sex, from how it’s done to how to make sure it’s consensual, safe, healthy, and pleasurable all at once.
My children’s first interactions around sex and sexuality are actually taking place in our home right now. I’ve worked hard to establish where we live as a safe place for them to grow, make mistakes and learn from them, and to inquire about life. It’s why I made the choice early on in their lives to make sure that they learned about sex from me and from their dad, and that in teaching them about sex, we taught our kids to be sex positive. As much as people warned me that the conversation around sex is awkward between a parent and child, I didn’t let the fear of being uncomfortable keep me from taking about sex with my 3- and 2-year-old children.
I’m sure that talking to a 3 year old and a 2 year old about sex sounds like it’s a bit young, but I feel like that’s because we’re so used to framing the sex conversation around the “birds and the bees” conversation. When I was growing up I never had that conversation with my parents and had to frame my own ideals about sex and sexuality through experience and age. I didn’t want that for my children, though. So I felt that a toddler age was actually a wonderful time to start talking to them about how to love their bodies and how to appreciate them. I felt like the intro into sex isn’t about diving head first into questions like “where does the penis go?” and “what is the purpose of the vagina?” I wanted to give my kids a foundation for understanding and respecting their bodies before I ever taught them how about the intimacy shared between two people.
More than anything, I wanted my kids to understand as soon as possible how to love themselves, to understand consent, and to respect others’ bodies. I believe that sex positivity isn’t just about the act of having sex, it’s also about learning that the experience starts with you and will eventually (if you choose) include others.
By the time I was 18, I had disassociated myself from my body because of how my parents talked about it. now I had the chance to do things differently.
My upbringing kept me from understanding what sex was. My parents sex hidden, far above my reach. I was told we’d open that box when I was old enough, but only when I was was getting close to marriage. I found this strange — even at 10 years old. I would look sex up in the dictionary and in the encyclopedia. I often wondered what sex was and what was so special about it — why was it something only adults could understand? I’d hear my friends talk about boobs, about liking boys, and wonder if I’d ever feel comfortable enough to be naked around another person I liked. At the time, the thought horrified me.
I was uncomfortable with my body. I didn’t understand what was happening to it, or why I was suddenly getting hair under my armpits and on my vagina. My parents were constantly telling me to “be modest,” and I felt so much pressure and responsibility to look and behave and act a certain way. By the time I was 18, I had disassociated myself from my body because of how my parents talked about it. now I had the chance to do things differently.
When I was 18, I was in love and I had sex for the first time. It was amazing, and I had no idea why I’d been so afraid and so ashamed. I was raised Christian and was taught to believe that sex before marriage was shameful. But after having sex for the first time, I didn’t want any forgiveness. I simply wanted to keep having sex, without feeling guilty because of it. After I’d gotten married to my then-husband and had two kids, I looked back on my own sexual experiences and realized that I didn’t want my children gaining their sex education from the world around them without some input from me. I didn’t want them feel ashamed of the fact that they liked having sex or pleasuring their bodies. I wanted my kids to know that they could always come and talk to me, that I would always support them.
I tell them dressing my body in things that make me feel confident makes me feel empowered, as if my body hold some kind of magic. They love that. So do I.
So I started to talk to them about celebrating their bodies when they were young. And because of that, I had deeper conversations with myself surrounding my own sex positivity. I had some sexual trauma in my past, which has always made it a bit difficult for me to grapple with wanting to be sexual and carving out safe spaces to practice having sex. I made changes in my personal life: I was more vocal with myself about my needs and wants, then with partners. It helped me shape the conversations I’d have with my children about how they can and should voice what they want, not with sex because that’s still a ways off, but when interacting with others. I wanted them to learn and understand the power of their own voices. I taught them to say, “No, that’s not something I would enjoy,” or “I would really like if we did this” in their everyday lives, knowing that these lessons will help them in their sexuality later on. We’ve focused on how important it is for them to speak up for themselves and to advocate for themselves.
