#4 Sex-Positive Parenting

Sarah: Hello! Welcome to Polyamorous People episode four! I just got my announcer voice on, I didn’t mean to but it happens anyway.

Louisa: You’re an actress darling.

Sarah: (affecting a wealthy dilettante voice) Darling, yes Darling it’s time to talk about polyamorous people. So, my name is Sarah Arlen, this is the fantastic Louisa Leontiades…

Louisa: Hey guys!

Sarah: Yay! So tonight we will be talking about sex-positive parenting. We’re going to explain what that is and all the things. But first I thought I would take a quick minute to explain Blab (a video livestreaming service) for those of you that are new to Blab. A few of you have been on Blab before-

Louisa: Me! (raises hand) I’m new to Blab.

Sarah: Exactly! So this is Louisa’s first time.

Louisa: I am co-hosting, but I have no idea what to do. (both laugh)

Sarah: She doesn’t know how it works, but she’s getting the hang of it real quick! So she understands where everything is happening (points to various areas of the screen). So basically, over here (points to right side of her screen) this-away, you can put your questions. Over here (points to her left) you can see the video (affects dilletante voice again) of our beautiful faces. On that side (again points to the left) you can talk to each other, and we can read both comments. So you can do it either side, but I would love it if you put your questions (points to right) over here in the question section because it just lets it be really clear to us. To be able to read it. It’s hard to pick out from the side, but I love when y’all chat with each other, and will be reading from the chat when we can. You can see who’s here by looking up (points to top of screen) at the end we plan on letting you call in. If you feel brave and you wanna be on video and audio, it’s both on Blab, you can call that in. And when that happens, we’ll let you know and there will be a button that says call in.

Louisa: And they should remember that this is recorded, so anything they say.. (both laugh) will be out there for posterity.

Sarah: Exactly! So we have been recording for one minute now, and all of that from now will be recorded. It says recording. You can tell when it’s recording looking this way I believe (points to her right).

Louisa: Well, it looks different on the phone.

Sarah: Ah yes and then there’s the mobile version. But that you’re going to have to figure out for yourselves, because every mobile version I think is a little bit different, whether it’s iPhone or Android so… please figure that out for yourself. Hi everybody! I’m glad you are saying hello to each other.

Louisa: I’d like just to put in there, just because you said that you wanted to explain what sex-positive parenting is, I, for myself, would like to explain what I understand about sex-positive parenting. But I’m pretty sure that I’ve got a lot of it wrong. I’m learning, trying to do it. So we don’t want to set ourselves up as experts, these are the issues that we’ve explored, and discussed and practiced but there is a ton of stuff that we don’t know.

Sarah: I’m really glad you said this because we are not experts, we’re talking from personal experience, which is why I enjoy doing these Blabs. We’re speaking for ourselves, we’re not speaking for anyone else. The reason why I love doing this is because sharing our perspectives and our experiences and having a conversation on a platform like this is the point. The point is not to prove ourselves right or the one righteous reigning voice of anything. So I’m really glad you said that.

Louisa: It occurs to me that after our chat the other day we got deep into details about certain people’s… genitals. Because we’re moms and we’re very frank and open, honest people. But especially because this is in the public eye, we must be mindful of not crossing our children’s private boundaries. In all cases we will try to generalize. We won’t make the stories personal, when it concerns bodily stuff, sexual stuff, we’ll try to generalize. “Certain children may do this, certain children may do that”.

 

Sarah: It’s hard to hold that boundary, but it’s so important. So we will do our absolute best, and I totally agree that we are talking about parenting, so we wanna tell stories about our kids and we just have to be careful about privacy. So, I would love to have you introduce yourself, and I can introduce myself and we can get going.

Louisa: I did not script this! (laughs) You did not warn me that I would have to introduce myself!

Sarah: I can introduce you if you would like. I love bragging about you. Because I love you.

Louisa: Okay I will do it because I do not want to brag. Well, hi. My name is Louisa, although that was not my birthname. But that’s the name I’m known by. I write books and blogs about mainly polyamory in the public eye, but I write about everything. Because I believe that everything is connected. I’m published by Thorntree, by Frankin and Eaves small press in the US. I’ve got another book coming out this year called Think Of The Children, and I’ve got another book coming out called Conscious Poly Parenting. That’s the working title at least, and I haven’t written a word of it before we scheduled this Blab. In the last week I’ve written about 30,000 words and I know nothing! So I write to process emotionally, and a lot of my writing is on the web. I also write a column, which is Ask Louloria. It’s taking off, it’s about polyamory and open relationship advice. And I do a free chat on Thursdays which I’m trying to get sponsored on Patreon. Because it is free, but it is also my job.

Sarah: Exactly. So, my name is Sarah Arlen, for those of you that don’t know me. I’m a polyamorous American in Paris, I’m a mom of a seven year old boy, and I’m making a film about polyamory. A feature length fiction film, has some resemblance to my life but complete fiction. Inspired by things in my life. It’s called Twice and you can find out more about it by going to makingtwice.com if you choose. I’m also on Periscope all the time, if you go to periscope.tv/saraharlen you can find me talking about polyamory, about Paris, about being a human, about depression, about all sorts of things that I find in my authentic experience. I like talking with all of you. I’m in Paris, France and Louisa, where are you in the world? I mean, you don’t have to give them your address. (both laugh)

Louisa: I live on a very small granite island in the Western archipelago of Sweden. There’s no cars, there’s no shops, I try my best to be alternative, I have failed miserably. It does mean that there are certain challenges, everything is a little harder. I makes me feel like I’m living life, I like putting myself in the hard situations.

