Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Remi Newman demystifies 'the talk' in her Infant Sexuality Workshop

“Today, we interview the first Pregnant Man ever! Live....On Oprah,” were the shocking word spewing out of the announcer’s mouth. Intrigued by this scientific marvel and the beginnings of redefining family members’ roles, I decided to watch the show for a few minutes. Being lost in the mind- boggling possibilities of gender identification, my then 22-month old reminds me of his presence by blurting out “BABY!” in seeing the man's belly. With a nervous chuckle, I say to my son, “You're right sweetie. There's a baby in that belly,” while at the same time I'm thinking, “Oh Crap! My job as a parent just got harder.” Not only is the sex talk going to be a challenge for me because I don't have man parts, but now I have to explain how some “men” can have babies while others can't. Where do I begin?

Sensitive topics like this are a walk in the park for local infant/child sex educator and fellow SRMC mom Remi Newman. In overhearing a conversation in Yoga class about someone’s toddler self exploring body parts that were thought to have been discovered late into their adolescents, Newman thought she’d put her Masters degree in Sexuality Education from NYU to use with the brilliant idea to present a workshop where parents can actively learn about their infant/toddlers sexuality in a comfortable environment. “Having ‘the talk’ before they can talk” workshop was born.

In Newman’s published article through the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality (http://www.ejhs.org/volume11/Newman.htm), she states the workshop “is a sexuality education parenting workshop designed to give parents knowledge about infant sexuality and increase their comfort with the topic, so they can be an active participant in their child's healthy sexual development from the very beginning. Workshop topics include biological gender and gender roles, responding to their infant's natural exploration of their bodies and communicating with them about their bodies. Through several interactive workshop activities, parents explore and share their personal values around sexuality and increase their knowledge of infant and child sexuality.”

I took this workshop in hopes to learn more about how to communicate with my toddler when he explores his body after diaper changes or what to say when he’s wearing the sparkling pink bracelet he got from daycare. In Newman’s workshop, she creates an interactive and comfortable environment to talk about uncomfortable topics. I walked away from the workshop with a wealth of communication tactics to not only have a healthy conversation with my son about self exploration, but help me get over some of the “hang ups” I had due to the lack of sexual education in my own childhood.

According to Newman and her research, “Human beings are sexual from the moment they’re born. Our sexuality is an integral part of our personality that requires healthy nurturing just like any other aspect of our being. Early parent education allows parents to understand what this means and to feel comfortable with the idea, so they can take advantage of all the years they have to nurture a healthy sexuality in their children. Research shows that parents who begin communicating with their children earlier have an easier time carrying that conversation over into adolescence, which is when most parents get concerned about issues of sexuality.”

When reflecting upon your own childhood ‘talk’ experience, it may have lacked any openness, but don’t be too quick to blame your parents for your inability to naturally communicate with your children about sexual education. “They did the best they could for the time they were in,” says Newman.

Fellow SRMC mom Andrea Faivre took the workshop in April and felt the information effective. “[The workshop] has helped me become more aware of the way I communicate with Sebastian and to use the correct terminology,” said Faivre.

Newman makes it clear that she is not telling workshop attendees how to raise their kids. “I give information to create a consciousness of what kind of sexual educator you want to be for your kids,” says Newman.

Faivre offers advice for future workshop goers who are thinking about leaving the wingman at home. “I would totally encourage both parents to go together. There was a father in our workshop and it was nice to hear his point of view, his thoughts about the topic, and his reactions.”

The internet, television, advertising, and peers are common ways our children can learn about sex, sexuality, and gender identification. If I am able to provide my son one resourceful, non-judgmental ear to his questions about his body and his feelings about his body, I feel I am taking an encouraging step in shaping a confident and positive human being who will lead a happy life. Ten years from now, if Liam asks me if he can get pregnant, I'll be able to sit him down and have ‘the talk’ with courage and ease.

Upcoming “Having ‘the talk’ before they can talk” workshops through California Parenting Institute:

August 2 (English), 10:12-30pm
August 16 (Spanish), 2:00-4:30pm

Cost: $25 per person; $30 per couple

Presenter: Remi Newman, M.A. in Sexuality Education from NYU

To register by phone: 707-585-6108
To register online: http://www.calparents.org/classes.shtml#sexualityeducationcpiaug2

Feel free to visit Remi Newman’s blog www.havingthetalk.blogspot.com for additional resources

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