"Dad, this feels good!"
As the husband of a sex therapist you might think that my partner has always been comfortable with the topic of sexual health. And while that’s a perfectly reasonable assumption, that isn’t actually true. At least not in the beginning.
When we first met, I wasn’t a sex therapist, and we didn’t have kids. He was a guy who grew up in Utah and while he was very open-minded, he grew up in a culture familiar to many of us across the country where talking about sex was taboo. We had no idea how much we’d both end up swimming in the deep end of the sexual health pool. One of us was jumping in head first enthusiastically (ahem--that was me), and the other was trying to keep their head above water (this was Jake and most parents).
To illustrate where we really were in the beginning, let’s travel back in time to 2009 and one of our first, somewhat conflicted, sexual health conversations. I remember wanting to use the correct language for my son’s genitals and my husband being concerned that if we did, our son would use the word “penis” at the park. Looking back it reminds me of the penis game scene in 500 Days of Summer:
Ultimately we landed on using the correct terminology, and Jake managing his own discomfort for our kids' growth. Penis was said at home, at school and at play.
The answer is yes.
The reason I show you where we began is to highlight just how far we have come. A common question I get is, “But really...can everyone be as comfortable as you teaching their kids about sexual health, since you’re a sex therapist?”
Most if not all of us have been taught that talking or teaching about sexual health should be awkward, should be taboo. We’ve inherited generations of discomfort and a lack of modeling. But similar to many beautiful things we learn to do - painting, cooking, playing an instrument - talking to and teaching your kids about sex can be perfected with time and effort.
Like painting, cooking, or playing an instrument - talking to and teaching your kids about sex can be perfected with time and effort.
Accurate information, pleasure, and boundaries.
Now let’s jump back to the present day, and my husband telling me a recent story. He was helping our 5 year old shower. She was washing her body with the shower head and, as she was washing her vulva, she said, “Dad, this feels really good!” Jake responded with, “Yea, that’s pleasure, and parts of our body can feel really good! You can wash your vulva for one more minute and then let’s keep washing the rest of your body so we can be done with the shower.”
When he told me this I was floored. Blown away. After years of working toward our vision of sexual health for our family, he handled that moment with complete ease. Jake's response was completely in line with our family values, and what we want our kids to recognize about their feelings around sexual health, pleasure, and their bodies. He was able to name the pleasure and put limits around it, just like how we put limits on how many fruit snacks our kids can have, how long they can watch the TV, and how late they can stay up.
Jake taught me beautifully again that day how far some intentional conversations - combined with a little bit of our own awkwardness and discomfort as we grow too - can change the limiting and potentially damaging norms of generations before us, and help generations to come learn healthy ways to understand and relate to their bodies and sexual health.