It’s not out of the ordinary for parents to have hesitations when it comes to talking to their kids about sexuality, and likewise, for kids to feel uncomfortable having these same discussions with a parent. But sexuality reflects a complex mixture of physical, emotional, and social aspects of ourselves. Not to mention, the way we feel about our sexuality reflects our sexual self-esteem.
Sexual self-esteem can best be defined by passionate living coach, Abiola Abrams, as the level of comfort and confidence you feel pertaining to your body and intimate interactions. Having high or healthy sexual self-esteem is important because it’s rooted in every choice we make. It’s how we feel about ourselves and our bodies, how we take care of our well-being, and even how we manage interpersonal relationships.
So, if we open the floor for discussions about sexuality at an early age, we can arm girls with the knowledge they need to develop healthy sexual self-esteem beginning in their adolescent years and transcending into adulthood.
Puberty is the period during adolescence when a person becomes sexually mature, which can lead to an internal struggle with body issues, especially in girls, because of the pivotal changes they undergo during this time. It’s important to have conversations that provide information and reassurance surrounding changes that occur during puberty so that girls can feel more comfortable navigating a particularly vulnerable time.
Begin by explaining and normalizing physical changes that are to be expected during puberty such as weight gain, developing breasts and other curves, as well as growing pubic hair, underarm hair, and leg hair. Because most girls feel self-conscious during this time, it’s especially impactful to emphasize that no two people or bodies are alike; some girls may develop breasts sooner or later than other peers, while the same can be said about the first time a girl gets her period.
It can be helpful to provide additional resources for girls like The Care and Keeping of You, a body book for girls that teaches everything from how to shave your legs to how to shop for your first bra. By offering information that normalizes a variety of different bodily changes, you will lay the foundation for positive sexual self-esteem.
Sexual Health Choices
When it comes to improving sexual self-esteem, another matter you want to normalize is safe sex, according to sex-educator and mother, Nadine Thornhill. “By 11, you want to start having conversations about sexual choices and safer sex.” It may seem nonsensical to have such discussions at this age, but Thornhill explains that research shows that teens make better choices when they know the risks.
When communicating facts about safe sexual choices, it’s especially helpful to discuss contraceptives, even if abstinence is one’s preference. It’s important to know that birth control goes beyond preventing unplanned pregnancies; taking birth control pills can help lighten menstrual bleeding, ease painful menstrual cramps, and improve acne. Not to mention that having a greater understanding of how birth control works can prove that taking birth control and being sexually active is not synonymous. This is the type of informed thinking that will help end the era of “slut-shaming.”
Respect is an aspect of developing healthy sexual self-esteem that you can start encouraging at the earliest of ages — as soon as kids begin interacting with other kids. It can begin by teaching them to respect others’ feelings, which includes their physical boundaries. From a young age, it’s important to know that physical contact should always require permission, even if they have good intentions through means like an innocent hug. From there, you can teach more about consent at various age-appropriate levels.
If consent is not respected, you may feel pressured into doing things you don’t want to do, or you may make others feel the same way. Therefore, consent is reflective of having respect for both yourself and others. When you have respect for boundaries, different sexualities or genders, and individual choices, you will be more inclined to make choices that you feel good about and establish the framework for a healthy sense of sexual self-esteem.