It was Saturday afternoon, the kids were in the back of my car when I turned the key and my stereo suddenly came on full blast.
Kanye West sang out:
“She found pictures in my emails. I sent this bitch a picture of my dick. I don’t know what it is with females. But I’m not too good at that shit.”
I turned it off. I made a decision to never use misogynistic language ever again when I was in my early 20s so I cringe when I hear the word ‘bitch’. Not only that, but he was singing about sending dick pics to a woman.
My six year old son asked, “Mum, is Kanye West a sex offender?”
I pulled the handbrake back up, took my seatbelt off and turned around to my sons, six and eight years old (although my eight year old would want me to be crystal clear about the fact that he is, in fact, nine next month).
“What makes you ask that?” I asked, genuinely intrigued by his use of language and his ability to identify Kanye’s voice seeing as I refuse to listen to any of his music after College Dropout.
My six year old explained, “He sent a girl a picture of his dick. So, I’ve heard you saying before that people who send pictures of their private parts to women are sex offenders.”
I am a firm believer in frank, open, honest conversations with children when they ask a question or require information. Not only that, but my sons both know that their Mummy is a national specialist in the psychology of sexual violence. In fact, my eight year old recently made a little poster which said “I love my mum because she does amazing speeches about a lot of stuff!” They know what I do and they were both taught about sex, relationships, abuse, puberty and bodies when they were around five. Because it was never made a taboo, they ask whatever they want, when they need to. We don’t have any ‘off-limits’ topics; and over the years they have taught me that young children comprehend far more than we ever give them credit for. I’ve taught my kids and primary school children about everything from nuclear weapons to porn to atheism and I’ve never had a problem. Children are extremely sophisticated learners and as long as our language is age appropriate, they won’t struggle with any concepts, no matter how complicated you think they are. This conversation was one of many and I replied the way I always do; calmly and openly.
“Oh right, okay. Good question. Well, that would depend on whether she asked him to send her a picture of his penis, or whether he asked her permission, and how old she is,” I explained. I need to protect my sons from growing into men who do this stuff but I simultaneously need to ensure that the concepts of consent and pleasure are interwoven into my answers. The last thing I want is to create a taboo around sex being negative just because in my job, it is. However, my kids have ears everywhere and my eight year old instantly gave an example from a few months back.
“You’ve had men send you stuff before and it made you really angry. Were they sex offenders?” He asked.
“Technically, they are a sex offender; although they probably don’t feel they are one. They broke the law and committed a sexual offence; they chose to take a picture of their private parts and send it to someone they didn’t know, without permission.” I explained further.
My six year old then interjected, “Mum, what things do you have to do to be a sex offender?” I smirked at how this question from an innocent child sounded like the equivalent of ‘What things do you have to do to become a vet?’ No matter how strange our conversations might seem to others, I would never change them.
“A sex offender is someone who uses sex or sexual acts, touching, pictures, videos or words for violence. So, if a person forces someone to have sex with them, touch their body, look at their body or show them something sexual – they are a sex offender. They could use sex to scare someone, control them, threaten them, make them do stuff they don’t want to do or to hurt them. Sex should be fun and feel good for both people involved and they should both be old enough to have sex. Sex offenders use sex as a weapon to hurt others.”
My eight year old son pondered. “So, if one day, I took a picture of my balls and sent it to a girl, I’d be a sex offender?”
My six year old burst out laughing, “Haha! You said balls!”
“Shush you, I’m asking Mum. You said dick and I didn’t laugh!”
I let them calm down for a few seconds and then answered his new question.
“If you were a child when you did it, I and hopefully other people would tell you it was wrong but would help you and the other child – you can get into a lot of trouble for doing that before you are 18. If you were a grown up and you sent it to another grown up you were in a relationship with and you liked taking pictures with each other then that would be totally your private business. Lots of grown ups like doing that. But if you were a grown up and you sent pictures to another grown up without their permission, or did anything else to them without their permission, then that would be a sexual offence and the other person would be very upset.”
“But there are some sex offenders that do stuff to kids aren’t there?” My six year old asked me.
“Yes. So if a grown up sends a picture of their breasts or penis or testicles or bottom to a child, they are a sex offender. If a grown up ever asked to look at your bodies or touch you – or asked you to look at them or touch them, they are definitely a sex offender. If a grown up asks you to meet them or talk to them, lie about them or keep anything a secret, you can tell us straightaway.” I explained to both of my boys.
My eight year old looked at me and said, “That conversation was a bit awkward but it’s okay cos it was with you.”
“It’s okay, some of this stuff can be awkward but your brother asked a question about the song lyrics and then you got to ask some questions and now we are all done. That’s all there is to it. If you don’t ask, you never know. Come on, seat-belts on, let’s go.”
Why have I sat down to write this story? You might wonder.
I have some tips and advice for the parents reading my blog, who may read this and think ‘Why would you tell your kids that!?’