Sarah: I think it’s incredible that you come from originally from England, but you’re living in Sweden. We’ve talked about this before and we don’t need to go on about this, but I just wanted to point out that culturally I’m an American that lives in France and you were an English woman that now lives in Sweden and it’s an interesting thing to just point out.

Louisa: I have a Greek father, and that obviously informs my upbringing. This is now the seventh country that I’m living in. My boyfriend is Swedish, the other is Chilean, my metamour is Tunisian-French. So, lots of mixes.

Sarah: Exactly, I have lots of mixes in my family too. So we bring all these nationalities together as international ladies and we’re now raising children.

Louisa: I have two! (holds up two fingers)

Sarah: Exactly! And we’re talking about young children tonight.

Louisa: We’re talking about primarily up to the age of seven, those sort of formative years. I’m sorry we can’t cover the rest of it, but that will come in time.

Sarah: We will try to cover it as we experience it, but for now we’re not gonna try to cover anything outside of our own experience. So a lot of people out there might not know what we mean when we say sex-positivity, and we wanna talk about the definition of that. Because both of us are writers, and both of us care a bunch about words and definitions. So Louisa you wanna give that a go, how do you view the term sex-positivity?

Louisa: Sure. I come from a very sex-negative background. I didn’t realize it was sex-negative until I discovered polyamory, and I noticed there was this divide. People that didn’t distinguish polyamory from plain old promiscuity. And that itself is the function of sex positivity, which is the belief that sex is inherently joyful and healthy, and things are a matter of preference and you want to support people in their individual sexual identity. Which then leads to the idea that you need honest communication and use the appropriate words to describe things. So it’s about an absence of shame, and an addition of joy in sex. That’s how I see it.

Sarah: I also want to note for those of you that might not know what polyamory means, sometimes we forget to include our definitions of polyamory. And then we’re like “oh wait!”. So for those of you who have never heard the word polyamory before, no shame in that. I’m glad you’re here. My definition of polyamory is that I have the ability to love more than one person at once with all of those people knowing about it. If I have multiple romantic partnerships, if I so choose, if that’s what happens in life. We’re all honest, I’m honest about it from the beginning. And so is everybody involved. So that’s my definition, you wanna give it a go? Or I could go into my definition of sex-positivity.

Louisa: Polyamory is sort of a double-edged sword for me. A lot of people focus on the sex part, and officially polyamory is simply loving many people. And the Greeks have this broad definition of love that encompasses this six types of love. And it’s not just about romance and stuff. I’m kind of leaning more towards relationship anarchy. Having said that, I have found that I didn’t used to be political but now find myself being political. Because anarchy is rooted in politics. It’s fluid, and the ability to love multiple people with freedom and honesty and ethics.

Sarah: I think it’s a great thing to use the term “relationship anarchist” on here as well, because one of my partners has declared themselves relationship anarchist as well. And I love the idea of it, which is that you love the people around you as you love them, and you’re honest with everyone. You don’t need specific role titles for them. You just love how you love and it’s not bound by strict boxes and definitions. Is that fair to say?

Louisa: That could be a whole Blab by itself. The whole “relationship anarchy” thing, but of course relationship anarchy itself had it’s birth in Sweden. Andie Nordgren, and her manifesto, it simply outlines trust, freedom, agency, responsibility, which of course are the same thing other polyamorous folk value. For me there is an overlap, and for many relationship anarchists there is not. They regard it as separate. So I’ll just say, relationship fluid. Accepting and rolling with the changes.

Sarah: Sex-positivity for me is… I come from America, which has a lot of sex-negativity. I see one of our viewers are asking “do I have sex-negativity?” which is a great question. We don’t always realize that we have negative feelings associated with sex. It’s something we’ve never contemplated before, that we’ve never sat down and thought about before. Which is totally understandable because we get a lot of subliminal messages, we get a lot of messages about sexuality, from other people and from all sorts of other sources. I make films, you get that from films. You get it from television, books, all sorts of sources around you. You get these ideas about sex. And so for me sex positivity is about the approach to sex in a positive light. As you said, I think the key is not having shame. The shame being associated with sex is a negative experience and making sex a positive experience really changes the way that you talk about sex with other people. The way you feel about sex when you have it or when you think about it in your mind. When you feel it emotionally. So sex positive, to me, is being able to release the negative feeling that are a lot of times glued onto sex and find the positive ways to talk about and think and feel about sex.

Louisa: And I think one more thing about when we judge sexual preference, behavior, identity with that sort of negativity. That sort of judgement. Someone asked if there was any behavior which should be shamed. Acts that should be shamed, I believe, would be like acting on pedophilia. I don’t know specifically how or if it should be shamed, but I’m definitely not for it.

I think if things are non-consensual, I don’t know per se if it should be shamed or how we should process that, perhaps we could speak of that at another time. But if there is one thing I am not for, it’s for acts in which there is a lack of consent.

Sarah: When there is any sort of coercion, any sort of manipulation, when there is any sort of crossing someone’s consent boundaries, which we will talk more about in a while, that is something that does not fall within the area I consider good for sex positivity.

Louisa: I would say that sex positivity pretty much involves consent. Intrinsically, that’s the point.

