The crucial role parents and educators play in children's early sex education podcast header

The crucial role parents and educators play in children’s early sex education [Podcast]

This week on The Preschool Podcast, we are excited to chat with Ariél Saint White, Founder of My Little Yoni. We discuss the crucial role parents and educators play in children’s early sex education and the importance of having these conversations progressively over time as children grow up. Ariél is dedicated to helping parents embrace and learn more about sex education as it is happening. She empowers parents to have conversations with children directly in their homes.

Most sex education occurs for children ten and older, but if we have the opportunity to start in preschool years that is when we should begin. My Little Yoni, the character in Ariél’s books, helps make female anatomy approachable. It is important to introduce concepts to children when they are young that do not have anything to do with sex. When children are 2-4 years old they are learning about what everything is, why wouldn’t they also learn about their body and its anatomy?

Children are very open to learning about anything. If you can be matter of fact, honest and, of course age appropriate, children will be curious to learn and open to it. There is often an assumption that school will handle it, but this is often done too late. By this point, children already know to laugh and be embarrassed and are less open.

Sex education begins with accurate anatomy. If children have accurate language and information they are able to advocate for themselves. From there comes consent information. This is learning that your body is your body and you are in charge. Other people’s bodies are their own as well. This lays the groundwork for healthy communication and boundaries as children grow.

When having sex education conversations with children, try to foster and meet your children’s natural curiosity. It is not putting a bunch of information on them. It is more to initiate conversations and meet them openly when they ask questions. It is okay if you do not know the answers, you can find them out together.

We want to reframe sex education from “the talk” to recognizing that sex education conversations are a series that happen over many years. Each conversation is an opportunity to establish trust with your children. The nature of conversations change as children grow up.

Podcast episode transcript

Ariel SAINT WHITE:

And these conversations are a series of talks, a series of conversations that happen over many years. And each conversation is an opportunity to build trust between you and your child, to establish you as a trustable adult that they can come to for support, which is great.

Ron SPREEUWENBERG: 

Ariel, welcome to the Preschool Podcast!

SAINT WHITE:

Thank you so much, Ron!

SPREEUWENBERG: 

We’re delighted to have with us today Arielle Saint White. She’s the founder of My Little Yoni. We’re going to talk to Ariel about the crucial role that parents play in children’s early sex education. That’s a new one for the Preschool Podcast. Ariel, let’s learn a little bit about you and how you decided to and why you decided to devote your time to this important subject.

SAINT WHITE:

Yes, for sure. Well, I’m glad that we’re getting into this for your preschool audience because early sex education is something that we’re on a mission to hopefully help all parents embrace more and just learn more about sex ed [education] as it’s currently happening, especially in the US. And then provide resources that help make it easier for you as parents to start having these conversations directly with your kids inside the home and to start having the conversation here, because preschool actually is where it all begins.

And in terms a little bit on my background, I have a pretty eclectic background as both an artist and a writer, but also an entrepreneur. And early on, my first business was in the sexual wellness space, actually doing coaching with women. And it was through that I had this idea for My Little Yoni, and you’re going to have to look that up online and go to Instagram – My Little Yoni – to get a visual on what this is. Because My Little Yoni is a character and she’s actually a superhero, the world’s first vulva superhero. And I say that and people can’t really picture it until they see it, and then it makes perfect sense.

Butanyhow, I came up with the name; I came up with the concept for the character; I created a doll and key charms. And it just was an organic process because I was just inspired to make this thing. And then they started selling. And I would bring it to photoshoots I was directing. And everything from the crew to the celebrities, they were all about it. They loved this character, My Little Yoni.

But then when I first put it up online to sell it, it actually surprised me. The vast majority of customers were moms, moms who wanted this character and this symbol of the vulva – which is, most people say vagina, but the accurate anatomy is vulva – represented in a very safe and approachable way. Moms would buy this character and place it around the house and use it as a conversation starter with their kids.

So, we paid attention to that. And then with just the acceleration of certain things and in the media in the US over the last few years, we went deeper as a team into looking at the problems intrinsic to sex education, at least in North America. And from there, we basically just answered what was quite obviously the highest mission of what a character like My Little Yoni could be serving. And that was sex education.

And that’s why in 2021, I wrote a ten-book series – or I should say My Little Yoni wrote it because I really present the character as the author and as the educator. And so, yeah, we wrote a ten book series. And each book covers an important subject, outline and comprehensive sex education. And we’re very much focused on early education because even most positive sex education, it’s really happening age ten-plus. And the reality is, if we have the opportunity to start in preschool years, that’s ideally where we begin the conversation.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Cool, very cool. So I’m just going to throw out the elephant in the room, which is sex education is often times connected with being very awkward, awkward conversations. Is that why you think mom’s really picked up on My Little Yoni in the in the early days, is because maybe it made it a bit less awkward? I guess why do you think that they really picked up on it off the start?

SAINT WHITE:

100%, yeah, I think you just nailed it. So, you’ll see when you when you get a visual and I’m sure there will be a link or something where you can see the character. My Little Yoni is making something like female anatomy, or the vulva, like a friendly, approachable character. And it’s also, when you look at this character, there’s nothing sexual about the character.

