Just as the initial pages of this book about body appreciation and body care are the foundation for healthy sexuality, this page teaches the foundational principle around prevention of sexual coercion. The concept that my body is my own and I have a right to determine how others interact physically with me is key to standing up for oneself and not being victimized. This may end up making changes in your family dynamics around physical affection. It certainly did in my family when I realized the subtle messages that were, or could be, sent to my children. Some of the messages in these examples may initially feel extreme, but is is the consistent subtle messages that give children the underlying foundation for how they live their lives. Every message counts.
- Give your sister a hug. I know you’re mad but just make up. (The message: Others get to decide what I do with my body, not me).
- Grandma/Other Adult: Give me a kiss. Oh come on, it’ll make me feel bad if you don’t. (The message: Other people’s feelings are more important than yours, and if they’ll feel bad if you don’t do something physical that you don’t want to do, you better just do it. The especially dangerous part of this is the family/well known component—not many of us would try to convince our child to hug/kiss a stranger—since most sexual abuse is perpetrated by family or someone well known to the child.)
- Girls chasing a boy on the playground trying to kiss him. “Oh, it’s fine, they’re just playing.” (The message: It’s okay to sexually assault someone if it is billed as “fun and games.”)
- Boys chasing girls on the playground to pull their pigtails. “Boys will be boys.” (The message: By virtue of being male it is acceptable to physically assault others. This is important in teaching healthy sexuality because if a boy learns always to respect others’ bodies he will not ever get in a space to be sexually coercive. He will also have learned to reject out of hand the vast majority of pornography because of its violent nature.)
Make a family plan of how to respond when a child doesn’t want to physically engage with someone else. What should they say? What should they do? Can they come find you and talk to you about it if someone is persistent?
Have a family discussion about the culture in your family. Is there anything you want to change? We simply started repeating to our children, especially in their interactions with each other, “I get to choose who touches me.” This reminded them of this concept when they were poking each other to be annoying, wrestling without consent, etc.