Sarah: You can only have sex positivity about things that have full consent.

Louisa: For me that is part of sex-positive parenting, which we will get to later. How to teach your kids consent.

Sarah: What we really wanted to do is that, we are both parents that some of you have been thinking you migh be parents, or might be dealing with things from your own childhood. We will touch on that, because so much of what we feel about our own bodies and our own agency was formed in childhood. We wanted to talk about how sex-positivity and parenting can work together and what that experience, as a parent, has been like for us.

Louisa: So do you have the agenda in front of you?

Sarah: I do!

Louisa: I wrote it, so you can read it.

Sarah: I can! So we covered what sex-positivity means as far as I know. Was that clear to the people watching?

Louisa: Someone asked if our children’s bio-dad lived with either of us. Yes.

Sarah: Yes, mine does. Both of us, exactly.

And thank you Lou (livestream commenter) that was a good way to put it. Abusive and inhumane behavior, that does not fall into the sex-positivity realm.

Louisa: I think that if you look at that word, inhumane, you will find that it leads to a sort of objectification.

Sarah: Exactly. We also wanted to talk about self-worth and shame.

Louisa: This is really because when children are young, and we are talking about a particularly young age zero to seven years, the work I have found is primarily to be done in yourself. It is your reactions in those first years, pre-verbal communication, sex-positive communication can be ultra-ultra important. For babies, that you don’t have this look of disgust if they’re touching their poo or touching their genitals. Because the child actually takes that look, that approving or disapproving look, away with them and applies it to their bodies and who they are. They can’t be who they are, they can’t be naturally curious, while seeking your approval. Which of course they are, this is a matter of survival.

So, the work I’ve had to do coming from a sex-negative background, is to really look at myself and where these attitudes come from in myself to heal myself so I don’t give in to these reactions to my children’s natural impulses.

Sarah: Because I think it’s something important to point out here is that sex-positivity isn’t just about the sex act. It’s about how you feel about your own body, and your own sexuality, your own sexual impulses, sensual impulses. As a child you get curious about how your body reacts, how all those things works, but it also involves their body image and how they connect to their body like you are saying. And when we’re talking about this, we’re also talking about how you relate your body to other people knowing that this body is your body. And nobody has the right over your body. Just as when, we want the sexual act later as adults to be consensual. That idea gets into children, and starts at a really young age because they either learn through our actions that they have agency over themselves. They are in charge of their own body. This is my body, and I love it. Or they learn shame about it. I want my child to learn that he can ask me about his body, he can ask me how bodies interact, sexually or otherwise. And that, when you are talking about the touching of the body parts or poo, because poo becomes a big deal when dealing with kids, that this is a part of that conversation.

Louisa: Well what actions have you taken, Sarah, to invest in your own sexuality so you got rid of your shame? How have you got rid of your shame?

Sarah: One of the ways I got rid of my shame was realizing that the way my son looks at me is related to the way I look at myself. He’s watched me closely since he was a very tiny boy. Looking at how I regard myself. And if he sees me looking in the mirror, being overly critical, being embarrassed about my body, then he picks up on that. It’s that idea I have to face, that I want him to see a strong woman who isn’t ashamed of her body. In order to do that, I have to work on shame of my own body and any feelings I had negatively about my body. I work with a therapist, and I’m always very vocal about the fact that if you are lucky enough to be able to afford therapy or have therapy that it’s a great way to proceed. So you’re not alone.

Louisa: I’ve recently had two friends come over a few years ago, and they made me say the word vagina, out loud. Just shout it in the garden, that I have a vagina. At the time I couldn’t say the word. Vagina. I can now. The town I live in is very small, and now they call me “the vagina woman”. I go to the post office and folks call me that sometimes.

Sarah: I think that’s great that in Sweden you are now The Vagina Woman.

Louisa: (laughs) It’s great. But they came over, and they made me say it. They held a mirror in front of me, and they made me say it, that I have a vagina, until I could say it as I would say I have an ear. I have an arm. They made me say it, and got rid of the shame surrounding the word. That was the first thing. Then one of my boyfriends got me the Great Wall Of Vagina Casting Kit. Like the plaster cast. You can plaster cast your own vagina.

Sarah: Something I didn’t know about but that makes me very happy.

Louisa: Well there you go. I was trying to figure out where to put it, once I had done it. You know, the vicar might pop in.

Sarah: And he’d see your vagina.

Louisa: Well, I put it in my bedroom. But the point is, I did it. Now I see it, I see what it looks like. You know, because it’s very difficult to get under there.

Sarah: Or even with mirrors, it’s difficult to see everything.

Louisa: Well again, this is one of the ways that I got rid of my shame. Because then I was able to talk to my daughter, who is my first born, about her body parts.

Sarah: Right, because when we are ashamed of talking about body parts, kids can pick that up. Right away, kids are like oh, should I not call this my penis, should I not talk about certain parts of my body? And all of that shame. Not that there aren’t boundaries.  And that’s the next topic coming up, I’m jumping the gun.

Louisa: Okay, couple questions. So, Mark (livestream commenter) says “there is shame about talking about vagina?” Of course that is not applicable to everybody, but I had extreme shame about the evidence that I had a vagina. Whether when you’re talking about a camel toe when you’re wearing tight leggings. Or “hanging ham”, that was another term that was around in my school days. That was a larger labia, they would call it a hanging ham.

Sarah: I’ve never heard of that.