Another thing we do in our house is walk around naked. I used to shy away from showing parts of my body, like my stomach or my thighs. I have stretch marks and cellulite — both things I’ve been told aren’t “sexy.” My kids, however, could care less about whether or not my body is sexy enough, because they just like how soft my body is. It’s soft for cuddling and for hugging, two things that are very important to them. My kids move so confidently with their bodies, both with clothes on and with clothes off. My daughter’s favorite thing is to stand in front of the mirror and compliment herself. She’s actually inspired me to do the same. I’ve taken up the practice. They’ve seen me in some of my lingerie, and tell me it’s beautiful. They don’t know that lingerie is “just for sex” or that it’s something I should feel wary of other people seeing. Instead, I tell them dressing my body in things that make me feel confident makes me feel empowered, as if my body hold some kind of magic. They love that. So do I.
I watch them be confident in their bodies. I watch them say “no” strongly to each other, and to others, and most importantly, I watch them hear and respect each other.
My kids are 6 and 7 years old now, and we’ve talked about what sex is. The conversation has changed as they’ve grown up. They understand that sex is a beautiful act, one that mostly happens when people are naked. They don’t really care to know more yet, but I watch them be confident in their bodies. I watch them say “no” strongly to each other, and to others, and most importantly, I watch them hear and respect each other. As a person who is non-monogamous, I’ve shown them that sex and love are not limited to one person. It can be, but it doesn’t have to be. In turn, my children have taught me to respect and be proud of my body. They think it is magic — and I agree.
Lately, the children have been exploring their bodies, which I’ve told them is fine, but it’s reserved for their alone time. I’m trying to make sure that when we talk about our bodies and about sex that we do so in an uplifting, positive way. I don’t want my children to ever question or feel any shame around their bodies or their wants. I want to equip them with the right knowledge so that they’ll be able to enjoy. Most of all, I want them to be happy.
In the last two decades, dozens of scientific papers have been published on the biological origins of homosexuality – another announcement was made last week. It’s becoming scientific orthodoxy. But how does it fit with Darwin’s theory of evolution?
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s hit song Same Love, which has become an unofficial anthem of the pro-gay marriage campaign in the US, reflects how many gay people feel about their sexuality.
It mocks those who “think it’s a decision, and you can be cured with some treatment and religion – man-made rewiring of a predisposition”. A minority of gay people disagree, maintaining that sexuality is a social construct, and they have made a conscious, proud choice to take same-sex partners.
But scientific opinion is with Macklemore. Since the early 1990s, researchers have shown that homosexuality is more common in brothers and relatives on the same maternal line, and a genetic factor is taken to be the cause. Also relevant – although in no way proof – is research identifying physical differences in the brains of adult straight and gay people, and a dizzying array of homosexual behaviour in animals.
But since gay and lesbian people have fewer children than straight people, a problem arises.
“This is a paradox from an evolutionary perspective,” says Paul Vasey from the University of Lethbridge in Canada. “How can a trait like male homosexuality, which has a genetic component, persist over evolutionary time if the individuals that carry the genes associated with that trait are not reproducing?”
Scientists don’t know the answer to this Darwinian puzzle, but there are several theories. It’s possible that different mechanisms may be at work in different people. Most of the theories relate to research on male homosexuality. The evolution of lesbianism is relatively understudied – it may work in a similar way or be completely different.
The genes that code for homosexuality do other things too
The allele – or group of genes – that sometimes codes for homosexual orientation may at other times have a strong reproductive benefit. This would compensate for gay people’s lack of reproduction and ensure the continuation of the trait, as non-gay carriers of the gene pass it down.
There are two or more ways this might happen. One possibility is that the allele confers a psychological trait that makes straight men more attractive to women, or straight women more attractive to men. “We know that women tend to like more feminine behavioural features and facial features in their men, and that might be associated with things like good parenting skills or greater empathy,” says Qazi Rahman, co-author of Born Gay; The Psychobiology of Sex Orientation. Therefore, the theory goes, a low “dose” of these alleles enhances the carrier’s chances of reproductive success. Every now and then a family member receives a larger dose that affects his or her sexual orientation, but the allele still has an overall reproductive advantage.
Another way a “gay allele” might be able to compensate for a reproductive deficit is by having the converse effect in the opposite sex. For example, an allele which makes the bearer attracted to men has an obvious reproductive advantage to women. If it appears in a man’s genetic code it will code for same-sex attraction, but so long as this happens rarely the allele still has a net evolutionary benefit.
