When Should We Stop Letting Our Sons See Us Naked?

by Rita Templeton
Nicolesa / Shutterstock

I have four sons, and I’ve never been shy about being naked in front of them. I mean, how could I? You’re not left with much of a choice when you’re trying to navigate life with a 7-year-old, a 4-year-old, a 3-year-old, and an infant — as I was after my youngest was born.

They regularly saw my boobs as I nursed the baby. And they saw my — well, pretty much everything — in the course of normal daily life: barging into the bathroom while I was on the toilet because it takes little kids a long time to grasp the concept of privacy; showering with me to save precious time; chattering incessantly as they followed me into the bedroom where I was changing clothes.

They saw me in the buff plenty of times, and I never worried about it.

In fact, I reasoned that my boys seeing me naked would — from a very early age — give them a genuine picture of a woman’s body: curves, dimples, wobbly bits, and all. Not the airbrushed, stick-thin, silicone-enhanced variety they’d be exposed to by the media later on.

I hoped it would lead to realistic expectations — normal standards that their future wives or girlfriends could live up to. But more importantly, I wanted to send them the message that our bodies are nothing to be ashamed of and that we should be comfortable in our own skin, not rushing to cover up parts that have been perceived as shameful or sinful. That nudity, while a part of sexuality, is not inherently sexual; it’s just natural.

Since I’m a writer (and OK, a little bit of an oversharer), I wrote a blog post about it: “Why I Want My Sons To See Me Naked.” Little did I know that I was about to be on the receiving end of a soul-crushing backlash, the likes of which I’d never seen.

The post went massively, unexpectedly viral, and the internet (most of whom apparently based their opinions on the provocative title alone) clutched its collective pearls, skewering me not only in nasty comments but in entire articles of rebuttal against my “disgusting” and “depraved” parenting style.

It was the subject du jour on radio talk shows and podcasts. “This woman is going to turn her sons gay,” some trumpeted indignantly. “She’s a pedophile, and social services should get those boys out of that house immediately,” blasted others.

Pervert. Child molester. Worst mother ever. And I don’t mean one or two people were saying things like that; it felt like the entire world was waving a blazing pitchfork at me.

I clung to the occasional supportive comment like a life raft, gasping for air in the midst of this epic shitstorm. “It’s not that big a deal!” I howled ineffectively into the whirling rage. I was talking about normal, everyday nudity — bathing, changing, trying (and failing) to pee alone — not strutting in front of my boys wearing pasties and a G-string.

Throughout the whole harrowing ordeal, I got lots of questions, but one overwhelmingly outnumbered the rest: When was I going to stop letting my sons see me naked?

I could never give a definitive answer. I honestly had no idea. “When they learn to knock,” I’d always joke. “Or whenever they become uncomfortable with it, I guess.”

At that time, they still didn’t bat an eye when they saw me in various states of undress. It was a nonissue. They asked the occasional question about how I got those “funny lines” on my stomach (thanks a lot, kids) but otherwise never expressed anything but indifference to my bare bod.

Almost exactly a year to the date after the blog post ran — when my oldest son had just turned 10 — I got my answer.

I was in the bathroom getting ready to take a shower, still fully dressed, when he walked in as usual. He chattered on about something Minecraft-related as I gathered up my towel, my deodorant, and a fresh outfit. I peeled off my shirt, and he let out a yelp as though he’d been stung by a bee, then skyrocketed out of the room.

Alarmed, I called after him, “What’s wrong?!”

“You’re naked!” he shrieked, his voice still receding as he ran, like, 20 miles away to separate himself from my suddenly offensive nudity.

This was the kid who had spent hours of his life playing on the bathroom floor while I was on the toilet or yanking back the shower curtain to tattle on his brother or running his little fingers over the shiny stretch marks on my hips as I got dressed.

Now, apparently, he didn’t even want to see the bare skin of my back.

I had to laugh. I knew the day would come, and here it was.

My boys are a little bit older now. The youngest is 4, and he still doesn’t bat an eye if I’m naked in front of him (although it makes me cringe a little when he tells me how much he likes my “squishy belly”). The others — at 11, almost 9, and 7 — will still bust into the bathroom occasionally if they’ve got an “urgent” question like “Can I play at Tyler’s?”

But it’s tapering off as they finally begin to understand and respect the meaning of privacy.

I’ll never regret allowing my sons to see me without my clothes on. It has helped create an atmosphere of body acceptance, of not being ashamed of the way you look. It has fostered discussions about the anatomical differences between boys and girls. It has taught them that nudity does not equal sex: a lesson of huge importance in the culture we live in, where a rape victim can be blamed for the length of her skirt or the amount of cleavage she was showing.

It has given them an accurate view of a woman’s body, not a distorted perception from a Victoria’s Secret catalog. And just as I expected, there comes a time when they don’t care to see it anymore, and so they learn to knock. It happens naturally and at its own pace, just like every other developmental milestone. One day they’re chatting you up while you’re in the tub, and the next they’re screaming for “eye bleach” when they catch an accidental glimpse of your boob.

Wanna know the best part? I can poop in peace for the first time in years.

Take heart, moms of little ones. Your day to be alone in the bathroom is coming.