Louisa: And of course it has a distinctive smell, and that smell changes around times of the month. And I remember just trying to constantly scrub off the smell, because it was evidence that I had a vagina. And having a vagina was, for me, very shameful.

I think it was no coincidence that my parents were both academics. Very about the mind, the body was nothing. It was the mind. And of course you have to take into consideration that this comes from the Greeks. I was reading this fascinating article about the tiny penises on Greek statues back in the day. Because large, erect penises were considered clumsy and foolish and not signs of a big mind. It comes from even back there.

Sarah: Yeah I think people absorb a lot of shame about their bodies without necessarily realizing it. What we can consider small moments can sometimes penetrate us to our very core. Like, someone making fun of you for having a camel toe, which is where one can see both the labia defined from a tight pair of pants or leggings. These things that happen that seem small can really get into people and transform into negativity about sex and body. You’ve learned to love your vagina.

Louisa: Yes! But of course, when I learned “vagina”, I hadn’t learned the term “vulva”. And these days it seems stupid but I wouldn’t have known this difference. And I refuse to be ashamed about not knowing it, because it was not referred to in my house. We never referred to those body parts.

Sarah: I grew up in a very medical household, because my dad was a doctor and my mom was an acupuncturist. They were both very sex positive because they were big old hippies.

Louisa: That explains a lot. (both laugh)

Sarah: What was interesting about that is it, for part of my life, made me look at myself clinically. Which is also a bit removed from feeling like this is my body. So for me it was not about having all the knowledge, but it didn’t always feel like it was within my own power or in myself.

Louisa: But this is what they call sex-neutral. It’s very matter-of-fact, just gives the facts and the difference between neutral and positive is the joy. The joy in sex.

Sarah: Which of course I love the joy in sex. I’m all about having as much positivity about it as possible, personally. Shall we move on? Do we take some questions?

Louisa: Well I noted in the agenda that we would be taking some questions. And there is a lot to cover, so it doesn’t really matter whether there are questions or not. Just for pause sake, does anyone have any questions around self-worth and shame? I know it’s a huge topic and we could go on forever.

Sarah: I have a question for you: Does anyone relate, as you are listening to this, to having some shame aspect to your body? You can just type a 1 to be counted.

And we have a question from Colleen: How do you suggest dealing with teens with body issues? You know, Colleen I personally don’t feel comfortable talking about this just because I don’t have a teen yet.  So I don’t wanna talk outside my own experience. Louisa, would you?

Louisa: No, I’m afraid that’s not what we are going to be covering today. I would be willing to look up some articles for you, because that is my job: researching and analyzing and writing. But from our own experience we are dealing with children from zero to seven.

Sarah: Great question tho!

Louisa: Yes, thank you.

Sarah: And thank you for all doing the quick poll of that, because I know for me to put this out there, but I read a lot of Brene Brown, who talks a lot about shame. It’s not necessarily about sexual shame, but she talks about just all different aspects of shame. For anyone looking into this, how to dig into this shame and work it out, I definitely recommend reading Brene Brown’s work. She’s a Shame Researcher, one of her official titles.

Louisa: Just to toot my own horn, one of my first published articles at the time I was really exploring this topic was published in Jezebel. It’s entitled “My Vagina Smells Like Shame” and it went viral. At the time I was so afraid of judgment I couldn’t read the comments. And there was a lot of to and fro there.

[Some issues with connection that last about five minutes]

Louisa: Alright. So I dropped the link in there, if people would like to read it. But this is not about teaching, this is simply about discussing.

Sarah: Yes, the next topic is public versus private behavior. So when you are teaching your kids about sexuality and their bodies, there’s a realm where you are trying to tell them what is public behavior and what is private. And that is a difficult balance sometimes. So what would you like to start off with saying about that?

Louisa: Simply that it’s still confusing to me, especially with the cultural mix. Now I have read a whole bunch of stuff on sexual survivor training for children. I haven’t been sexually abused myself, but I’m very conscious that these things do happen and I’d like to, as any parent would, make sure that doesn’t happen to my kids. Or anybody else’s kids. And the public versus private thing, there is an article I read which said a mother taught her children no naked play, that was a hard rule.

But in Sweden, that simply wouldn’t fly, because every child on the beach is naked, for example. Until puberty kicks in. If you were to put your child into costumes, they wouldn’t feel accepted by the median group. And this is a constant problem, you want your child to be accepted, and acceptable and loved and to fit in. But you still want to protect them. So public versus private has very different meanings.

Sarah: And France has this same thing, they are a bit looser with nudity. They’re a bit more accepting of nudity than America, but it depends where in America, because America is a vast land with 50 states. And I know in California, even in the one state of California, there are pockets of it that have nudist colonies and nudist beaches and there are other parts that are very conservative. It’s a village by village thing of what is private and what is public. For me, what I try to concentrate on is – it’s a really hard balance with children – is having the idea that mt son doesn’t need to be ashamed of anything that he does with his own body. But there are places that are his sacred space. So in his bedroom that is a sacred safe space. He can explore and do whatever he wants to figure out like “How does a penis work? I have one so I can figure it out!” But maybe, you know, not at school. That there are spaces where you are safe to explore yourself without having to deal with other people. And it can be a tricky balance.