There is some evidence for this second theory. Andrea Camperio-Ciani, at the University of Padova in Italy, found that maternal female relatives of gay men have more children than maternal female relatives of straight men. The implication is that there is an unknown mechanism in the X chromosome of men’s genetic code which helps women in the family have more babies, but can lead to homosexuality in men. These results haven’t been replicated in some ethnic groups – but that doesn’t mean they are wrong with regards to the Italian population in Camperio-Ciani’s study.
Gay people were ‘helpers in the nest’
The fa’afafine of Samoa dislike being called “gay” or “homosexual”
Some researchers believe that to understand the evolution of gay people, we need to look at how they fit into the wider culture.
Paul Vasey’s research in Samoa has focused on a theory called kin selection or the “helper in the nest” hypothesis. The idea is that gay people compensate for their lack of children by promoting the reproductive fitness of brothers or sisters, contributing money or performing other uncle-like activities such as babysitting or tutoring. Some of the gay person’s genetic code is shared with nieces and nephews and so, the theory goes, the genes which code for sexual orientation still get passed down.
Sceptics have pointed out that since on average people share just 25% of their genetic code with these relatives, they would need to compensate for every child they don’t have themselves with two nieces or nephews that wouldn’t otherwise have existed. Vasey hasn’t yet measured just how much having a homosexual orientation boosts siblings’ reproduction rate, but he has established that in Samoa “gay” men spend more time on uncle-like activities than “straight” men.
“No-one was more surprised than me,” says Vasey about his findings. His lab had previously shown that gay men in Japan were no more attentive or generous towards their nieces and nephews than straight, childless men and women. The same result has been found in the UK, US and Canada.
Vasey believes that his Samoan result was different because the men he studied there were different. He studied the fa’afafine, who identify as a third gender, dressing as women and having sex with men who regard themselves as “straight”. They are a transgender group who do not like to be called “gay” or “homosexual”.
Vasey speculates that part of the reason the fa’afafine are more attentive to their nephews and nieces is their acceptance in Samoan culture compared to gay men in the West and Japan (“You can’t help your kin if they’ve rejected you”). But he also believes that there is something about the fa’afafine way of life that means they are more likely to be nurturing towards nieces and nephews, and speculates that he would find similar results in other “third gender” groups around the world.
If this is true, then the helper in the nest theory may partly explain how a genetic trait for same-sex attraction hasn’t been selected away. That hypothesis has led Vasey to speculate that the gay men who identify as men and have masculine traits – that is to say, most gay men in the West – are descended from men who had a cross-gendered sexuality.
These figures may not be high enough to sustain genetic traits specific to this group, but the evolutionary biologist Jeremy Yoder points out in a blog post that for much of modern history gay people haven’t been living openly gay lives. Compelled by society to enter marriages and have children, their reproduction rates may have been higher than they are now.
How many gay people have children also depends on how you define being “gay”. Many of the “straight” men who have sex with fa’afafine in Samoa go on to get married and have children.
“The category of same-sex sexuality becomes very diffuse when you take a multicultural perspective,” says Joan Roughgarden, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Hawaii. “If you go to India, you’ll find that if someone says they are ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’ then that immediately identifies them as Western. But that doesn’t mean there’s no homosexuality there.”
Similarly in the West, there is evidence that many people go through a phase of homosexual activity. In the 1940s, US sex researcher Alfred Kinsey found that while just 4% of white men were exclusively gay after adolescence, 10% had a three-year period of gay activity and 37% had gay sex at some point in their lives.
A national survey of sexual attitudes in the UK last year came up with lower figures. Some 16% of women said they had had a sexual experience with another woman (8% had genital contact), and 7% of men said they had had a sexual experience with a man (with 5% having genital contact).
But most scientists researching gay evolution are interested in an ongoing, internal pattern of desire rather than whether people identify as gay or straight or how often people have gay sex. “Sexual identity and sexual behaviours are not good measures of sexual orientation,” says Paul Vasey. “Sexual feelings are.”
It’s not all in the DNA
Qazi Rahman says that alleles coding for same sex attraction only explain some of the variety in human sexuality. Other, naturally varying biological factors come into play, with about one in seven gay men, he says, owing their sexuality to the “big brother effect”.
