We keep sex from kids because we carry a lot of shame around sexuality that gets in the way. Marnie Goldenberg, the Sexplainer, fills us in on why we do a disservice to our kids when we only teach kids that sex is depraved and hedonistic. And why it’s important for our kids to know that sex is not only normal and healthy – but also that sex is a force of good.
Leading Moms Podcast Transcript: Marnie Goldenberg: Sex Is Good
I really like talking about sex. I really like talking about talking about sex. Are you with me?
Because I love the idea of young people knowing about their bodies and what their bodies are capable of doing. I had a bunch of things prepared to talk about, and I’ve thrown them all away because of everything people have said this morning – the women who spoke between 8:30 and now, everybody has changed things that I wanted to talk about.
So, what I want to talk about is really about how sex is a part of our lives from the very beginning to the very end, and we keep that from kids. And we keep it from kids because we carry a lot of shame around sex and sexuality that I think gets in our way.
And it really sets our kids up to have a life that isn’t as empowered as it can be because, really, at the heart of sex and sexuality is power and autonomy. It’s about having control. It’s about seeking what you want. It’s about pleasure.
So rather than my mom cred, I’m going to play up my mom’s cred. So I’m going to tell a story about my mom because she’s amazing. I always thought that I – and I continue to think that I was raised by a fairly sex-positive mom. I was pretty lucky. I felt like she was pretty open-minded with me and respectful.
We’ve had conversations now that I do this for a living where she’s in her 70s now and she’s like, “I kind of screwed it up. There was just so many times when I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know what the story was that I needed to share with you because I just hadn’t had any lessons. There was no role modeling for me as a parent talking about sex and sexuality.” And I think that that is true for so many of us.
So actually, I haven’t done this in a while. But a little kind of survey in the crowd and people can look around.
How many of you had good conversations with a parent or both parents about sex and sexuality? Raise your hands? You can look around. Raise them high, high and proud! All right. Now – and among those who put up your hands, how many of you had parents who spoke openly about masturbation? About four, right? So this is really a part of it.
So the whole idea of what I wanted to talk about today was not just telling our kids about sex because I think we can all agree that giving our kids information about sex and sexuality is important. But I actually think that what we need to share with them is that sex is good. Right? Not just like people have sex to have babies and this is how our bodies work and this is what menstruation is. These are all important things. We need to talk to them about consent. We need to talk to them about sexually transmitted infections and all sorts of things. But we need to tell them really explicitly that sex is good.
So here’s an example of where my mom did have the language. I was watching Sex with Sue – Sue Johanson. Anybody? So a little Margaret. I love Margaret. But I love Sue Johanson. And actually, I wanted to have a show. It’s going to be called Messing With Marnie. There’s still time. I might do that.
I was watching that show – it was like cable TV in Toronto. And I was watching that show. My mom came in and sat down and a woman called into Sue and said, “I’m really embarrassed. But I really like to be on top with my husband and I don’t know how to let him know and I’m really embarrassed.”
And my mom was like, “Ah, it’s the best!”
And I was just like…
And so, here’s the thing. I don’t think we need to tell our kids that we have good sex. But I would be really pleased if children would guess that about us.
And I think everybody knows those stories of kids who do that – like they find out what sexual intercourse is and then they say things like, “My parents would never do that!” Right? Or the kid who finds out what intercourse is and says, “My parents did it three times.” Right?
We need to do better than that. We need to do way better than that. We need to let our kids know that they can like their bodies, that their bodies can give them pleasure.
And one of my things – so I go into schools. I talk to kids in schools, and that’s all great and fine. Oh, this is – oh, this is from a fantastic book. There’s an author named Robbie Harris. Yeah, write that down. It’s on my website. She is extraordinary, and her books are fantastic. And this is, yeah, this is amazing. Look. Look. Hello, everyone. This is for four-year-olds. This book, four-year-olds.
So when we limit the conversations we have to our kids that sex is for reproduction, which is really when people get a little like stressed out about that, right? Like, “Oh my gosh, I have to say penis and vagina.” Like, you fall over.
So not only do we need to feel brave and say “penis” and “vagina” to our kids, but we need to say ‘cause it feels good, not just because it makes babies. And when we don’t, when we forget how important it is to use words that talk about pleasure, the possibility is number one, we only equate sex with penis and vagina intercourse, which of course is the tip of the iceberg for what is sex, sexuality, sexual pleasure. It also means we limit sex to heterosexual sex. It also means we limit sex – to sex with another person of the opposite sex – never by ourselves.