1. Your kids are growing up in the most sexualised society there has ever been – even more sexualised than when kids were actually being married off and used as sex slaves in British history. Your kids are surrounded by music videos filled with semi naked women, people dry humping each other, Justin Bieber singing about make-up sex, little mix singing about faking orgasms, clothing with sexual slogans on, baby romper suits that say ‘TITS MAN’, padded bras for 7 year old girls, Disney channels filled with series for children about dating and cheating, advertisements encouraging gender role stereotypes, kids magazines with tutorials on having anal sex and over 28% of 11 year olds are watching porn.
2. You cannot ignore the environment your kids are growing up in. You must learn to be their source of real information and honesty in a world that is selling them bullshit. Be the person they look up to and think ‘I’m gonna ask Mum/Dad/Carer later, they’ll know the answer!”
3. When your kids ask a question about their body, sex, relationships or abuse – give them an honest and appropriate answer. You know your kid best, if they can handle quite a comprehensive answer, go for it. If they are very young or have a disability, you may need to amend your answer for now, but as long as it is correct and honest; you’re doing just fine.
4. When they ask you a question, you might feel shocked, scared, embarrassed or nervous. Try your very best to remain calm and talk to them like you are talking to them about what they are having for dinner. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, adults are the creators of taboo. Kids don’t know what taboo is until you impose it. If you react with embarrassment, they’ll learn embarrassment. If you react with shock, they will learn that asking you something about their bodies is bad or shocking.
5. If you don’t educate your kids, porn will. If you have daughters, it is imperative that you do not allow porn to educate them about the sex they will have. If you have sons, it is imperative that you do not allow porn to educate them about the sex they will have. See what I did there? Men and women are harmed by porn. We have kids as young as 13 copying BDSM and anal from porn and we have some of the highest rates of porn-related erectile dysfunction in teenage boys we have ever seen; argued to be due to boys being so visually stimulated by perfect porn bodies and extreme porn sex that when they have real sex, they cannot get aroused. A forensic psych colleague told me last week that her GP friend is seeing around 7 teenage girls a month for fisting injuries. You read that right. Teenagers, some under the age of consent, are copying fisting from porn and causing internal injuries to girls.
6. When your kids are trying to ask you something about sex or relationships, don’t interrupt to correct them. You will notice that I didn’t immediately correct my six year old on his use of the word ‘dick’ when I prefer them to say penis. He was using the language in the song to ask me his question and it would be unhelpful if I was to cut him off at that point to tell him off for swearing or corrected his language. Allow them the space to express themselves in the language they have and teach them alternatives later on in the conversation.
7. It’s very important to teach your children the right names for their anatomy (vagina, vulva, penis, testicles, nipples, breasts, anus among others) because there are so many sexist and offensive slurs mixed in with meaningless infantile terms for their genitals that it’s a wonder kids ever figure out what they have or how to talk about their bodies when they need help (fairy, flower, tuppence, penny, minge, pussy, cunt, cock, dick, snake, winky, rack, tits – and much worse depending on where they are getting stuff from).
8. Sexual abuse is extremely common. Some estimates of the proportion of people who will be abused in childhood sit at around 1 in 3 females and 1 in 8 males. When the CSEW (our national crime survey) is conducted, around 1 in 5 adults report that they were sexually abused in childhood. That’s millions of our population. That could mean up to 13 million people in the U.K. have been or will be sexually abused. In your kids’ class, that’s around 6 of them. Whilst it is a fallacy to argue that teaching your kids about abuse and sex will make them immune from abuse or sex offenders, more knowledge will give them more knowledge. Some research suggests that children with more knowledge can disclose earlier or easier because they have the language to do so – but this is currently in need of much further research.
9. Sexual abuse is extremely common. With those statistics up in number 8, you might well have thought ‘but that would mean millions of sex offenders’ – and you would be right. The majority of all sex offences are committed by someone the person knew – in their family or close support network. By that logic, we have millions of sex offenders in our population. Talking to children about sex, abuse, power, control, pleasure, offending, harm, relationships and so on may one day play a part in influencing our next generations to understand sexual offending so much more that they change their own society. Some of our kids will grow up to be sex offenders, some will become police, some will become lawyers, some will become counsellors, some will become teachers, some will become jurors, some will become social workers and some will become victims. If parents all over the world started the process of deconstructing taboo, myths and stereotypes about sex and relationships and started challenging harmful messages coming from porn, media and music – we could make a huge difference to future generations and future societies.
10. Try not to be scared about the prospect of teaching your kids about sex, abuse, relationships, porn, bodies, puberty or indeed any other social issues – there is no evidence that children go out and ‘do’ whatever you explained to them. The countries with the highest and most comprehensive levels of sex education have the lowest levels of teen pregnancy, STDs and have higher average ages of first sexual experiences.
Give your kids the gift you were never given: honest, frank, open communication about sex.
Written by Jessica Eaton