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Your kids are going to masturbate whether you shame them or not

I was a 15 year old peer HIV/AIDS Educator who became a professional sexologist, sexuality educator, and author. I live in NYC with my husband, son, and daughter.

But let’s try to avoid the shame, shall we?

First, let me say that it has always been my goal to help facilitate conversations about sexuality. Clearly, my piece on what happens when you “catch your daughter masturbating” has inspired many of you to write, comment, and think critically about human sexuality. In that case…success! And I mean that genuinely. Many of us grew up with little to no conversation about our bodies, pleasure, and sex, so at least we are talking!

However, upon reading some of the reactions on Facebook, it strikes me that many of us still come from a place of deep guilt and shame when it comes to our bodies. And even though many of us want to avoid the shame, sometimes our fear of directly tackling these issues inadvertently does just that. Shames.

If you were to “catch” your child masturbating, you can walk out of her room and say, “excuse me, I’ll give you some privacy.” We tend to panic instead of just calmly closing the door. Yelling “stop it” sends a message (loud and clear) that there is something wrong with her genitals. That’s not what we want; look at how our sexual self esteem and confidence can be affected by those early messages about being “dirty.” Don’t both our girls and boys deserve to feel empowered and confident? Shouldn’t they have the same chance for emotional success?

Now I’m not telling you what to believe. All of us are certainly entitled to provide our children with our personal values. I’m merely suggesting that exploring one’s genitals and understand what types of feelings a body is capable of producing is a central part of our childhood development. We may look at it as explicitly sexual, but kids don’t understand that word. For them, their bodies are amazing. We create problems when we color their experiences through our own adult lens.

The fact is: childhood masturbation is not just developmentally appropriate, but it makes perfect sense. Kids are looking to explore the world around them. Their curiosity starts with their own bodies. (And if you’ve ever had a child try to grope you, you know that they are fascinated by us, too!)

Are bodies meant to be respected? I would argue that understanding your own body, feeling good about all of its intricacies, and not having to rely on someone else to “make” you feel emotional or physical pleasure is the epitome of self-respect.

And while I understand that many people think that sexual pleasure is reserved for a “man and wife when they are married,” I ask you to consider something. A man and a wife is not the same as a man and a woman. A wife is a title; we are more than a title. Second, I fear that we make many assumptions about our child’s sexual orientation and as we know, not all of our children are heterosexual. The language we use with our children impacts how and if they share information with us in the future.

I know that this may seem like a lot to take in, but it is important. Keep talking, keep challenging yourself, and stay committed to raising sexually healthy children.

Photo credit: KidStock/Getty Images

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