For generations, a single idea – often one word – has been marbled into every uncomfortable parent-child sex talk: consequences.
“Those are the messages we’re trying to undo,” explains author and sexual health teacher Saleema Noon.
By associating sex with fear, parents and teachers are aiding repression while damaging the possibility of open discussion.
“I encourage parents not to use the term consequences when talking about sex, specifically when it comes to STIs and pregnancy. … We do need to talk about those but we don’t need to freak (kids) out about it,” she says.
Noon is scheduled to appear at Capilano library on Thursday to promote Talk Sex Today, the book she co-authored with Meg Hickling.
The book is an expanded version of Hickling’s Speaking of Sex.
Published in 2005, Speaking of Sex ends with a tip for parents to be watchful of this burgeoning social media trend.
Today, Noon says the two most common questions parents ask are: “’How do I teach my kids good habits online and how do I keep them safe online?’”
The self-esteem of many teens and even pre-teens is entwined with page views and online likes, Noon explains.
“A lot of girls feel pressured to post provocative or sexy photos on social media sites like Instagram or Snapchat. And then the wait begins for the likes and the comments and the follows,” she says. “If that particular photo doesn’t get the attention that the person’s looking for, maybe the next picture needs to be a bit racier.”
It’s equally concerning to see the way boys often behave online, Noon adds.
“Boys learn from a young age that if they get sexy photos from hot girls, they better share them with their friends because that makes them a pimp and a player. … They’re looking for peer approval too.”
Noon encourages young people to navigate the online world with empathy.
“Even the most insignificant decision on their part – like not sharing a photo – could have a major impact on someone else’s life.”
Noon stresses teaching children to respect their own bodies.
When she was a little girl at one of her parents’ dinner parties, Noon recalls being expected to give a hug and kiss to all the guests before going to bed.
“I’m all for good manners but forcing (children) to come into physical contact with people they don’t know very well … is not empowering them to keep their bodies safe,” she says, suggesting a high-five as a possible substitute.
By preschool age, children should feel like they’re the boss of their bodies, Noon says. As they get older, they can more fully understand the idea of consent and assertiveness – both for themselves and others.
While today’s children tend to be more knowledgeable about sex than previous generations, they are also growing up in an age where any hoax is only a click away.
“There’s still a lot of misinformation and myths flying around and the Internet has helped those myths to spread faster,” Noon says, referring to a fictitious female genital infection known as a blue waffle.
Children of the Internet age also have access to far more pornography than their parents did, which is why Noon devotes a lot of time explaining that pornography does not reflect what a “typical, healthy sexual relationship” looks like.
“People in pornography may look like they’re having the time of their lives, but they’re actors, it’s entertainment.”
Pornography can also contribute to some misguided ideas about what men and women are supposed to be, which is why it’s important for parents to create a “culture of inclusion,” according to Noon.
“There’s still bullying in schoolyards and online to someone who doesn’t conform to our very rigid gender stereotypes,” she says, discussing transphobia as a persistent problem.
“The idea behind Talk Sex Today is for parents to feel empowered to be their kids’ No. 1 source of sexual health information early on,” Noon says. “If we can normalize the topic of sexual health from the day our kids are born, they’ll continue to come to us with their questions.”