Louisa: I think that being in a polyamorous family has helped us define it. We define it as a matter of preferences and boundaries. Public versus private. The conversations you have, if you say to your children “please don’t play with your genitals in public” of course at a young age they will be like “Why? Why? Why?” and I’m like ok, it feels really good. We know that. But when it comes to public and private behavior, certain people prefer to not be confronted with other people’s genitals. And of course it’s like “Why? Why? Why?” And the way I have felt that makes sure this is okay is by saying: “Simply because so-and-so says they don’t want it, and you have to respect that.” And that kinda leads on to the whole: you don’t have to justify your preference.

My poly parents, the poly parents in our family, the non-bio parents, have certain rules around privacy. We of the bio family are more comfortable with the nudity and the running around this kind of thing. For example, one of my boyfriends likes to go to the toilet in private, have his space sort of thing. And the kids are like “Why can’t we go in with him?” Because he has decided that is private. It’s his preference. But of course they will and have come into the toilet room with me, numerous times.

You haven’t really lived, I think, until you’ve had your toddler pulling on your sleeve while you are trying to have a shit. (both laugh) I have basically sacrificed my own privacy, until my youngest reached the age of three and I was like, no. Now, I am reasserting my private space.

Sarah: I think this is an important formative lesson to teach them about consensuality. For everybody. The teacher does not consent to you being in class and pulling your willy out. Just does not consent. Because of that, you are respecting his or her choices in what is the boundary of classroom behavior. It doesn’t mean the teacher can choose to touch your willy, definitely not. These boundaries need to be made clear. Showing versus telling. You can tell a child all sorts of things, but they are also watching your behavior. This leads into something else as well. In a poly household, but also a monogamous household as well, especially when monogamous people may be dating even moreso then when they are paired, is that your choice nudity affects their choices. When decisions are being made of whether they can go into the bathroom with you, at what age, and does the boyfriend get to go to the bathroom in just boxer shorts or with a bathrobe on. All of these things really need to be clearly talked about.

Louisa: Right, but I never wanted to tie it with ideas of what society wants or what religion believes or any of that. I simply wanted to define it as a matter of preference that you have to respect, and to support other people’s preferences. It’s all about supporting the individual. A viewer asks “What about nudity around children?” Haven’t we covered that? Or would you like more detail?

Sarah: I actually have a weird story about that. Not about me, but about the actress Hillary Swank, who’s won two Oscars and was in Boys Don’t Cry and all that. Hillary Swank was publicly called out and shamed for walking around naked at the apartment of her boyfriend because her boyfriend had a son. Like, a youngish child, a six or seven year old, the age range we’re talking about today. And she got a lot of negative criticism about that. And the trick is, that family was judged by the public but the important part is what boundaries were set in that family, and if that was ok there. If they had that discussion. You know some people say that they have a “naked” family or a “clothed” family and those concepts change based on age. My son is getting around seven, and I’m starting to think maybe I’m not as comfortable being naked around him. Maybe he’s not as comfortable being around me and it’s not about shame, it’s out of a sense of privacy.

So I never want to say “nudity is bad/nudity is good” but I think nudity and public displays of affection and all that just need to be talked about between the people who are involved.

Louisa: You link it with displays of affection which I find interesting. Being nude, for me is just a display of trust with whomever I am with. If I am displaying trust with someone that is not my child’s bio-parent, they will also trust that person. Because they see that I do, and they imitate that. I think that there is a discussion to be had in every family around the actions that you take which display your vulnerability. And how your children will automatically trust someone who you trust. That is the default, at least. So I am nude around the house, mostly because I have wanted my children to see pubic hair and squashy bottoms and all these things they will not see in the media. Not because I personally feel very comfortable with it, because of that sex-negative background. So there is a discussion about trust, because if you are walking around nude with a brand new boyfriend and making these public displays of affection: I’m not going to say what you should and should not, just that it’s different person to person.

Sarah: A viewer just responded that her parents used to walk around naked, and she wasn’t comfortable and wasn’t sure how to address that. One of the things that I think is very important about parenting and being sex-positive is creating an environment where your kids always feel comfortable to say no. It’s difficult for them to assert their boundaries. I’m constantly reminding my son that he can say something even if I might not like it. And I think reinforcing that idea as often as possible, in as many ways as possible. Like, if they say something that offends you, to say “I feel this way, but I’m glad you told me”. And also, this is something Louisa and I have talked about in the past and would like to bring up, is that kids that are pre-verbal, kids that don’t speak yet or maybe don’t have a grasp on language yet, we have to read their body language and see if they appear uncomfortable. And if they appear uncomfortable, don’t put them in that situation. In those situations you really have to pay attention to your kids, because they may not be able to verbalize that. Like, if you say “go hug this person” and they say no, to respect that.

Louisa: Absolutely. It gets a bit heartbreaking for my parents, because my children don’t want to hug or do anything around them. They’re old-school, they’re elderly, and they expect affection. They love my kids, so of course they want hugs. But we’ve said no, only if they feel like it.

And you also said reasserting multiple times in multiple contexts, and I think sex-positive parenting, it doesn’t start with sex. It starts with everything else. The respect for their opinion, the respect for their desires. Whether they want a banana or orange for lunch, it’s not always about sex. It’s about respecting their preference.

Sarah: Did you all have any more questions about the public versus private concept? I mean, we could do a whole Blab about each one of these topics.

Louisa: Yes, and when I put together this list of topics, I realize that we do sort of talk about the same sort of topics but from different angles, different lenses. Public versus private has everything to do with consent and with objectification. It has everything to do with boundaries.

