My training as a sexologist makes me aware of people, things, and situations around me that have a sexual component to them. The latest is a situation that I’ve observed for a while now and I could not put my finger on it as to why it concerned me.
Let me explain:
I have a guy friend who is a divorced dad of a 9-year-old girl. Evidently, as the daughter was growing up, the two of them became very close because the mom was very sick. This father/daughter combo is very loving; they sit quietly with each other affectionately and evidently, always have. She is very protective (possessive?) of her father as he now ventures into the dating scene. And, like most dads, he is extremely aware of her changing prepubescent body, and nervous about the conversations he will need to have with her about the same. It’s touching for me to see this relationship really, given that this is not the type of relationship my girls have with their father.
Well, over time, I have seen that this father/daughter pair wrestles a bit. You know, playful roughhousing. She’ll say something to tease him and he’ll quickly swoop in and put his arm around her shoulders and squeeze her in to him and she squeals with pleasure. Or she’ll give an answer to something that she knows is wrong as they work on homework together and he’ll give her “the Knuckle”, a move that sends her into fits of giggles as he pokes his knuckle into her side or back.
While I see them when they aren’t being rough, it struck me this past weekend why I’ve been struggling with this roughhousing – he has not started having conversations with her about dating (his own), divorce, love, relationships, puberty, etc, etc. – yet I begin to wonder – will this roughness become a familiar feeling that she will seek out in her adult romantic relationships? Does she realize she can say “stop”? There are times when he is pretty rough with her, not that she’s a shrinking violet or anything; she’s not. She is a confident, happy, seemingly secure little girl. I’m sure she is thrilled at the 100% attention and affection from her father – what little girl wouldn’t be? But as I wrote in an earlier blog, when we are young adults and even in childhood we are developing what Jack Morin in his book “The Erotic Mind” calls the Core Erotic Theme (CET).
“Your Core Erotic Theme begins its long evolution during childhood and is first sketched out in fantasies and daydreams you probably don’t remember. Because these early images almost certainly grew out of impulses and interests considered inappropriate for children, they were veiled in secrecy. Even now you probably still keep certain ultra-personal turn-ons–-those that spring from your CET–-hidden from other people and quite possibly even from yourself.”
Aside from the potential Core Erotic Theme, if I were the dad in this situation, I would have a conversation with my daughter about Consent; that I love her unconditionally and that our roughhousing is play. Most importantly, that she has permission to say “no thanks” if she’s really not in the mood or “stop” when it’s too much. I would also tell her that as she gets older she should always feel comfortable speaking up whenever she doesn’t want to be touched. Whether it’s a slobbery kiss from a grandparent, or tickling from a cousin, or whoever she is playing with, that she should always feel comfortable saying “no” without worrying about hurting the other person’s feelings. And that whoever she loves and who loves her shouldn’t play rough with her if she doesn’t like it. Ever.
To the dad, I will say something. When I do, I will take a page from a blog I read not that long ago. The dad tells his two-year old son, who is roughhousing with a little girl/friend, “If she’s not having fun, you have to stop.” Adults should note that a child “doesn’t need to know what sex is or what rape is to know what a partner is. If your partner isn’t having fun, you stop.”
With my own girls, as they were growing up, anytime we had a tickle fight, I told them that if they ever said “stop” I would stop immediately. My thinking was, I am much bigger than they are and I never wanted them to feel overpowered or not in control. It has become a game to them. If we have a tickle fight, they will giggle and laugh uncontrollably, almost to the point of not being able to breathe, they yell STOP, action stops immediately. Then they smile and say “go”. And it starts all over again.
All of this reduces to one incredibly important concept: CONSENT. It is age appropriate – for ANY age – and a solid foundation onto which a parent can build future talks about sex and sexuality. This is one example of talking to your kids about sex and sexuality in a way that has NOTHING to do with penises or vulvas but is just as important, if not more so.
2011 The MamaSutra