This has nothing to do with George Orwell, but describes the observation that boys with older brothers are significantly more likely to become gay – with every older brother the chance of homosexuality increases by about a third. No-one knows why this is, but one theory is that with each male pregnancy, a woman’s body forms an immune reaction to proteins that have a role in the development of the male brain. Since this only comes into play after several siblings have been born – most of whom are heterosexual and go on to have children – this pre-natal quirk hasn’t been selected away by evolution.
Exposure to unusual levels of hormone before birth can also affect sexuality. For example, female foetuses exposed to higher levels of testosterone before birth show higher rates of lesbianism later on. Studies show that “butch” lesbian women and men have a smaller difference in length between their index and ring fingers – a marker of pre-natal exposure to testosterone. In “femme” lesbians the difference has been found to be less marked.
Brothers of a different kind – identical twins – also pose a tricky question. Research has found that if an identical twin is gay, there is about a 20% chance that the sibling will have the same sexual orientation. While that’s a greater likelihood than random, it’s lower than you might expect for two people with the same genetic code.
William Rice, from the University of California Santa Barbara, says that it may be possible to explain this by looking not at our genetic code but at the way it is processed. Rice and his colleagues refer to the emerging field of epigenetics, which studies the “epimarks” that decide which parts of our DNA get switched on or off. Epimarks get passed on to children, but only sometimes. Rice believes that female foetuses employ an epimark that makes them less sensitive to testosterone. Usually it’s not inherited, but occasionally it is, leading to same-sex preference in boys.
Dr William Byne, editor-in-chief of the journal LGBT Health, believes sexuality may well be inborn, but thinks it could be more complicated than some scientists believe. He notes that the heritability of homosexuality is similar to that for divorce, but “social science researchers have not… searched for ‘divorce genes’. Instead they have focused on heritable personality and temperamental traits that might influence the likelihood of divorce.”
For Qazi Rahman, it’s the media that oversimplifies genetic theories of sexuality, with their reports of the discovery of “the gay gene”. He believes that sexuality involves tens or perhaps hundreds of alleles that will probably take decades to uncover. And even if heterosexual sex is more advantageous in evolutionary terms than gay sex, it’s not only gay people whose sexuality is determined by their genes, he says, but straight people too.
When reality TV dumpling Honey Boo Boo Child declared that “everybody’s a little bit gay” three years ago, she was unknowingly taking a page out of sexologist Alfred Kinsey’s book. His famous Kinsey scale, which identifies people’s levels of same- or opposite-sex attraction with a number from zero to six (zero being exclusively straight, six being exclusively gay), has been a favorite cultural metric for measuring sexual orientation since it was created in 1948.
But even though asking someone where they fall on the Kinsey scale is now a common dating website opener, the Kinsey scale is far from an all-inclusive system. As Southern California man Langdon Parks recently realized, the scale fails to address other aspects of human sexuality, such as whether or not we even care about getting laid in the first place.
So Parks decided to develop a more comprehensive alternative: the Purple-Red Scale of Attraction, which he recently posted on /r/Asexuality. Like the Kinsey scale, the Purple-Red scale allows you to assign a number from zero to six to your level of same-sex or heterosexual attraction, but it also lets you label how you experience that attraction on a scale of A to F. A represents asexuality, or a total lack of interest in sex “besides friendship and/or aesthetic attraction,” while F represents hypersexuality.
Pick your letter-number combo below:
Parks told Mic that he came up with the idea for the Purple-Red scale after learning about asexuality and realizing that he was a “heteroromantic asexual, or a B0 on the scale” — someone who is interested exclusively in romantic, nonsexual relationships with the opposite sex.
“I then thought, not only are there sexual and asexual people, [but] there are different kinds of sexual people as well,” he said. “I thought of adding a second dimension to Kinsey’s scale to represent different levels of attraction.” (As for the color scheme, Parks opted for purple because of its designation as the official color of asexuality, while “‘red-blooded’ is a term often used to describe someone who is hypersexual.)
The scale represents all possible degrees of sexual attraction, from those who only want to have sex when they’re in a relationship to those who are ready and rarin’ to go pretty much whenever. For instance, if we use Sex and the Cityas an example, Carrie would likely be an E1, while the more prudish Charlotte is probably more of a D0 and uptight Miranda an E0. Our beloved bisexual, sex-crazed Samantha? Totally an F2.