Sarah: I feel like we are naturally segueing. Do you mind if we go into the next topic?

Louisa: When you say segway, do you mean one of those little carts with the handlebars? (both laugh)

Sarah: Ah, right one of those things. But again, we seem to be moving towards the next segment which is consent for kids. Consent for kids. This could be a whole Blab! by itself. But this is the sort of concept where folks need multiple reminders of and conversations about.

Louisa: When I think back about my sex-negative background one of the things, and I think they are connected, was the total lack of boundaries. Lack of being allowed to communicate what your boundaries were, lack of consent, lack of communication. So I think consent and communication are always intertwined for me, so I’m not sure why we put them in separate topics. But consent is really the  respect of the power of the kid to say no or yes and to make that decision for themselves. And it’s difficult when it comes to babies, because they are essentially objects. You physically have to move them around from place to place. And when you are starting that, you are teaching them to brush their teeth and they are screaming, it is really difficult to respect their no, because their no means their teeth will fall out. Or their no means their bottom won’t get cleaned. It’s terribly difficult to draw this line and make sure they are getting the opportunity to consider they have power. Especially since they don’t know the consequences of those decisions.

Sarah: One of the trickiest parts of this transition we go through as a parent, over and over again with different aspects of the connection my child and I have together and how this works, with consent is that when they start out they are helpless and you are doing all these things for them.

Louisa: And for a while you have their agency, for a while you guard it to yourself. You have their power, and you have a responsibility for their power. In all ways, they are an object.

Sarah: I’m not sure I’m gonna say there is a moment that transitions them from an object to a human, there is a process that you go through as a parent and a child where you have to determine what it the amount of care that is necessary and how should it get done – our parental repsonsibilities to get them to eat enough food and make sure their bottoms are clean – while still allowing them agency.

Louisa: I try to get the dirt away, and we will talk about that more in a moment. Dirt, and our associations with dirt. To do things that a good parent is supposed to do. You have to do these things to keep them healthy in a way that respects their autonomy, but also gets them clean.

Sarah: I think it’s all about; for me that evolution is all about knowing that consent can change on the same activity. Like the point where you go from breastfeeding to the point where you are no longer breastfeeding and the child is in a place like “Well now what do I do with mom’s boob? Can I touch mom’s boob? Can mom still wipe my bum when I don’t have diapers on?” All of those things come stage-by-stage and it’s tricky, but it’s a way of teaching them that these consensual boundaries can change. One day it’s okay, and the next they can tell you that it feels different, and you can have that conversation. “You know momma, I don’t feel comfortable with that anymore.” Asserting the idea that they can speak for themselves is a part of that consent. To be able to speak up.

Louisa: Well, I did breast feed. And in an effort to show my body that I accept it and that I love it, my child would poke at my bottom and be like “oh you have a squashy bottom” and I would be like “yes, isn’t it lovely”. Just thinking inside (makes uncomfortable groan). But then it turned into a game, and both would pat my bottom and eventually I was like no. That was then, this is now. This is my body, and you are not allowed to touch it unless we talk about it and give each other permission. The same goes for your body, I am not allowed to touch your body. Nobody is allowed to touch your body without permission. Of course that does get tricky when we talk about dirt.

Sarah: Tell us some more about dirt!

Louisa: Can we talk about dirt? Because I also have a lot of anxiety in my life, and when dirt occurs, it occurs a lot with children. We live in Sweden, they play in mud and snow. Mud and snow, mud and snow. And I’ll see them come back in and I’ll say “You are so dirty!” and my partner will grab my hand and say “And that must mean that you’ve had a lot of fun!”. And I’m like yes, dirt means fun. Dirt means fun. And of course because I had a religious upbringing, that was not the case. Cleanliness was next to Godliness. Dirt was not allowed. So there is interplay there of my anxiety and how we regard dirt/germs hygiene, the fact that genitals and that area do have both functions, urination/defecation and sexual pleasure. To say dirt is fun, but must be managed so it doesn’t harm us. Very difficult. But I really appreciate that my Swedish partner, he sees my anxiety and will be like “Oh you must have had so much fun! Look how dirty you are!” And for how I feel about my kids, and what I want to have in the long run for them to be sex-positive adults, “dirt is fun” is a terrific slogan. So it doesn’t always have to be a thing that you have to directly manage.

Sarah: This brings up an interesting point about how when you are teaching kids about one thing that it will apply later to another thing. Keep in mind that sex-negativity often calls someone “dirty”. Right? If you are like “oh you’re a dirty girl/boy” or whatever. That’s the negative context laid over later when applied to sex. Teaching your kids that dirty is good  can lead to resilience later on when dealing with sexual shame. 

Louisa: Dirty can be good, when we start to look at things from different contexts. And that’s my little tirade about dirt. But when it comes to consent, and when you are talking about invading their bodily space, because you need to clean them and they are screaming – again I am referring to the articles I have read from sexual abuse survivors – there was one that said they were unable to put on the diaper crème when changing a nappy and wound up scrubbing the floor instead. I would have gone mad, if I saw that I can’t stand that. It’s the intersect of how all these things apply to your family. I want my kids to be able to have this bodily autonomy. But I would not be able to stand having to mop up diaper crème off the floor. I will clean their bottoms until such time as they will clean it up themselves. My eldest is able, my youngest not so much. So there’s a bit of conflict there.

