I received a request to appear on Headline News this evening to discuss an older, but particularly disturbing news story out of Leesburg, Florida. According to officials, two six year old boys were caught engaging in anal and oral sex while at day camp. Apparently, an eight year old at the camp had taught them what to do. Did I have a visceral response to the story? Absolutely.
But I am forced to look at this story through two lenses: parent and sex educator.
As a parent (of a five year old son and one year old daughter), I am horrified that six year olds would engage in oral and anal sex. There is no question that there is a certain amount of touching and exploring that goes on during childhood, but penetrative behaviors are different. Is it possible that the eight year old (who "taught" them) was involved in some sort of abusive situation and was passing on his "knowledge"? Yes, certainly. But we don't know for sure.
As the sex educating mother of a boy who is close in age to the children in the story, this story is all the more reason to speak candidly to children about their bodies and about acts of sex. Yes, different acts of sex. Now, I am not suggesting that you just start randomly spewing information, but we need to do a better job of at-home education. Listen to what your kids are talking about. Watch what they watch on television. What language are they using? How do they respond to their siblings or friends?
As for their own bodies, talk to them...now, always, don't ever stop. All children need to know that their vulvas, penises, etc. are special parts that are for them (and their use) only. They are not bad, dirty, or shameful. They are wonderful and shouldn't be shared with anyone else. It is normal to be curious and want to touch these parts, but they are just for them - unless they are injured or if it's in the context of a medical exam.
I recently had a conversation with my son about sex - more specifically, penis in vagina sex. Why? Because he asked. After this conversation I followed up by saying that this is something that grown ups do when they really love each other and it's something that's not for children. But was I always willing to answer any question he had (about any subject?), you bet.
We are so fearful of talking to our kids about sex. But our need to protect their "innocence" makes them even more vulnerable. Let me be clear: they are still innocent even if they learn about sex and sexuality; we color their experiences for them. If we don't make a big deal, they go on without a second thought. It's just another conversation that a parent has with his/her child.
Last, sexuality is an innate part of their (of all of our) identity. Sex (and images of it) are part of their world - whether we like it or not. Shouldn't their first understanding of sex (and all that entails) come from us, their parents, the people they love and trust? The more comfortable we become with this, the better off our children will be. They won't be engaging in early sex behaviors because they will be armed with information, self-confidence, and the knowledge that they can always come to you (their parent/caregiver) for guidance.