Playing with the innocence of children

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How young is too young?

 

My eldest son was 4 years old when he started asking questions about sex. In fact, he came into the room and proclaimed,

"You have to be naked to have sex."

I simply smiled, and sat down eye level with him and asked him how he came to learn about that and what else he knew about sex. I remained calm and unaffected (on the outside), knowing my reaction might affect or influence his decision or choice to come to me again with a topic of any importance or value. If I overreacted or made him feel ashamed or as though he had said or did something ‘wrong’, he likely might become more curious about the topic and seek the answers for himself, by other means. To my relief, he knew very little. (Whew) His next question,

“Do you have to be married to have sex?” I was tempted to answer yes; however, I knew that is a matter of opinion, morals, and beliefs, not choice or honesty.

I took a deep breath before answering calmly,

“Do you have to be married, no. Would I like you to be, yes. But no, lots of people have sex and aren’t married.”  

I am not going to lie and say this was an easy conversation to have, especially given his young age (too young I believed), it wasn’t. However, as a result of this, I did begin an open dialogue with him. In that I realized that if he was old enough to ask the questions, he was old enough to know the answers. We talked about love and respect of ourselves, our bodies and of others. We talked about A.I.D.S., safe sex, and the importance of condoms. He did not know what a condom was, or where it went, but he knew they were essential. What a condom was and where it went and any other question he had about them or anything else pertaining to sex came later on, as he chose when to broach the next question. Each time he came to me with a question, I did what I thought would be most beneficial; I answered, calmly, matter-of-factly, honestly and openly.

Sex was always a very taboo subject in my family, largely because my parents were unable to talk about it with their parents. I was seven years old when I became a victim of sexual abuse, shortly after the abuse began; my mother caught me ‘playing with myself.’ I remember the spanking I got and the scolding, but mostly I remember the guilt and shame I felt as she looked at me with disgust and proclaimed,

“Only dirty girls do that.”

Her reaction made it very clear to me, that if she found what I was doing to myself repulsive, telling her what was being done to me would never be an option. From that moment on, I began to equate guilt and shame with sex, and my ‘groomer’ knew all too well how to manipulate those feelings of shame and guilt to his advantage. He convinced me no one would believe me if I did tell, and that even if they did, they wouldn’t do anything to stop it, not if they ever wanted to see my sister again. As the years went by and the abuse continued, the threats and intimidation became increasingly more threatening and ominous, guilt and shame gave way to fear and terror.

I was 15 by the time I revealed my ‘secret’, and sadly, much of what he had threatened me with became a reality; first it was unbelief, followed by my sister deciding to stay with him anyway, which meant if my parents ever wanted to see their grandkids (by then my sister had 3 children with my abuser) again, they would not say or do anything about it to anyone.

Different times, different circumstances. Family problems and issues were encouraged to stay and be kept ‘in house’, amongst family. I was convinced things like this didn’t happen or occur in other families, which only added to my shame and guilt. Therefore, the subject was never spoke of or addressed. In fact, for two more years I had to endure his smirks and snide comments in addition to still fending off his unwanted advances. Until I could no longer take it, and split his, head open. I was so incensed with anger and resentment, not only at him but at my sister and my parents, for not having at least confronted him or protected me, but for not even comforting me, or assuring me, or explaining to me, that what had been done to me was not due to anything I had done or may have did. I blamed myself, and their silence and acceptance (compliance), convinced me that they blamed me for it as well. Otherwise why else was nothing ever done? I realize now my parents were merely trying to keep the family together, and they were so naïve about the subject and what to do, they simply did nothing. I realize that the reason my parents had not spoke to me about sex and issues such as sexual abuse out of fear or embarrassment but out of ignorance. How could they talk about something that they themselves knew nothing about? This is why I vowed that when I had children of my own, I would do things differently.

I don’t blame my parents or my sister for what my abuser(s) did to me; I blame my abuser(s).

Nevertheless, I did feel it necessary to educate my children about sex and issues of sexual abuse and predators. Topics such as these are not always easy to talk about and not everyone is comfortable discussing them with their children, some site religious reasons, while others feel that by talking to our children about them is encouraging or condoning pre-marital sex, teen pregnancy, etc. However, for myself, and for my children, I chose to maintain an open honest relationship with them. I admire and respect my children and acknowledge we live in a time where they are more susceptible, aware, and knowledgeable about sex and sexual issues, in addition to drinking and drugs, than ever before, more so than most of us are willing or able to accept or admit. Would I love for them to stay children and maintain their innocence, of course. Do I wish that these topics and others like them were not necessary, obviously. Unfortunately, this is not the world we live in and there are predators and abusers from all walks of life, of every persuasion, that will say and do anything and everything to exploit this innocence.

My oldest is now 18 (19 in April), and my youngest is 15 (16 in Sept.). We talk openly, frankly, candidly, about sex. I provide them condoms, which as of now, only one of them requires, thankfully, and he only recently became sexually active. So, in my case, talking about it and educating them about it had the opposite effect as many of my ‘critics’ were convinced it would. They both value and respect themselves and those they come in contact with. Sex is something that is special and entering into a sexual relationship with anyone should not be taken lightly; it is something that occurs and takes place between two people who hopefully care, admire, respect, and hopefully even love each other. At least that is what I believe and chose to share with them, as to whether anyone agrees or disagrees with my choice is debatable. I fault no one for his or her beliefs or choice to discuss, talk, share, or educate their children about whatever it is they deem appropriate or necessary. I am merely stating my purpose and reasoning for why I made the choices I’ve made when it came time to raise my own children. How they or others choose to inform or educate their children is not up to me, I can only speak to my own experiences and my own decisions.

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