How to Talk to Kids about Sex, Love and Equality with Bonnie J Rough

This podcast will focus on how to talk to kids about sex— beyond the birds and the bees. Building upon what Bonnie J. Rough learned by raising her child in the Dutch community of Amsterdam for 18 months, Rough found that there are ways to help young children to grow up feeling comfortable with their bodies, assertive about their boundaries and their bodily integrity and open to different types of people and their expressions of their sexuality. This podcast gets into how to talk to kids about sex, consent, boundaries, gender, body parts and more.

If we’re being honest, parents aren’t usually jumping to have the sex talk with their children— and as we’ve discussed in previous podcast episodes, it’s not even one talk— it’s many about lots of different facets of bodies and body parts, intercourse, baby making, birth control and more. In the “metoo” era, it’s even more important to widen the conversation to include consent, respect, boundaries, sexual harassment, gender and love. But how can we ensure our kids get all this information if we are timid about talking about it? Is there a way to drop the shame and embarrassment and just make sex ed as easy to discuss as talking to kids about, say, nutrition, time management or finding their passion? And how can we ensure our kids know what they need to know when they need to know it if we keep delaying our talks until we think they really should hear it? The answer may have something to do with learning dutch or at least doing as the dutch do.

Author Bonnie J Rough lived in Holland for 18 months and found that the Dutch clearly knew something different about how to raise happy, healthy children who were comfortable with their own bodies and with each other. Their carefree attitudes about nudity and how they explain sex to kids is something we should probably adopt given that, compared to the US, Holland  boasts lower rates of teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases as well as high gender equality, lower numbers of partners and more positive experiences with sex over all. Yes, we’ve got a lot to learn here.

The podcast provides:

  • The Dutch vs American view of sex ed, bodies and nudity and why it matters so much.
  • Why having a more open and non-shaming sex ed is so important for our young people
  • Tips:What parents can do when it comes to sex ed and teaching their young kids early
  • How to talk about sex as a way to be close to someone and show love rather than to simply make babies
  • How the conversation about transgender might play out as part of a discussion on gender equality.
  • How to discuss LGBT as part of sex education and gender equality
  • How consent enters this conversation

Important Messages:

  • Our culture objectifies girls and women and shames girls and women around their bodies. How can we raise girls and boys in such a culture?
  • Dutch potty trained boys and girls together.
  • Dutch taught that ALL body parts were named as easily as an elbow.
  • Bonnie felt “at home” in her body.
  • The Netherlands- gender equal society.
  • Dutch- all genders know that their gender differences don’t make them more different than they are (and will remain) alike.
  • Non-shaming would mean that they know how their bodies work and what everything is called. They not only learn medical terminology but also world class sexuality lessons on consent, resisting gender stereotypes, relationship skills, what it means to be in love, what healthy friendships look like- these come in hand in hand with learning about bodies.
  • Children need to know that their bodies belong to them and they have the right to say no when they don’t want to be touched and that other people should be obligated to know that and respect that and if they don’t, the other people are wrong and they are in the right to get help.
  • Dutch also learn how they liked to be touched and what their boundaries are. Even if we like to be touched in a certain way, other people may not. Teachers have kids roll up their sleeves, for example, and pinch themselves lightly. Do you like that? Does your neighbor say s/he likes that or no?
  • The children can claim their bodies.
  • Lay the foundation in young kids 0-6 so they can build on these lessons.
  • Begin diaper changes- are you using negative terms (i.e. stinky or gross) or neutral terms (i.e. diaper is full, wet, dry)? What’s your demeanor? How are you handling their different body parts? Be cheerful. We don’t want give our children the idea that while their cheeks and tummies are adorable, there’s something yucky between their legs.
  • Teach kids the names of their body parts- don’t leave out their genitals.  We don’t want to send the message that these are ‘unmentionables.’ These are ways we might unintentionally plant those seeds of shame.
  • It’s easy to practice talking about these things around a baby.
  • You always need to repeat things. Just like you need to repeat ‘eat your vegetables’ you need to repeat lessons about the body.
  • Dutch parents are encouraged to allow their babies to explore their bodies. They learn every part of their bodies is valuable and important and their own. This is needed exploration.
  • The Dutch see “show me” games like doctor, a great opportunity. Kids might learn something and make some mistakes early. They can become adults then who know about consent, that you don’t hurt anyone, kindness is part of relationships and everyone can feel pleasure and pain.
  • Dutch rules for playing doctor: (1) Everyone has to agree enthusiastically to the game. No coercion. (2) No pain. (3) Nothing goes in any orifices.  (For the US- #4, check in with the parents to make sure they are allowed to play).
  • We can tell children that people can have sex NOT to have a baby. This opens up the discussion about pleasure is for everyone and that some people don’t want to have babies or can’t have babies but only having sex because it feels good and because they want to express love to their partner as adults.
  • It’s important to say; “sex is not for children.”
  • Dutch sex ed has 3 goals: how to have basic health in their bodies, learn boundaries and sexual assertiveness, reduce homophobia and accepting of sexual diversity.
  • Ask; what does it mean to say ‘boy?’ What does it mean to say ‘girl?’ Does it depend on what they look like or behave or what body parts they have? What if someone has some of that but not all of that? Do we get to say who we are to the world? YES.
  • Kids can start to learn that not everyone who says they want to be a boy or that they are a boy has a penis and not everyone who identifies as a girl and goes through life as a girl has a vagina. It’s not perfect. And it’s a small percentage. But it does tell kids that they can push back on the gender boxes since teens are telling us that they want more flexibility. Even if they don’t want to change their gender— they want more ways to be able to identify with a certain gender.
  • The Dutch give kids information 2-3 years younger in their picture books (compared to U.S.)
  • The Dutch children’s books will say that “sometimes the couple don’t want to have any babies or any more babies and so the woman can take a pill or the man can put something over his penis.” This is for toddlers. It’s very simple. They give different ways to have families.
  • Most Dutch parents assume that their teens will tell them when they are thinking about having sex. They don’t obsess about age. They want their kids to have a wonderful, positive experience. And the likelihood is that they will, according to research. Teen pregnancy is reduced. Bad experiences are reduced.
  • We need to teach kids, early on, what a healthy friendship looks like, what a healthy relationship looks like- how do you make a decision together with another person. Less of a transactional sexual relationship and more of a relational sexual relationship. They learn that they want to have a good experience and ensure that the other person has a good experience too. That’s not just physical— its emotional too. Emphasis on relationships from an early age.
  • Try to maintain cross-gender friendships so that they are more used to one another.