And it actually – when you talk about reproduction, you do not have to mention this word [citoris], which I think as a roomful of women, it’s a pretty important part of our bodies. In fact, it is the only known part of the body that exists for no other reason than for pleasure. And I think why wouldn’t we tell that information to our kids? Why wouldn’t we if sex is good, which I fundamentally believe it is a force of good in the world. Why wouldn’t we be sharing that with our kids? Why wouldn’t we be sharing that with them that sex is a way of feeling incredibly close with another person? Why wouldn’t we want to let them know that it helps you go to sleep or helps you wake up, right? Why wouldn’t we want them to know that it feels really good?
Now, people might say like, “Well, why not – of course I want my children to know that. But my kid’s two or my kid is four or my kid is fourteen or sixteen… eventually I’ll get there.”
But here’s the thing: there’s a couple reasons why I think it’s extraordinarily important for young kids, like preschoolers to learn and hear messages like verbalized messages from their parents that sex is good.
One is because it is good. Fundamentally, it is good. Right?
Number two is that young kids are really curious and they are shame-free. They have no baggage about sex and sexuality. So if we message that it is good, that it is healthy, that it’s a force of good. Right? That it’ll teach them things about themselves, that will help them express themselves in the world, that it’ll help them feel close to people. That’s a good message and they’re going to be really open and receptive to it. It is developmentally appropriate that they become less receptive to it when they hit 10, 11, 12, 13. That’s likely to happen. So why not start when they’re open?
And the last reason why I think it’s really important for us as parents to share these kinds of messages is because if we don’t, who the hell will? Right? We live in a time and in a society where people and products sexualize everything. It makes sex into a bad thing. I mean at the very least it’s confusing and at the very worst, the messages are downright negative and self-loathing. So if we’re going to switch the message for our kids that sex isn’t hedonistic and depraved, then we need to do that for them.
I have one minute. Okay. So I should tell the story because I actually said to Natalia I was going to tell a story.
So I was in the bath with my kid. This was a few years ago and he was maybe almost seven and he was sitting in front of me and we were both facing the same direction as his hands were in his lap and he said, “Mommy, do you think I have an erection right now?”
And I said, “Yes, I think you have an erection right now.”
And he said, “You know, I do. But when I first asked that question I didn’t.”
So, okay, this – okay, that’s an interesting thing.
So I said, “I’m not entirely surprised to hear that because when penises are touched, they often become erect.” And then I said, “And you know, older boys and men will often touch their penis on purpose to make it erect.”
And he was like, “Why?”
And I said, “They find that it feels really good.”
And he thought and he said, “Okay. But it doesn’t always feel good to have an erection.”
And I said, “Oh really?”
And he said, “Yeah, it’s really hard to pee when you have an erection.”
And I said, “Oh, I’ve heard that.”
So this is like a great example of infusing the spirit of sex positivity into everyday conversations with our kids.
We have opportunities when we listen to music with them, when we’re toileting – like teaching them to use the toilet, when they’re in the bath and you’re naming body parts. Don’t forget vulva. Don’t forget scrotum. Don’t forget penis and anus. Say labia, say it proud.
These are absolutely the places where our kids learn the right kinds of messages about sex and sexuality that will truly carry them through the rest of their lives.
Thanks for having me.
About Marnie Goldenberg
Marnie Goldenberg is the Sexplainer. A circuitous path including leading canoe trips with at-risk youth, legal training, counselling for Planned Parenthood, senior leadership roles in the voluntary sector and, of course, parenting, brings her to today. Marnie thinks sexuality is predominantly a force of good in the world and finds opportunities to engage with parents about how to talk to young people about sex in healthy and happy ways. Marnie has taught a lot of sex ed to young people, gave a TEDx Talk, and has provided keynotes and lectures on the topic. Sex ed will always be a fundamental passion though Marnie currently runs programs for youth who experience homelessness in Vancouver.
About the Leading Moms Podcast
Welcome to the Leading Moms podcast, where every mom has a story. Launched in 2012, Leading Moms started as an annual one-day event in Vancouver, BC, with an aim for each mom to recognize her significance and belonging, gain a sense of mastery and be impactful in her business, community – or the simple everyday of her family. Now these thought-provoking, inspirational talks are available on this podcast. Join your host Christine Pilkington, entrepreneur, publisher and TV mom expert, every other week as she shares the best talks from the past six years and more.