My Kid Found My Kink App. What The Hell Do I Do Now?
My husband and I are happily having a sex renaissance. How do I establish boundaries with my kids while still being sex positive?
Welcome to Ask A MWLTF (Yes, that’s Mother Who Likes to F*ck), a monthly anonymous advice column from Scary Mommy. Here we’ll dissect all your burning questions about motherhood, sex, romance, intimacy, and friendship with the help of our columnist, Penelope, a writer and mental health practitioner in training. She’ll dish out her most sound advice for parents on the delicate dance of raising kids without sacrificing other important relationships. Email her at email@example.com.
I’m a mostly happily married mother of two. Like a lot of women I know, my libido dipped for a year or two after each of my kids’ was born, meaning that by the time my youngest was getting ready for pre-school, my and my partner’s sex life was about as thrilling as a ride on a shopping mall carousel. We were both looking for something new to get things going again, but I wasn’t sure what.
Then, a few months ago, I listened to a podcast on love and sex that was hosting a special episode about exploring kink in midlife. I was intrigued. I’ve always thought of myself of having a healthy but fairly vanilla libido, but listening to one caller, an older woman, describe her cuckold fetishes, I found myself intensely turned on. I told my partner about it that night and we had the hottest sex we’d had in years. The next day I started reading more about it and within a few weeks, the two of us were using apps to “play” as a couple and having the time of our lives.
It all felt exciting and amazing, until the other day when my 7-year-old picked up my phone in the grocery store and asked me how to play the new “game” he found downloaded. I took the phone back, re-set my password, and told him it was private, something for mommy’s work. The whole thing got me wondering, though, how other kinky folks who are also parents talk about kink to kids as they age in a way that’s both sex-positive and appropriate. I don’t want to ever send my kids the message that sex (of whatever flavor) between consenting adults is something shameful or taboo. At the same time, I know I would have been mortified to know much of anything about my own parents’ sex lives until the age of…. well, to date.
As a kinky woman and a mom, how do I establish and maintain healthy boundaries with my kids while also embodying and modeling sex-positivity?
Kinky and Confused
Dear Kinky and Confused,
Let me start by saying, good for you! If I had a penny for every letter I receive from parents lamenting the sexless turn their marriage has taken, I’d have… a lot of pennies. But you two managed to put your heads and hearts together, and with a little imagination and a taste for adventure, you’re exploring a new side of your sexuality that I’m guessing will only bring you closer together and strengthen your bond. Bravo!
As to your concern about how this new turn might affect the curious eyes in your household and the way you talk to your kids about sex as they get older and start asking questions, it seems to me that there are two different issues at hand. The first is a question most parents encounter regardless of their affinity for kink: how does one maintain a level of privacy around matters of sexuality in a typical, nuclear family household where walls are thin and eyes are probing? The second question is about communication: how does the modern, sex-positive parent talk to their kids about different types of sexual expression in a way that’s non-pathologizing but age-appropriate? I was pondering these two questions when I happen to stumble on new title by writer and mother, Arielle Greenberg, a book called, Superfreaks: Kink, Pleasure, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
According to Greenberg, it’s important to explain to children that “everyone has different boundaries around privacy and everyone does want to keep some things private.” Greenberg emphasizes, though, that it’s important to show kids that this respect for privacy goes both ways. “I think as parents we often want a lot of privacy from our kids, but we don’t always grant them the respect of having a right to their own privacy. So if I walk in on my daughter playing with dolls or doing some imaginative play, I can model consent to her by asking if she wants to tell me about the game she’s playing rather than just expecting that she’ll tell me. If you model for your kids that they have a right to a private imagination, then you can also say, ‘hey, mom has a right to a private life, too.’”
In terms of how to to begin to talk to your kids about different types of sex in an age-appropriate way, Greenberg suggests that parents begin broadly, pointing out how people’s interests and passions change over time. “Approached by a curious child, a parent might say something like, ‘The same way you can be really into dinosaurs when you’re 7 and then really into space when you’re ten, sex is also a thing that can vary and change over time and that different people do differently. It’s not just one, monolithic thing.’”
The key, Greenberg suggests, is finding the right window of time for these conversations, which ideally come after kids have started asking questions but before they’ve heard a lot of misinformation from peers. For people who didn’t experience this kind of openness or honesty around sex when they themselves were kids, it can feel pretty uncomfortable. But Greenberg believes the benefits outweigh the awkwardness: “The key is modeling self-exploration and self-acceptance, while stressing that as long as everyone is safe, sex doesn’t have to be done just one way. It can be creative, it can be exciting, it can even be a little bit naughty when everyone involved is safe and on board. Think about how a roller coaster can be both fun and scary at the same time because you know there’s no real danger. Seeking out excitement and novelty is part of human nature — why shouldn’t it be part of our conversations about sex, too?