Notable Quotables:

  • “What we should be striving for is not just better manners among genders but more of a sense of unity— that ‘we are we’ before we are boys and girls and men and women.”
  • “The fear that we feel, to talk to our kids about uncomfortable topics, comes out of love. We are so intent on protecting our kids. We don’t want to make missteps. But there really is no such thing as giving ‘too much’ information or giving it ‘too soon’. And even if you give wrong information, you can always circle back because we’re giving ‘the talks’ not just a talk.
  • “Teaching children about their bodies starts even as early as a diaper change. Are you using negative terms? What’s your demeanor? We don’t want to give our children the idea that while their cheeks and their tummies are adorable, there’s something yucky between their legs. In the same way, when we teach kids the names of their body parts- don’t leave out their genitals.  We don’t want to send the message that these are ‘unmentionables.’ These are ways we might unintentionally plant those seeds of shame.”
  • “It’s actually protective for kids to know that sex can and should feel nice. It helps them to know if they are in an experience that doesn’t feel nice or doesn’t feel good when they are older.”
  • “Some might think that normalizing sex will open up kids to being abused when actually the more kids know about what IS normal and how things work, the easier it is for them to identify when something is really out of the ordinary.”
  • “There is only an artificial line that divides sexuality from gender, meaning our bodies and how we live in them and have relationships and experience pleasure and can be violated— all of these things are intertwined.”
  • “We can broaden the idea of gender stereotypes with our kids and ask; what does it mean to say ‘boy?’ What does it mean to say ‘girl?’ Is that about how someone looks or behaves or what body parts they are supposed to have? What if somebody fits some of that but not all of that? Do we have the right to say who we are to the world? That is something we get to teach our kids. YES. We get to shape our identities and assert our identities in the world.”
  • “Kids can start to learn that not everyone who says they want to be a boy or that they are a boy has a penis and not everyone who identifies as a girl and goes through life as a girl has a vagina.”
  • “If we can give our children opportunities to feel compassionate for people and their differences whatever those differences are, whether that’s a boy who is attracted to another boy or a girl who is transitioning to be a boy or someone who is not exactly the same profile we might expect from a certain gender, we can all be accepting and inclusive to everyone.”
  • “Parents who can start the conversations and do the work are going to find that when their kids are older and want to start exploring their sexuality, they have established a way— an open door—to have conversations about these things.”
  • “These conversations about sex, love and gender equality are conversations we really have to have but are often avoided. But if we are open and honest with ourselves, they are the very conversations we need to have in order to connect with our kids, to understand our kids and to be there for our kids as they grow and change and go through childhood and adolescence— and realize who they are and who they want to be.” ~ Dr. Robyn Silverman