How I became Sex-Positive

uterus-labeledBy Hannah

If you’re unfamiliar with the term, “sex positive” – read this definition first!

Everything I learned about sex came from the World Book encyclopedia, starting with the day my first menstrual cycle arrived. I didn’t even know what to call it. I remembered seeing the word “Reproduction” as a sub-heading under “Cat” while researching an animal report in elementary school, so I started there. I read all about animal reproduction, then human, then finally found “Menstruation” and “Female Anatomy.” I studied the diagrams of the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes and learned what my body was going to be doing every month for the next few decades. I bought tampons and hid them in my sock drawer.

I never got any of the “the talks” from either of my parents; not about periods, sex, or porn, not about consent or rape, not about pregnancy, not about pleasure, not about healthy sexual relations within marriage. None. Zippo. It seemed as though that whole arena was taboo. I’m sure I’m not the only woman, Mormon or otherwise, to have been woefully ignorant about a pretty significant part of being human. As a homeschooled kid, I didn’t even have a health class, or more “informed” friends to help me out. So I went to my most trusted resource, books at the library, to help me figure it out.

I found a copy of “The Hite Report” (a survey of 100,000 women and their sexual practices) in a stack of used books and read it cover to cover. I discovered that the thing I had been doing with the handheld back massager tool was called “masturbation” and the warm, tingly feeling I had was “orgasm.”

Once I realized that a favorite past-time and way to relax at night was forbidden by the For Strength of Youth pamphlet, the curiosity I previously had about sex turned to guilt. I was too embarrassed to admit it to anyone, much less my Bishop in a temple recommend interview, so I just answered “Yes” to the chastity question as quickly as I could and skated out with my recommend for doing Baptisms for the dead, but then felt sad and unworthy of being in the temple once there.

(Thank goodness for Natasha, who successfully debunked the idea that masturbation is a breach of the law of chastity! I wish I had read this in college)

After convincing myself that I already wasn’t worthy, rationalizing other behaviors was much easier. Making out, and going “too far” with my first college boyfriend? Sure! Why not? I already shouldn’t be taking the Sacrament. My lack of perspective about healthy sexual attitudes contributed to the path of risky behaviors.

I married my now-husband as the more sexually experienced partner, but my mother’s wedding-day advice to me was, “I’m going to tell you the same thing my mother told me: ‘To keep your husband happy, make sure you have sex with him every week.’ You can figure out the rest!” Then handed me a copy of Dr. Laura’s book, The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands.

From this one statement, my mother revealed a life-time of sexual beliefs: women have no sexual desire, sex within marriage was to please the man, men deserve sex on a regular basis in order to be happy, and if you’re not putting out and he’s not happy, it’s your fault.

Can you guess what was more helpful on my honeymoon: the advice my mother gave me, or a little bit of life experience? If I hadn’t learned my own body, my own pleasure and way to climax, sexual relations within my marriage might have been deeply unsettling and uncomfortable (as they can be for many women of my faith.) As a believer in the law of chastity, I’m not advocating for immorality, I’m advocating for women to know their own bodies.

Now that my knowledge and experience about sex is much broader, I see the harm in being raised in such ignorance, though I’m sure my mother was too embarrassed to talk about it herself, much less explain it to me.  I continue to read information to find perspectives about sex that will help me, from the Mormon Sex Therapists all the way to Dan Savage.

As parents to 3 children ages 5 and under, my husband and I have a very fulfilling sexual relationship and we work conscientiously to create a sex positive atmosphere in our home, with the hopes that our kids won’t have the same hang-ups about sex that we once did.

Here are some things we do:

  1. We speak in positive ways about genitalia and sex organs. Especially for babies and toddlers, we talk about them as you would any other part of the body. “Oh! You found your toes! Oh! You found your vulva! That’s right, sweetie, that’s your scrotum!”
  2. We teach our children the anatomical terms for all of the sex organs and describe their function: Penis, scrotum, testicles, vulva, labia, vagina, clitoris, fallopian tubes, uterus, etc. Even our little boys know that the vagina is the inside and the vulva is the outside of a girl’s private parts. When we build train tracks with the kids, we discuss joining the tracks with “male” and “female” connectors. We show them the male and female blossoms on the squash plants.
  3. We teach our sons about their erections: what they are, why it’s happening, and normalize it by saying, “all boys and men have erections. It’s a normal part of being a boy.”
  4. We teach them about reproductive biology (the how and whys of pregnancy) early and often, without shame-based language or voice tone. “Babies are made when an erect penis deposits sperm inside a vagina, an ovary releases an egg down the fallopian tube, sperm and egg meet and stick to the inside of the uterus and the baby grows inside the woman until its birth.”  This is basic human biology. Kids need this knowledge just like learning about what happens to their food, or why sunburns hurt their skin. When Sex Ed is offered in schools, it’s often nothing more than a lesson in reproductive biology, rarely touching on contraception, consent, or emotional intimacy. Parents should be the first to give their children lessons in all of the above. It shouldn’t be a dramatic, one-time conversation to overwhelm a kid, but a continuous explanation of their body function as they age.
  5. I breastfeed uncovered so the function of female breasts is normalized rather than sexualized.
  6. We teach consent early and often: “Only you are allowed to touch your penis/vulva. If you want to touch it, it’s best to do it in private, like in the bathroom. Other people should not touch your private parts, and you should not touch theirs.”
  1. When visiting a museum, we make it a point to stop and admire the nude art rather than covering our eyes and turning the other way. We compliment the talent of the artist in depicting the shapes of the muscles, bones, posture, etc. and we’re careful not to sexualize the model. By exposing them to classic art that glorifies God’s creation of the human body, our hope is that when they encounter pornography, they’ll be discerning enough to recognize how debasing it is.
  2. Our kids know when I’m having a menstrual cycle, and what I do for it. “Every month that my body isn’t pregnant, my uterus bleeds out of my vagina for a few days. This cup/pad catches the blood so it doesn’t get on my clothes.” (we only have one household bathroom, and no privacy)
  1. I learned to chart my fertility and menstrual cycles. By checking my temperature and type of cervical fluid every day, I understand my own anatomy better. There is less mystery about my monthly cycle when I can pinpoint ovulation. This makes it easier and faster to spot anomalies or pregnancy.
  2. My oldest child witnessed his younger siblings be born at home, after attending all of my midwife appointments and participating in the prenatal care. They have watched educational videos of live animal and human births.
  3. Later on, when it’s more age appropriate, we plan to shift our biological explanations of sex toward the emotional, including discussions about puberty, pleasure, connection, healthy boundaries, safety, contraception, LGBT+ issues, and rape culture. This kind of comprehensive sex education is what will help keep our kids informed, safe, and with healthy boundaries and perspective.


What lessons did you get or miss as a teen? How do you talk to your kids about sex?


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13 Responses

  1. Caroline says:

    This is such a great post! I need to do way more work with my kids on this subject, and now I have some ideas of where to start. Thank you, Hannah! I especially like your suggestions about nude art and consent discussions. I need to do better giving my kids proper terms and language about their bodies.

    I also think you make a great point about how lack of open discussion and various black and white teachings in church contribute towards making young people feel unworthy and thus feel like, “hey, why not go further — I’m already unclean and unworthy.”

    I listened to a conversation on NPR a few months ago, and it was a mom saying that she bought her 16 year old daughter a vibrator for her birthday, because she wanted her daughter to know her body, know pleasure, and not have the horrendous first sexual experience she did. I don’t know if I’m ready to do that when my daughter is 16, but I admire the motivation behind that gift. I think that many women will have far better sex lives in their marriage if they know beforehand what feels good.

  2. Liz says:

    What I cannot get over is how radical some of this seems, yet while also seeming very commonsense. Every single thing you mentioned makes perfect sense to me, yet I have a visceral “REALLY?!” reaction to some of them. What on earth.

    I also wish somebody would’ve explained to me that not all nudity is sexual. Like there is sexual nudity, and non-sexual nudity, and how to discern between the two.

  3. Heather says:

    Love this. Thanks for the insights!

  4. Chiaroscuro says:

    Thank you for the great post. It would have made a huge difference for me if my parents had done any of these things to foster sex positivity. I hope i do better for my own children, especially my daughters.

