(Why I think more nudity could actually help keep our kids safer from sexual predators.)
OK. I deliberately wrote that headline to be controversial, but you know what? I also think I’m onto something. As a survivor of sexual violence myself, it’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to, in regards to my own child.
Statistics indicate that the children of abused parents have a much higher risk of experiencing sexual and domestic violence in their lifetime. So, how the hell DO we keep them safe?
Firstly, I’m not necessarily suggesting that we should all nude up around children (although, when they do get to see us naked, the way that we handle it is important! More on this later). I’m saying that they should have more access to images of real bodies. Ordinary bodies in a variety of shapes. The thing is, there is nothing inherently sexual about a naked body.
Only context makes it so.
It is only our judgements and projections that make it a problem.
Throughout history, art has celebrated the human form as an object of beauty and mystery. There was innocence and a reverence in those images. In contrast, most of the nudity presented in the media is very calculated and highly sexualised. I think we need to give our kids more options.
Generally speaking, anything we ban or suppress becomes a bigger deal. Over the course of the last few generations, we’ve seen nudity disappear from the casual environment for a variety of reasons – morality, cultural sensitivity, political correctness, the fear of paedophilia and sexual violence, etc.
We’ve followed America’s lead and become super-conservative, and I don’t see that it’s helped the cause. We never see other people naked and when we do it causes a big reaction! Shame, embarrassment, fear, anger… Big emotions! Studies by people like Dr. Kinsey found the incidence of assault in nudist communities to be virtually non-existent, and exceptionally high levels of moral behaviour in the co-educational living arrangements he set up in colleges.
When something becomes commonplace, then it fails to be a big deal. The first few minutes in a life-drawing class are universally uncomfortable. And then it becomes a total non-issue. What if our kids could see people wearing their bodies without shame and judgement? We could all just be people with names, not objects.
When all we have access to these highly idealised images, then it sets some pretty unrealistic expectations. Who actually looks like that? The truth is that even the models and celebrities aren’t good enough as they are. Everybody gets airbrushed these days. How does an ordinary teenage girl get to feel good about herself?
When our only sources of nudity are advertising, music videos, movies and porn, then I feel there are serious consequences. Young girls and women are seeing their bodies through a skewed lens, and hating what they see. Cosmetic procedures for teenagers, eating disorders, self-harm; this is what happens.
So, what’s the antidote to all of the body shame around?
Surely we need to learn how to accept ourselves just as we are? And to accept other people how they are, while we are at it.
How does that happen? How about starting with more access to ordinary bodies.
How about less judgement of ourselves and of others as leaders for our children? Our kids follow our lead. When they bust us without our clothes and we are shameful and embarrassed about it, it makes an impression. If we are relaxed and open, and treat it as no big deal, that makes a different impression.
What is our language like when we talk about people’s bodies? What sort of messages are they getting from the way we talk about and treat ourselves?
This brings me to what I believe is the most important factor in keeping our kids safe from sexual violence in all of its forms.
Self esteem. Self love.
A healthy sense of self and our boundaries.
Without that, all other strategies will fail. Our children will be prone to making all kinds of poor decisions, in order to find acceptance and love from without. A child without a sacred sense of self, or of safety, will submit to appalling treatment because they think they deserve it. A child with an inherent sense of worth will never diminish themselves to please someone else.
Last year I took part in a program called Dancing Eros, where we explored the feminine sexual archetypes through movement and dance. What a gift it was to see so many different bodies in the room, and to be given the opportunity to see the unique beauty in every one of them. Every. One.
And what came from that was permission to see the same in ourselves. There was no judgement in this environment. There was simply no room for it.
What we did experience was acceptance and appreciation, and a deep bond of connection. Maybe we need some kind of program like this for teenage girls?
In my opinion, it’s the judgement that we place on sexual behaviours that causes most of the problems. When we polarise our kids’ sexual options through our judgements, then we are really just pushing them to make bad choices.
Parents and teachers who slut-shame, and then also criticise “prick-teasers” – leave kids with exactly zero safe space to explore their sexuality in. When their peers (and popular culture) are shaming those with a lack of experience, then it gets even more confusing.
Once a label is “earned” (deserved or not) it can be hard to ditch. It can influence future behaviour one way or another – either towards or away from.
It may be uncomfortable for us, but the undeniable truth is that one day our kids will become sexually active. We can’t stop it. And we have no right to. They have a right to move into that era feeling safe, supported and well informed. I don’t believe that the environment for this can be set up too early.
Let’s be responsible about the conversations we have with our young people.
What if we dropped the judgement on all of it? What if every form of sexual expression was just a choice? These are all valid options. No good or bad choices: just different choices.
What if we just guided them to make choices that were about mutual consent and respect? What if it was all safe to explore? Because when kids don’t feel safe to make the choice that’s right for them, when they feel that it’s more important to please someone else, then they are more likely to make a poor choice. They are more likely to be influenced or coerced.
And when you think about it, that’s a big part of how kids are traditionally taught about sex. We coerce them to behave the way we want them to. But this sets them up to accept coercion from others.
Our kids are living, breathing humans, whose choices will affect them far more than they will ever affect us. They deserve to negotiate their own experiences according to what feels right for them. In my opinion, when kids are safe to explore their options, without fear of judgement, then they are far more likely to listen to their inner voice and make good decisions for themselves.
I want my daughter to grow up feeling safe and connected to her body. I want her to get to know her body and learn to listen to it. I want her to learn to love her body, because then she will be less likely to hurt it, or make choices that put it in danger.
I want her to appreciate other bodies, whether lean and strong, or soft and lush, whether aerodynamic or with pendulous breasts. I want her to have a broad frame of reference for body, not just the narrow constraints of what is acceptable in the media.
I want her to delight in touch and displays of affection.
I want to encourage her to explore her own body. I want her to discover what kind of touch brings pleasure and what doesn’t.
I want to encourage her not to allow hands on her that will hurt her. I want that option to be the only unacceptable one.
I don’t want my daughter accepting sub-par sexual experiences. I want her to expect pleasure from sex. I want to set the bar of expectation high, so that she won’t find herself in sexual experiences that de-value her.
I want her to know her own sexual power (and the responsibility that comes with it). I don’t want her to ever submit to the desires of someone else, at her own expense. I want her to know her value. I want her to feel beautiful and for that to be OK.
I think, if she has all of those things, she’ll be safe.
Normalising nudity is the start of keeping her safe, in my humble opinion.