When the little girl “accidently” touches my boobs any chance she gets (“oh, you see I meant to touch your shoulder/stomach/back…it was an accident, promise!”), I firmly respond, “You cannot touch anyone else’s body without them giving you permission.” When she sticks her hand up her butthole and then smells her fingers, I politely and calmly tell her that she “cannot do that in public. That is private and should be done where other people aren’t looking.”
Children Are Inquisitive Human Beings
Being an au pair is the first time in my life that I’ve spent significant time with a child. As the youngest of three girls, I was always the young one trying to act older than my age. I don’t have younger cousins and I don’t spend time with babies, infants or children. In short, up to this point I haven’t had anyone significant in my life that would have clued me into what it would be like to have to constantly confront a pre-pubescent, extremely sexually curious 8-year-old girl.
As I mentioned in my post for Sexual Assault Awareness Month, I believe in the power that every individual has in making a difference in sexual education and violence prevention. Having had experience researching and being a proponent for this type of intervention in schools, it wasn’t difficult to implement. It required very little second thought.
However, when it came to my job as an au pair. It was more difficult. It often left me stumped and I didn’t know how to act or respond to some of the things that came out of her mouth. I was very weary of saying certain things, or too much, or the ‘wrong thing.’
We Don’t Touch Our Vulvas At The Table
Last summer, I happened to click on an article on my Facebook newsfeed called, “Sex Positive Parenting, or We Don’t Touch Our Vulvas At The Table” (Excellent article, you should read it!) This article would later become extremely important in my time as an au pair. It turned out to be extremely influential in my way of handling such conversation. Because being an au pair is as much about the academic aspect as it is the personal and developmental. Spending many hours a day with her, these issues come up frequently.
The author of the post explains her parenting style when it comes to talking about sex. She says,
I’m what some people call “sex positive.” That doesn’t mean I talk with my four year olds about how great sex is and how good it feels. It means I don’t pretend it’s something other than it is.
She goes on to explain that,
It’s telling them the truth, the whole truth, and letting it sink in so they can make their own good choices
At this point in the girl’s life, it isn’t horrible to confront the situations (sometimes, however, I regret not responding in certain ways). Often, I have to be sex positive when it comes to touching – both her body parts and mine – consent, and general questions about relationships.
It is important to note here that sexual education can happen at all ages – the only difference is appropriate information for the time in the child’s life. In Argentina, for example, the government passed Integral Sexual Education Law 26.150 in 2006 with the goal of equipping teachers and schools to implement comprehensive sexual education (including violence prevention) to all ages. In their curriculum, the content varies by age; for example, in primary school, topics of equality, anatomy, respect for others’ bodies, and diversity of families. The earlier the education begins, the less abuses are likely to happen.
Imagine You And Your Boyfriend…
The first time I realized that this role of being sex positive would become a significant part of my caring for her, we were playing. We were in her room ‘playing house’ – a usual game for children that transcends international borders.
She had the brilliant idea that I would be the older sister, and she would be a cat. She said that we were all on the boat for vacation (their family has a sailboat they frequent).
Suddenly, I saw a sly look in her eye. Her mind was churning. She said, “Also, your boyfriend is here.” I said okay and we were continued to “play on the boat.”
Then she said it was getting dark out and it was time for bed. She (the cat) snuggled up in one side of the room. The next sentence she rattled off is what left my in shock for a couple of seconds. She said, “Now, Allison, I am the cat so I am going to sleep here. Imagine that you and your boyfriend go to bed and start having sex. And I’m just going to be here asleep. Go, start making noises.”
I froze. My mouth dropped. There were a million questions running through my mind – where did she learn what sex was? What did she hear about the noises?
And then, I thought about the article that I mentioned above. If I hadn’t have had the feminist education I’ve had or hadn’t have read that article, my first reaction might have been, “No! Don’t say things like that!” or “Why would you say that, don’t talk about that!”
Instead, I first calmed myself down, and when I was composed enough, I said the first thing I could think of: “My boyfriend and I will not have sex because that is not realistic. We wouldn’t have sex when other people were watching.” (I guess that’s not entirely true for all people, because, after all, there are all kinds of tastes and sexual behaviors. But it was the quickest and most appropriate thing I could think of to say and not ruin her perception of sex).
Importance of Sex Positive Parenting (or in my case, au pairing):
Why is the sex positive perspective so important? Why is it necessary to deal with it instead of ignoring it? The author argues,
I don’t want them to grow up ashamed of their bodies or confused about what they do. I don’t tell them about cabbage patches or storks, I make an effort, always, to be honest about human reproduction. Every aspect of it.