Sarah: It’s also not a matter whether you are doing it or they are doing it, the important part is making sure they learn these self-care skills. Up to a certain point they can’t do these self-care skills, and you have to teach them the value of it. When I was raised I didn’t get this so much, like being raised by wolves. Raised without any idea of how to take care of yourself. I really had to re-parent myself as an adult, to figure out how to take care of your body and of yourself. There’s a really important intersection there in teaching them. What I tell my son is that he’s not brushing my teeth for me, he’s brushing his teeth for him. And you don’t necessarily know how to do that well so we have to go to the dentist and then she explains it and I will then help you with it. So you can feel like you are taking good care of your teeth.

Louisa: Alright, so here is a conundrum that came up the other day. I’ll tell you how I dealt with it after you tell me how you would have dealt with it. My son hates brushing his teeth, and so I tell him that if we don’t brush his teeth they will fall out and cause him pain. And you don’t like pain. But of course he is young and doesn’t see the long-term consequence of this and other short-term actions. 

Sarah: I have been through this with my child, and we had a time where we brushed teeth together. And I make tooth brushing look real fun. It becomes sort of a game. Obviously I’m a big ham, so if there is something I am able to do that he doesn’t want to, I can show him why it’s really great. Because I genuinely do love brushing my teeth. We’ve gone through phases where we all go and brush our teeth together. Everyone in the household will come and we will all brush our teeth together. So we get this fun family we’re all doing it together thing. And the fun transfers off of us to him where he realizes it doesn’t have to be a chore it can be something pleasurable. I love brushing my teeth, I’m that girl.

Louisa: My son wasn’t up for that. So we talk about Tooth Trolls. Trolls are a Swedish thing and we talk about Tooth Trolls and how they live on your teeth and want to eat them. And he was like, no I don’t want them to eat my teeth. So we got around that by creating the game. But then it occurred to me, and I don’t have an answer for this part of it. At what point does making this sort of game of things become manipulative?

Sarah: I have a suggestion myself. I think these sort of tricks get seen through faster than any of us can anticipate. It’s so tricky because like, my son and I have a race to see who can get dressed first in the morning, simply because otherwise he just won’t do it. So the struggle is that he will win sometimes and declare he’s the winner and I as the poly parent feels the need to say that we are both winners and it’s just (frustrated sound). So sometimes we make these games or enticements up, and then they sort of backfire on us. So I think that for me I try to do that the least amount possible. Kids are not entirely rational, they understand something by the actions they see, to see if you apply the same thing to yourself. So I try to do the same myself without games and trickery, but sometimes it’s hard to avoid them.

Louisa: Theres a concept I’ve heard talked about called the magic ratio, five to one. And it applies to parenting, particularly in the idea of trying to create five positive memories for every one negative memory. Because negativity affects more dramatically than positivity. So when it comes to competition, I try to mix and match the strategies as much as I can, so that competition doesn’t always come out in front. Sometimes it’s about collaboration. But it takes a lot of thinking and awareness to pull this off if you are tired all the time.

Sarah: We have an interesting question here asking about Mormonism in regards to the poly thing. I am not Mormon, neither is Louisa, we don’t have experience with that. 

Louisa: There’s another question about whether non-bio parent poly partners get involved in childcare roles. Wipe bottoms, etc. In my household, those partners do not get involved with that part.

Sarah: Same for me. My children don’t get touched by the non-bio parent partners, but we’ll brush teeth together and things like that. When we are talking about nudity, we don’t show genitalia, either of the partners or the children. That doesn’t have a crossover. That is a boundary we’ve set, no genitalia shown from the poly partner to the child or from the child to poly partner. That’s our lot.

Louisa: We have a boundary for poly partners too, around children. But as I said before, my children love to run around naked, and it’s a constant work to teach them that some people aren’t comfortable with that. Our poly partners are not always comfortable with seeing that. It’s an ongoing thing.

Sarah: Having French children around, there’s slightly less nudity involved. Plus I live in a city, rather than a smaller country town. I live in Paris, there ain’t no public nudity in Paris.

Louisa: Yeah we live on an island with beaches and it’s cold most of the year. And when it gets hot, people just want to rip their clothes off.

Sarah: Yeah again I live in the Metropolis, when you go out in the countryside you see more of that sort of attitude. Context, for sure. I think always the conversation should be engaged in your family, because whether you are talking about poly partners, or the biological parents. It’s really important to me to ask everyone about that, because some people might not feel comfortable and we don’t want to take for granted that they would. So you just want to talk it out as much as you can.

Louisa: We have a “No Expectation, No Assumption:” rule. It’s almost on a day-to-day basis: what was true yesterday isn’t necessarily true today. I think that’s a relevant point for what we’re talking about,

Sarah: What we were talking about before was encouraging your child to voice things. Because part of the consent is making sure that your child voices the way that they really feel. Because they are part of the conversation as soon as they are verbal, and that you are paying attention to the signs when they are not verbal.

Louisa: This is a tricky thing for my younger child, who has so far learned to survive by being “the baby”. And because he’s the second, the first child is very verbose, the second not so verbose. He likes being “babied”. Being babied means not talking, it means crying. And so every time we are like “please use words, please use your words” because then I can understand what you want much better than if you are crying. And yet at the same time I don’t want him to repress emotions. And there’s the balance again. 

Sarah: One of our audience members is writing in: as an attorney I have some cases in the area of family law and legal regulations between parents and children. Many difficult cases in this area is produced in this absence of sex-positive parenting in and across parents and child. That’s interesting.