  5. Melissa says:

    This is so excellent! Yes, the world needs much more of this kind if honesty. We’ve incorporated many of these ideas into our family life for our son’s sakes. I love the idea of normalizing mensuration! It was something I always felt was so dirty and gross. Like boys would be so disgusted by me if they knew I was on my period. How unfair for any 15 year old! I never fully embraced the beauty and health of menstration, and all that it represents, until I was in grad school studying the human body. There is something wrong about that picture to me.

    About wedding night talks, one of my friends once told me that her grandmother had talked to her. Her talk was, “Just don’t touch each other’s genitals too much.” While I understand the generational differences between her grandmother and me, I can’t imagine how unpleasant that part of her marriage must have been for her (and her husband too for that matter — I can’t imagine having too much fun snuggling up to someone who found sex abhorrent…)! Someone gifted me a copy of the book And They Were Not Ashamed right before I got married. I appreciated it very much for promoting sexual positivity among Mormons, and I’ve recommended it to quite a few friends. (I disagree with a few small tidbits in it here and there, but overall, it is exceptional.)

    • Hannah says:

      This is a great comment. Thanks for sharing!

      As I watch the trajectory of my oldest son’s way of learning and perceiving the world, I can look into his future and see that the longer I wait to teach him things, the more he might struggle to make that a normal, comfortable part of his knowledge bank. He’s curious NOW! I had a motherhood revelation moment when I thought, “Anything you want him to feel at ease about knowing, start telling him about it when he’s young.” I really had to fight against my own hangups and privacy when it came to menstruation, but I think he’ll be such a better man, husband, and hopefully a more understanding teen, because of it.

  6. Melissa says:

    P.S. My oldest son is 5 year old, and recently asked me if he could watch a baby being born sometime. (I loved that he so unabashedly asked me that!) I found pictures of his birth, including me walking around making faces, and my vagina as he emerged into the world. We all sat together and looked at them. My sons all loved it! My 5 year old thought it was so special to have pictures of that event, he asked if he could have them some day. It was a really beautiful moment.

  7. Joe says:

    This is my wife’s and my life story thus far with our three wee little lads of the ages 5, 4, and 2. We both want our kids to have the proper sexual education we never had. It’s a great way of doing things and I’ll be glad to be sharing it around the web. Cheers for a cracking smart post.

  8. Mimi says:

    Great post! My kids are now young adults, but I tried to do much of this myself. I think it may have been easier because I did not join the church until I was 18, and was not raised with a sex-negative attitude (thanks mom!).

    I also kind of hate to point this out, but here goes…as one who knows quite a bit about art and art history, well…a vast number of those nudes were painted to titillate the men who commissioned the paintings, hung the paintings in their private apartments, or were the artists who painted the paintings. So they were a sort of highbrow porn of their day, but still amazing and beautiful paintings and sculptures! I would never steer my kids away from them, but please do not romanticize why many (most?) of them were painted. People liked looking at lovely unclad women (and men) 500 years ago just as much as they do today, and for very the same reasons. And it wasn’t always to admire the artist’s technique and composition. Just sayin’.

    • Hannah says:

      Really good point! Though it’s not something I would view at this point in life, I know that many directors/producers/actors in today’s porn industry think of their work as “art” as well — so maybe it goes both ways? Age-old argument….art vs. immorality. Maybe we all have to draw our own lines about what feels uplifting vs what feels titillating and cheap?

    • Melissa says:

      I’m sure there was a variety of reasons artists painted nudes. What evidence do you have of this? I’ve taken art history classes, and have never heard of this idea. I’m not saying it never happened, I’d like to understand, though. If most of the art from bygone era’s was high brow porn by commission, you’d think more universities would teach that part of the history behind it.

    • EFH says:

      I am not sure that the beautiful nude paintings and statues were commissioned to titillate the viewer. In Europe, the biggest commissioner/patron of the arts was the Catholic Church. My understanding is that the Catholic Church commissioned different artists to express an idea but the artists were free to choose the nature of their subjects. The Sistine Chapel in Italy commissioned by the Church – the painting of the Last Judgments – has only naked bodies. Even Christ was painted nude. After 20 years of the public being scandalized and fighting the nudity in the painting, Christ and some nude bodies were covered. But the Church resisted to do that for 20 years. So, I do think that nudity (or pornography) like you call it, had completely a different purpose. It is part of who we are and its interpretation depends on the viewer rather than the maker.

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