Airial Clark has an MA in Sexuality Studies and is the founder of The Sex-Positive Parent. She writes about the intersection of sex-positivity and parenting for multiple media outlets, teaches workshops for parents who have alternative sexualities, and offers one to one coaching for parents looking for sex-positive strategies and support. I first met Airial when we were both studying Anthropology at UC Berkeley. Who knew we’d both follow careers in sexuality education? When I learned about Airial’s amazing project, The Sex-Positive Parent, I couldn’t wait to share her inspiring message with the MSP community.
Kate: What inspired you to start The Sex-Positive Parent?
Airial: So many things! First, I’ve been a parent longer than I’ve been just about about anything else. I had my sons before I went to college, before I became a writer, before I earned my Master’s degree. I know how little support there is for parents who don’t want to pass down the same sex-negative messages we’re inundated by on a regular basis.
Secondly, in the field of Sexuality Studies there is a gap in the information being provided. Somehow parents are left out of the conversations about sexuality. It could be due to the fact that so few Sexuality Educators are parents. In my graduate program, as one example, I was the only student who was a parent and only two of the faculty members had children. So the needs of parents who want to do more than just have a one time conversation about the biological aspects of sexual reproduction are ignored.
Third, of the information and support that is directed at parents there is the overarching assumption that all parents are heterosexual, or want to be heterosexual, or should be mimicking a heterosexual dynamic. The gender binary is still the default template when teaching parents how to talk to their children. And that is not the case. Parents and children come in all genders and sexualities. I’ve witnessed too many honest, authentic, sex-positive people have no idea how to convey their lived experiences of both gender and sexuality to their own children. Instead, they rely on larger cultural scripts that are inherently sex-negative because they really don’t know what else is appropriate to say. This is a form of oppression and we, as sexuality educators, need to do the work to stop it.
And finally, I am doing this because other parents have asked me to. From Queer parents to Poly Parents to BDSM parents, over the years I’ve had people reach out to me and say, ‘You know, it would be great if you could teach us how to talk to our kids.’
K: Why do you think is necessary to enable parents to be sex-positive in how they educate their children?
A: Being a sex-positive parent means we assume that our children will grow into autonomous sexually active adults and we support our children’s individual sexual identity no matter what. This support is a lifelong process. The conversations have to start early with age appropriate explanations. The most important sex educational tool a parent has is honesty about their own lived experiences.
Sex-positivity is crucial to protecting our kids. Being sex-positive means you believe that consent is the basis of all sexual activity. There will be times when you will want to be sexually intimate with someone and there will be times when you do not. There are times when it is appropriate to act on sexual desire and there are times when it is not. We have to empower them to say yes and no. This way we are also teaching them to respect people who tell them no.
As a woman raising men, I am very aware of how society mutates masculinity into a never-take-no-for-an-answer stereotype. If we continue to teach children that girls always say no to sex and that boys are always saying yes to sex, we are propagating rape culture. We have to tell our children from an early age that having desire is normal and consent is vital. Which shouldn’t be a radical concept to teach children – but it is.
The fear around normalizing sexual desire, I believe, comes from parents not wanting to raise over-sexualized children who then are easier to exploit. And I fully relate to that fear. One reason parents utilize a strategy of silence around sexuality is that we hope it keeps our children safe. However, we see over and over that silence around sexuality actually benefits predators and can also lead to riskier behavior in the teen years and into adulthood. We need to take the drama down a few pegs and silence in this case is super dramatic.
K: What’s been the greatest victory in being a sex-positive parent to your kids?
A: About a year ago one of my sons came back from a sleep over at a cousin’s house. When he walked in the door, I could tell something was up. So, like usual, I asked if he had fun, what they did, if they got along ok. He was reluctant to engage in the conversation. So I said, “It’s ok that you don’t want to talk right now, but I can tell something is bothering you, and I’m ready to listen whenever you want to talk about it.” He just kind of nodded. A few hours later, he came to me and said, “Mom, you know how you have parent controls on our computer? Well so and so doesn’t have that. And I’m worried that he is seeing way too much of Megan Fox being naked.”
Wow. Ok. So that happened.
We ended up having a great conversation about sexual imagery on the internet and how it isn’t age appropriate for him or his cousin. We also talked about how it’s better to experience sexual intimacy, especially your first encounters, with a real person who you are accountable to as opposed to an image that is manufactured for your consumption. Then I called my cousin to let her know to add parent controls to their computer and ended up coaching her through the conversation she was about to have with her son. I was so proud of him for telling me. And look at the ripple effect it had! Sex-positivity is all about ripples.
K: I know you offer coaching services to parents. Can you tell me a little more about that?
A: While I’m happy to write articles and host workshops for broader audiences, each family has their own context, their own language and history around sexuality. The one-to-one coaching allows me to understand what that individual family is experiencing and then we can come up with strategies and solutions based on their need. I can teach a class on how shame and stigma prevent children from understanding consent- because that is a generalizable truth. But if a parent needs a specific script to start a conversation based on an event in their child’s life, or is looking for support on how to come out to their kids about being consensually non-monogamous for example, that usually requires more of my attention.
My goal with the coaching is always to identify the gap between what do you wish you could say to your kids about sexuality and what is it that you are actually saying to them? Closing that gap allows parents to be their whole selves while showing their children how to be whole too.
Check out The Sex-Positive Parent on Facebook, follow Airial on Twitter @airialicious, or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org