My nudity does not offend my son, because he has not been exposed to trivial conversations about modesty. My nudity means nothing to him.
The other day I mentioned to one of my male friends that my son and I had been nude for days because of the heat and lack of air conditioning, and the disapproval in his voice became progressively apparent as the conversation went on:
Me: Yeah we have been naked for days, man, it’s hot as hell.
Him: What do you mean you’ve been naked? Oh you mean you’ve been in your underwear?
Me: No, I mean naked.
Him: Like, no drawls naked? I mean just being topless is one thing, but…WHY?!
Me: My vulva needs to breathe.
Him: And you’re just completely naked around your son like that? That’s kind of weird.
Me: How? He’s five, he’s an overgrown baby.
I asked what the issue was. He couldn’t explain. I told him there was nothing inherently sexual about nudity. He said that’s not what he meant and that I was putting words in his mouth. He asked if my nakedness would affect my son’s psyche. I explained the difference between nudity and eroticism, our sexualization of bodies. He asked to move on to something else and claimed that he didn’t have the words to express his thoughts in a coherent manner. He sounded flustered and mildly upset.
I am intrigued by his apparent prudishness. Why is my nakedness around my child an issue? Why is him seeing my genitalia in a non-sexual manner an issue? Is he worried my child is going to develop some sort of Oedipus complex? According to Freudian lore, my son being just about around 5-years-old, is in the phallic stage. Freudian psychology is heterocentric and cissexist–it deals in binaries and doesn’t take into account a spectrum of identities. For its time it was revolutionary–but science is permeated with sexist and racist men, polluted with biases.
Note how most people have never heard of, or don’t mention, the Electra complex. In the Electra complex, the daughter-father separation is nowhere near that of the mother-son separation. The mother-son relationship is the one we fixate on, and the one most written about. At this age my son is supposed to have formed some sort of erotic attachment to me. Yet here he is, playing pretend in our living room, oblivious to the projected sexual nature of our being naked and sweating in our little house.
The sexualization of children and nudity is an acute problem in U.S. culture. Public breastfeeding is frowned upon or outright banned. People are disgusted by breasts for a baby but semi-nudity of performers and everyday women for the consumption of cishet men is much less vilified. Then there are those who just promote modesty all around. But whose modesty? How do we determine that?
My son is naked right now. I am not because the air conditioning is now on, and I’m anemic. I have always allowed my son his nakedness, with the idea that he would develop his own sense of modesty and need for privacy as time wears on. The rule for him is: if he wants to play with his penis he must go to his room. My son is uncut and sometimes will fiddle with his foreskin, it makes me queasy. Foreskins function is similar to the clitoral hood: protection. We have our own boundaries with each other–I don’t like to be tickled, I don’t like my breasts or nipples to be touched or fiddled with. I had to make that rule because my son was breastfed for two years and was used to touching my breasts in that way as he drank. He is learning about consent and privacy because it is essential for him to learn about it now.
I wonder sometimes if people, particularly men, think our relationship with nudity and consent is weird because he is a boy. I have related stories about telling my mother about my pubic hair at 11-years-old and showing her, and it was never received in the same way. When pressed about the difference, none of the men I discuss it with can give me a definitive answer. For both women and men the answer tends to boil down to this idea of modesty. But again I ask, whose version of modesty?
Sexualization of nudity is a learned behavior, and its implications vary from culture to culture, even within Western society as a whole. Nudity in Europe is looked at differently than nudity in some parts of the United States. Therefore, the idea that it is that difficult to teach children the difference between nakedness and sexual attraction to someone’s nakedness, is laughable. Yet we have a wide range of modesty laws in this country, even for strip clubs.
I stripped for many years and I was never sexually attracted to any of the dancers that I worked with, not even ones I was emotionally close to as a demisexual person. I have been exposed to nudity consistently for many years. I discovered porn at age 7 or 8 by accident, and I learned very early on the difference between primary and secondary attraction and desire–even though I didn’t possess the terminology. As a sex worker advocate and worker, and a person who enjoys sex and physical pleasure, I decided to learn all that I could about kink, sex, sexuality, development and gender, and I am passing all of that knowledge to my son.
My son comes to the bathroom with me just like I did with my mother. My son brings me tampons, he asks about my uterus, he asks about my blood and if he will have blood. I tell him, people with penises don’t have blood. My son knows that some women have penises. He knows that I don’t have a penis but he can’t fathom why. Why do I not have a penis, am I broken? Is he broken? This is a child. These are important questions, and I answer them. He is not interested in sex, he is 5-years-old. He has not been exposed to sexual content. He is 5. My nudity does not offend my son, because he has not been exposed to trivial conversations about modesty. My nudity means nothing to him.
Teaching him this way is radical. He is a boy growing up in a misogynoiristic culture. People will tell him that he has a right to bodies like mine. People will tell him that women like me (hoes) are not worthy of respect. People will tell him that when he is mean to girls it’s natural. They may tell him that denigrating femininity–his own and others–is natural. They may shame him for his love of ponies, of calling his mama “baby,” and sexualize his doling out kisses and hugs like candy because “I just love people, mommy.” But he will always have these lessons to come back to, and he will have a foundation of knowledge based on facts and my bias toward liberation.