Question: I think my 9-year-old daughter has started masturbating. I caught her touching herself and just walked out of the room, not knowing what to say. Is it time to have “the talk,” and where should I start?
Sounds like you’re feeling pretty uncomfortable about the situation, but I assure you it’s perfectly normal and healthy for your daughter to be exploring her body, and not knowing what to say about it is, unfortunately, very common among parents. To every parent reading this now, let me start by saying it is much easier to have these conversations with your kids when you start early. Teaching toddlers about their bodies, bodily functions, naming the body parts correctly, etc. is where some parents start the sex talk. It’s also important to talk to very little children about consent; for instance, teach that they get to choose when or if they give or receive hugs and kisses. You can teach them other ways to express their affections and give them words to use when they don’t want to be touched. Studies show that starting these conversations early actually results in more responsible sexual behavior in the teen years, and even delays the start of sexual activity.
Assuming you have not been having regular conversations about sexuality from an early age, where should you start now? How you react to this is very important so check yourself: What are your feelings around the body, masturbation, and sex? I ask this because you want to be very careful not to dump your baggage on your child.
I’m sure you don’t want to shame your child or give her the impression that it’s not okay to explore or enjoy her body; unfortunately your unconscious reaction of turning tail and running, then avoiding talking about it, might have sent those exact messages. You can’t ignore this, so begin by spending some time in quiet reflection first. Sexuality educator Charlie Glickman points out that “Western societies have been influenced by the idea that sex is harmful, shameful, disgusting or sinful for centuries. While allowances have usually been made for certain situations, such as procreation, the idea that pleasure, the body, and sex are (at best) necessary evils has deep roots in many different cultures.” If you’re holding onto negativity regarding sex, I urge you to heal those wounds for yourself and your daughter. Visit Charlie Glickman’s website for support: charlieglickman.com.
A 9-year-old is on the verge of puberty; a time when the body undergoes so many changes that it begs explanation and guidance from a knowledgeable parent. You’ve got a perfect window here to open the discussion. If you’re not sure what to say, talk to your doctor about puberty and share that information with your daughter. But I encourage you to take this dialogue further by learning about the ethics of sex positivity. Sex positivity, very simply, is the idea that sex and expressions of one’s sexuality is inherently positive when they are healthy, pleasurable, and fully consensual.
I recommend visiting thesexpositiveparent.com website run by Airial Clark, a parenting and sexual health expert for information and resources to help you get started. Remember, your job is to take care of your child’s sexual health, just as you would their physical and mental health.
Julia Cadieux, a PCI Certified Parent Coach and Capital District mom, helps other parents look within for the answers they seek and believes there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to child-rearing. Send you questions and comments to [email protected].