It is a human right to have correct and accurate information. I believe that whoever is with children has a responsibility to address confusions, curiosities, and errors of consent (such as touching my boobs without my permission).
Working in the IES (high school), I can see a huge difference in behavior of children who obviously have parents who talk about sex, and those who don’t. The difference in education leads to a difference in self-esteem and respect for others. I hear swirling gossip of incorrect information, or degrading language and slut shaming. Perhaps if students were taught unbiased and scientific – sex positive if you will- information at home, education at school wouldn’t be such a challenge (one can dream).
She and I
I want to tell the girl the truth, but I don’t want to tread where it doesn’t correspond to me. Yet, that’s the whole point. Being “sex positive” doesn’t mean explaining every detail, especially when it isn’t necessary for the situation. It does, however, mean that you don’t lie. You don’t create answers that confuse. You respond in a way that doesn’t encourage feelings of humiliation.
The girl is extremely interested about anything related to sex. I have noticed she has already started to masturbate and if she sees anything sexual happening on the news, on a TV show, or in public, her eyes become immediately glued. You can’t pull her away.
And there is nothing wrong with that. She is feeling things and seeing things that she doesn’t quite understand, so when she asks me questions, the least I can do it tell her the truth. The last impact I would ever want to leave on her is teaching her to be embarrassed. Or that she is wrong. Or that what she is feeling isn’t okay.
In a world where girls (and boys alike) are meant to feel that they are only valid if they look and dress a certain way, it is my hope that by being honest and direct about things related to her body, she has one less pressure connected to her body image. Because if she’s already starting to feel awkward and uncool (as indicated by the comments and comparisons to her classmates she makes), it’s only going to get worse. And if I can make a difference in at least one aspect, I will try my best.
Since I’ve been here she’s discovered a lot of new things – correct body anatomy in English (you’re welcome), Shakira’s ass in her music videos (not encouraged by me. She seeks Shakira out), and even menstruation.
The last one was by accident, but it was more than entertaining. I left the door to my room open and went into the kitchen (across the patio from my tiny house). While I was gone, the dog came in and went through my trash can. What he found was a pile of previously enjoyed, blood-soaked, smelly pads.
When I left the kitchen to go back to my room, I found the dog in n playful position, with his backside towards the sky, tail wagging, eyes staring straight at me, and something dark in his paws. He was chewing contently on it when I came closer. As I stepped towards him, I realized it was my dirty pads. Trying to grab it from him only encouraged his playful attitude, and soon there were white and dark blood bits and pieces of the pad strewn across the patio.
My reactions (“OH MY GOD! GIVE THAT BACK”) were met with confusion from the girl: “What is that? Why are you trying to get it Allison? Why is he playing with it. But, seriously, what is that!?”
I learned a lesson (shut the damn door), and the girl learned that once a month (if it’s regular) a female sheds her uterine lining. This forms part of a menstrual cycle.
Gender and Sexuality Education Beyond Being Sex Positive
Something related to giving honest and unbiased information has to do with expanding the image of gender and sexuality that she is taught in the media, at home, and at school.
I don’t specifically bring up the topic, but when it’s appropriate I will make a comment in attempts of amplifying her perception of how the world works relating to family structures, bodies, and gender roles.
For example, the other day at the beach it somehow came up that girls have vaginas and boys have penises. And she said, “Well, a boy would never have a vagina.” To which, I realized, I had an opportunity to respond. I said, “Well sometimes. But sometimes someone can dress like a man and have a vagina or someone can dress like a girl and have a penis.” Because, it’s true. And taking the opportunity to explain something in the world is a chance to plant a seed.
The same goes for the typical gender stereotype assumptions – “No, Allison, boys don’t wear bracelets (why not? If they like them they can!).” “Allison, you have to be a mother. You’re a girl. (I can if I want to be, but I don’t have to be).”
And typical sexuality assumptions: “You would never see two dads, Allison (you wouldn’t? I know lots of people who are two boys and they have children together). “Families always have a mom and a dad and kids (au contraire!).
Making an Impact
I might never know if anything that I say or do – sex positive or academic related- will have an impact on the girl. Nevertheless, I know that the subtle behaviors, actions, and speech of adults has a crucial influence on children’s perceptions, whether they are conscious of it or not.
Therefore, in choosing to be a sex positive au pair, I am aiming to create a sense of ownership of her body, self-expression, and respect for others and their bodies.
She is only 8 year-old now, and I know that the years to come she will be faced with more difficult questions than if she can touch my boobs or not. I hope that in some way she will remember my comments, or at least the environment I tried to create.