Busting myths about sexual attraction: Back in 1978, Dr. Fritz Klein tried to update the scale to make it more inclusive of a wider range of sexual experiences, as well as sexual fantasies. His final product, the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid, came out a bit clunky, however, and was still based on the assumption that everyone using it was capable of experiencing sexual attraction in the first place.
Parks’ Purple-Red Scale accounts for those who experience sexual attraction at different times in different contexts, as well as those who don’t experience it at all. That’s notable in part because although asexuality is not exactly rare — according to one estimate, approximately 1 in 100 people are asexual, though they might not self-identify as such — it’s one of the most widely misunderstood sexual orientations, with many people assuming that asexuals are just closeted gay people or too socially awkward to have sex.
But asexuality is a legitimate sexual orientation with many unique shades of its own. As the Huffington Post reported back in 2013, many asexual people don’t just identify as asexual. For instance, they can also self-identify as “heteroromantic” (meaning they’re interested in having exclusively romantic, nonsexual relationships with members of the opposite sex) or “demisexual” (meaning they’re open to experiencing sexual attraction within the context of a strong emotional connection or committed relationship).
“Some people don’t want to have sex in a relationship at all, and others view it as the whole point of the relationship,” Parks told Mic. “Yet others typically start off having no feelings but build them up over time. Still others don’t want sex for themselves, but are still willing to have it for other reasons,” such as to procreate or make their partner happy.
That’s why Parks’ Purple-Red scale is so important: It acknowledges the shades of grey in sexual orientation and sexual interest. Both, he explained, are fluid and largely dependent on context.
Why do we need scales in the first place? While the Purple-Red scale is helpful in classifying sexual attraction, some people might argue that we don’t need a cut-and-dry system for classifying our sexuality in the first place. If the burgeoning “label-free” movement of sexual fluidity is any indication, coming up with clinical labels like “E2” or “B0” might be purposeless or even counterproductive to achieving true sexual freedom.
But Parks believes that having a simple tool like the Purple-Red Attraction Scale can be useful, particularly as a way to improve communication in the dating world. “The scale was designed to provide a quick and easy way of scoring a person’s view of relationships on forums and dating sites,” he said. Imagine, for instance, if you logged onto OkCupid and entered your sexual orientation as D5, instead of simply self-identifying as “gay,” “straight” or “bisexual.”
Parks also noted that the Purple-Red scale is a great way to match partners who have similar or compatible sex drives. “Attraction type is every bit as important as orientation,” he told Mic. “We see it all the time: John wants sex, sex, sex, while Jane doesn’t have the feeling right away.”
Because discrepancies in sex drive can cause problems in same-sex and opposite-sex relationships, Parks wants people to use the scale as a way to establish sexual compatibility right off the bat.
“Instead of relying on assumptions like ‘Oh, he’s a guy, go for it!’ or ‘She’s a woman, wait for it,’ people can now use their letters to describe their basic outlook on relationships,” he said.
“Attraction type is every bit as important as orientation.”
Perhaps one day, we’ll live in a world where we don’t need something like the Purple-Red scale to tell us about our own sexuality; a world where we don’t need to fit who we want to have sex with into boxes or spectrums or scales. But for the time being, whether you’re a B2 or an F5 or a D6, it’s cool that we have something like Parks’ scale to help us answer the nagging questions about sexual orientation that our culture keeps asking us to answer — and maybe it can help us find out a little bit more about ourselves.
“Sex positive” is, I am pleased to note, a term that has been gaining more attention in recent years. A social and philosophical response to repressed, limited, and often judgmental attitudes toward sex and sexuality, the sex positive movement emphasizes that “good sex” is defined as safe, informed, consensual, and whatever else it also is beyond those things is best left up to the people participating in the act. That’s it, and I think that’s awesome. As a parent, I am already doing my best to encourage sex positive attitudes in my children, who are 4-years-old and 19 months — despite the fact that they have absolutely no idea what sex is, and I don’t have plans to get into what it is with either of them any time soon. No, this is not a contradiction, and it’s not hard to do.