(scans comments, thanks the audience for them)

We do have a polyamory question which I think we can answer relatively quickly. The question is: is polyamory a real thing? Or just cheating? It is a real thing. I have been polyamorous my whole life, I’ve been openly embracing polyamory for over a decade.

Louisa: Over a decade, now. It is certainly a real thing. Other than that, I would rather not get into polyamory questions right now, because this is a sex-positive parenting episode. But yes it is, and we can take other questions about it another time.

Sarah: I talk about it all the time on Periscope, so if you are curious, I invite you to follow me on Periscope at periscope.tv/saraharlen. Because I talk about that constantly. So it’s already 10:05. We still have… (checks itinerary) all the things!

Louisa: All the things!

Sarah: Yes, and this happens a lot, it always winds up taking us longer than we plan. We haven’t gotten into Objectification, Body Positivity, or the Wrap Up. But I think this might also be a good place to stop because my brain is about to shut off. I’m the carriage that turns back into a pumpkin. So we are going to do the call-in section, if you would like to call in and have any questions. If y’all can adhere to the idea that this is a sex-positive parenting Blab and questions should be related to that. We will be doing more polyamory-focused work Blabs and you can always ask me questions on Periscope. 

(some technical issues fielding the first call)

John: I have a question, and it’s ancient history. When we were young parents, and our kids were one/two-ish, still very early non-verbal stage, it was still obvious to us that our child had grown uncomfortable with us having the crib in the same bedroom we had sex in. It’s unclear exactly when it became clear tho.

Sarah: That’s a good question. Louisa, did you hear the question fully?

Louisa: There was a lot of feedback, but you were talking about same-room sex with where your very young child sleeps. Is that correct?

John: Yes.

Louisa: I remember watching an old episode of Friends where Joey took Emma away because Monica and Chandler were having sex in the next room! And I thought oh my god why would they do that? Because I was brought up with this sex-negativity. I can only speak from personal experience, but I’ve never been comfortable having sex in the same room because I’m quite noisy. The noises to an untrained ear are quite scary. And when you don’t understand sex and how joyful it is and how those noises are wild and carnal and beautiful, it does confuse. But that was my personal preference with my children. 

Sarah: I love that we’ve learned that. Something I’ve never learned before about my great friend Louisa. I think for me that is one of those parental transitions. For me we lived in a small apartment from when my son was born until the age of one, and we had one bedroom. We were very conscious of sound, and conscious of the fact that we didn’t want to have that experience transfer over to him. If we had a separate bedroom, we would have used a separate bedroom. We made do with what we had but it definitely changed the way we had sex, because we were trying to be quiet and respectful and not have that relationship become an experience that our son had. But everyone feels differently, and it’s funny how history has changed rather quickly about that. Not in all places around the world, because there are a lot of places where they only have room that the entire family does all their things in. So I think that’s also a cultural perspective.

Louisa: What was your experience?

John: Well for us, we had a king-size on the floor mattress for a bed, and at certain points all three kids had slept in that bed up until it was their choice to leave the bed. They were bigger and wanted to have their own space. For a few years it was either have sex around them or just forget about it altogether.

Louisa: Did you ever perceive that they experienced any discomfort?

John: When they were very young no, and that’s why the question was about how to transition that. How to recognize it. That was one of the questions I had for the sake of younger parents, for me it’s more of a resolution or reflection. I don’t really have a full recollection of the transition, whether it went well or badly. For the first few years it didn’t seem to be much of an issue really.

Louisa: This sort of conversation wasn’t even on the agenda but I am fascinated by the topic. I’m curious about what is the cultural norm, and how these norms have come about. I will definitely look into it, and I’m seeing that viewers are requesting a sequel to this sex-positive parenting episode. I may need to stick that on the agenda for next time.

Sarah: Well great thanks for the question John! That was a very brave question. 

Louisa: Yes, very brave. 

John: You’re welcome. (disconnects)

Sarah: Well I think we are ready to do the wrap up.

Louisa: I can’t believe I made it through without wine!

Sarah: Louisa Leontiades you made it! You made it through your first Blab! High five!

Louisa: It’s an enormous piece of courage for me to even show up on screen. All those body issues are not just about the vagina.

Sarah: I appreciate that you showed up with your beautiful face on video.

Louisa: Yes of course, because it’s recorded there’s every chance that they’ve caught so many unflattering… 

Sarah: And that’s where shame makes a full cycle! (both laugh) Vagina! Vagina! Vagina! 

Louisa: Kids! Be proud of your genitals!

Sarah: Thank you all for being here so much. For those tuning in, or viewing this video anywhere else on the internet that pops up, we will be doing a part two. We covered about half of what we wanted to cover, and this was super fun, so stay tuned for that! The next Blab will still be at polyamorouspeople.tv, you can always go to that URL and it will point to this video for a time and when we have a new one it will point to that. So you can always go to that domain name, that URL, to see what’s up with these series of Blabs. And that’s how you can find us. You can find both of us on Twitter at our Blab handle names. We’d love to see you there. It’s always a great place, I find to ask follow up questions. So if you have follow up questions, please find us on Twitter and that would be a great way to do it. Thank you all for being here, thank you Louisa.

Louisa: Bye! Someday I’ll get to meet you in person!

Sarah: Yep! I’m working on it! 

Louisa: Alright! Bye! (both wave)

 

(video ends)