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How to raise sons that care about women’s health

How to raise sons that care about women’s health

This month at LOLA we launched our First Period Kit. It’s filled with everything a girl needs for her first period including tampons, pads, and liners made with organic cotton. We also included a carrying pouch and stickers for cycle tracking. As we developed the kit, we talked to teens, parents, doctors, and teachers and a common thread became clear: many girls don’t feel prepared for their first period. Through April, we’re tackling some of the most requested first period topics on The Broadcast. Want more first period tips? Check out our e-book: LOLA’s personal, honest, real-life guide to your first period, co-written with leading pediatrician, Dr. Lisa Stern.

In January, over 2 million women marched across the world to raise awareness of and demand action around issues that affect women. Our voices, on issues as varied as campus sexual assault to birth control access, are getting louder. But we need male-identified allies to continue to work to make a more equitable society for people of all genders. In a world where women are still routinely objectified and subjugated, how can parents raise children — particularly boys — who understand the importance of women’s health and gender equality?

Provide quality sex education: Sex education starts at home. Regardless of what’s offered in schools, you can foster a healthy sense of sexuality and body literacy in your children every day. Beginning from toddlerhood, be open and communicative with children about their bodies and their biology. And include frank discussions about those with different genitalia than your child, too. Eric Garrison, the assistant director of health promotion and professor of masculinity studies at the College of William and Mary, as well as an AASECT-certified sex therapist, suggests: “It’s important that boys learn about the biology and experiences of female-bodied people. There is age appropriate sex ed for all ages. We need to recognize and appreciate that we are sexual beings from womb to tomb.”

You can also have healthy discussions about people of different sexualities and gender orientations. Stress that people may have different feelings about their bodies and their experiences, and that’s totally normal. Include discussions about healthy emotional relationships in your greater sex ed, too… not just the biological and anatomical discussions.

Sex education can include information about how society influences sex, as well. Kathi Valeii, a former birth doula, freelance writer, and parent of three boys ranging from preschooler to teenager, says, “Talking about reproductive health access and autonomy comes up a lot, because of issues that we are facing [in our country today]. Certainly, our conversations have developed and become more complex as they have become older.”

Focus on body integrity: Teach all children that their bodies belong to them. Garrison suggests teaching children the mantra, “This is my body, my body belongs to me. This is where you can touch and this is where you can’t touch.” Consent is a big part of this, but it’s about teaching it in a way that’s not just about sex, but about body integrity and respect.”

The concept of consent is key. When children learn that all bodies are worthy of respect, this can translate into a greater sense of respect as they grow and develop. A full understanding of boundaries around sex and bodies promotes a healthy sexuality and greater empathy down the road.

When your child sees instances where women’s bodies, lives, or experiences are objectified or disrespected, you could use it opportunity to talk with them about why and how that is hurtful or disrespectful. Tailor it carefully to your child’s age, but ask open-ended questions that can help you understand what messages they are seeing and absorbing from the world around them.

Show that there are many different ways to be a boy: Garrison, who also chairs the Virginia Campus Task Force to Prevent Sexual Assault, feels that the toxic masculinity in American culture needs to be dismantled in order to have a more just social climate for all genders. He says, “Our sexual and social scripts need to be healthy. When you have the script that the masculine is better or stronger than the feminine, you set the stage for homophobia, misogyny, and sexual assault.”

Show male-identified children that there are many different ways to be a boy. Compliment boys on their kindness, thoughtfulness, or other emotive-qualities, rather than just their talents or accomplishments. Point out inspiring examples of male-identified people in the world, especially those who are a bit outside of the traditionally masculine ideal. Recognize your child as a whole person and help them to understand that they get to pick how they are masculine (or, perhaps, not masculine) in the world.

Talk about it: Above all, talk about issues of sex and sexuality often. Don’t be afraid to address issues that are particular to people who have vulvas and uteruses (like menstruation, birth control, and more) with boys. In fact, you should address them regularly, so boys understand that these issues affect everyone, whether they have a vagina and a uterus or not. Valeii says, “Fostering a sense of reproductive justice is done just like fostering any other value — by talking openly and frequently about these issues, like they matter.”

Be open and available to your children, as these kinds of conversations should be ongoing, not relegated to occasional “sex talks.” Valeii adds, “If we want to raise anti-sexist kids, these can’t be one-time, awkward conversations. These should be ongoing dialogues — and the fodder for them is everywhere.”