What it comes down to is this: Sex positivity rarely exists in a vacuum. It’s usually part of a larger life philosophy that believes all people are entitled to happiness and respect. I have found that there are broad areas of overlap between the body positive and fat acceptance movements, feminism, and the LGBT community. As such, there is so much a parent can say to their child that lays the groundwork for them to have happy, healthy, and fulfilling sex lives (when they’re ready) that don’t necessarily have a thing to do with sex.
“Your Body Belongs To You.”
So not only does no one get touch you without your permission, but you decide what happens to it. If you teach little kids that this is true in the non-sexual streets, they’ll be more likely to automatically believe it once they grow up and get between the sheets.
“If They’re Not Having Fun, You Have To Stop; If You’re Not Having Fun, They Have To Stop.”
Totally stolen from “Thomas” of Yes Means Yes, but when someone else writes something so well and so succinctly why reinvent the wheel? This concept of consent and mutual happiness doesn’t have to have a thing to do with sex to A) be great life advice, or B) set the scene to talk about and understand sexual consent later in life. To quote the original piece once again: “What I said will mean a lot of things in a lot of contexts; but it will always mean the same thing. Regard for one’s partner is a basic component of respect.”
Using grown up anatomical terms for all of a person’s various bits and bobs does a couple of sex positive things. It enables your child to talk about their body specifically, which can enable them to be specific and clear if there’s a problem. It also puts “bathing suit area” body parts on the same level as “arm” or “foot,” which we have collectively decided are not parts that require euphemisms. None of our body parts are anything to be secretive or ashamed about. Yes, of course, children should be taught that “vulvas are private” or “only you or a doctor is allowed to touch your testicles,” but that’s not going to be conveyed by giving those parts cutesy names and getting all jittery when someone talks about them.
“Love Is Love.”
Kids will ultimately not find non-heterosexual relationships confusing at all (just ask same-sex parents). If a kid has never met a gay couple before, they might be a bit surprised by the idea the same way my kid was surprised the first time he saw purple M&Ms. But after, like, five seconds it’s like, “Oh. So this is the same basic concept as literally any other relationship/M&M I’ve ever encountered in my young life. Cool. Whatever.”
This was perhaps best conveyed by this little chap a few years ago…
Point is, letting your kids know that anyone can fall in love with anyone else doesn’t have to be a “very special after school special” conversation “when they’re old enough.” Anyone who thinks kids can ever be “too young” to be aware of non-heterosexual romantic relationships, by asserting that, is essentially just admitting, “I think there’s something wrong and bad and dangerous and upsetting about non-straight people.” Do you not feel that way? Then do yourself, your kids, and the world the favor of unburdening yourself of the idea that kids need to be grown up and holding onto something sturdy before they find out that some kids have two mommies. This is something anyone who understands what love and relationships are can understand. This sets the stage for your child to know acceptance is not for a select few, but for everyone.
“To Each Their Own.”
This is basically one of the central tenets of sex positivity, but, again, doesn’t have to be limited to sexual attitudes. It’s never too early to tell your kids, “Look, different people are made happy by different things. Different people believe in different things. And sometimes those things may seem strange to you… and that’s fine. You don’t have to do what they do any more than they have to do as you say or believe.” I cannot count the number of times a day I have to tell my son, “You do not get to tell your sister how to play with her toys. It doesn’t matter if you think she’s playing with it wrong. There’s no right way to play with a truck.” Some day he might even get it!
“Everyone’s Body Deserves Respect.”
The life blood of the sex positive movement is the idea of mutual respect. Of course, the idea that everyone deserves respect is a core tenet of, like, common human decency and hopefully everyone strives to instill this value in their children regardless of their desire for them to be raised with sex-positive attitudes. So I’ll take it a step beyond “everyone deserves respect” and talk about emphasizing the idea that every BODY deserves respect. Kid bodies, adult bodies, your body, other people’s bodies, disabled bodies, fat bodies, thin bodies, black bodies, women’s bodies, etc., and any intersection thereof. We can’t define a “good body” simply as one that is pleasing to a viewer. A good body is one that enables the person who lives inside of it to do things and be someone that makes them happy. Body positivity is going to be clutch in laying the groundwork for sex positivity.
“You Are Loved And Valued.”
Sex positivity is nothing without self-esteem. Also kids thrive on the stuff, so it’s a good idea anyway.