So, something that’s really sad, in my opinion, is that the vulva is also an automatically sexualized in our culture or associated with porn or whatever. And yeah, that might be one aspect, but the reality is the vulva is also the source of life. It’s where most babies come from, come out of. And so there’s a whole different way of introducing that subject matter when the children are young that doesn’t actually have anything to do with sex at the beginnings.

So, just like… and that’s why the preschool age is the ideal time to start the conversation because when children are two, three, four, they’re learning about everything early, they’re learning about the whole world. So, if they’re learning about, “That’s the sun and that’s a fire truck, and there’s your nose and that’s your belly button,” why wouldn’t they just learn, “That’s your penis, that’s your vulva”? And so that’s a way of framing it.

And that’s something for parents to I guess think about is that discomfort is generally what we are working with as adults. It’s not something young kids have. Kids are just quite open. They’re learning about everything. And so if you can just be matter-of-fact and honest, more or less – and of course age appropriate – then kids usually are just interested and curious to learn about everything. They’re interested to learn about how babies are made. They’re happy to know proper words for their genitals and their belly button and their nose. And so that’s why it’s the ideal time to start it.

And to answer your question, yes, I think that for a lot of reasons, which I’m sure many of us can just kind of think of from our own history of maybe how we were first educated as kids around sexuality and bodies, there’s often stuff, even for parents who feel comfortable in their own lives when it comes to having conversation with kids, there’s just not many resources. There’s not many models of how to do it.

And there can also be the assumption, “Oh, school’s going to handle that for me.” But the big issue with waiting for school to handle it is oftentimes sex ed doesn’t happen until kids are already in fifth, sixth, seventh or eighth grade. And by that point, kids oftentimes, they’ll already laugh or be embarrassed by the subject matter, versus if you start the conversation much, much earlier, then they’re open and keen to learn.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, I really love that line of thinking. And just really at that early age, if this subject doesn’t have that sexual nature to it, that as adults and as teenagers, we prescribe to sex education. It makes a ton of sense. And you mentioned there that the US in particular is culturally maybe a little bit different. What do you see? Like have you seen different cultures in other countries when it comes to sex education or things that maybe in the US could look to as a as a model?

SAINT WHITE:

Yes, for sure. So, I’d say two things to that. So, there is comprehensive sex education guidelines that are based on research, that are based on the accumulated work and decades of work of top-notch sex educators. And so those are the guidelines we follow in all of the curriculum the material we create.

And so some of those… and oftentimes, I mean, a country that would be a good model is how they handle sex ed in the Netherlands – a little nod to your last name, Ron. And Sweden does a great job. And there’s other countries, too. In general, Europe does it a bit better than we do. But so some basic guidelines, for example: so, the sex education, as it were, begins with accurate anatomy. We’re not even talking about sex yet. And that’s at that age 3 to 5 range. We’re just having accurate, understandable terms for body parts.

The other piece that I think just makes a lot of common sense is to just try to foster and meet your child’s natural curiosity. Kids are curious about everything. “Why, why, why?” And so it’s not about loading them up or putting a bunch of information on them. It’s more initiating some conversations. But then also they’re just meeting them openly when they ask questions.

And then also knowing that because very few adults receive great education themselves as kids, it’s okay if you don’t know the answer. So, you can say, “Hey, let’s go find out together again.” Again, that’s why we create our books book series as one available resource that’s out there for parents to read through a book together with your kid. Or if your child’s a bit later – a bit older, I mean – they could even read a book on their own and then come back and ask questions. Or it’s also okay to say, I think I said this, “I don’t know what. Let’s find out.” Or, “Give me a moment. I’m going to find out and get back to you.”

So, another key thing to keep in mind is to reframe sex education from the typical idea of “the talk”, which is such a build up. Okay, there’s going to come this point when your kid’s going through puberty or whatever, where you’ve got to muster the courage to sit down and have the talk with them. And we say dismiss that.

And comprehensive sex educators worldwide would agree that the ideal situation is to recognize that sex education and these conversations are a series of talks, a series of conversations that happen over many years. And each conversation is an opportunity to build trust between you and your child, to establish you as a trustable adult that they can come to for support. Which is great, because what would you rather, your kids learning to come to you or to go to the Internet where usually porn, pornography is what winds up substituting for sex ed? I won’t dwell on that.

But yeah, so that reframe of this being a series of conversations that starts young and continues all the way through development, I think is really helpful. And also recognizing that the nature of the conversation changes as kids do grow up and develop because there are certain things that are appropriate to talk about at age three that are going to be different from what’s appropriate to talk about at age eight.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Yeah, it’s funny because it’s so sensical, what you’re saying in terms of it being an ongoing conversation. And by having it be an ongoing conversation, it just makes it so much more natural to do. And yet any movie or TV show or what have you that you watch – and probably a lot of times in real life, it’s kind of built up as being this one moment where you have this one conversation when your child’s a teenager or something, which doesn’t make any sense really to approach it that way but yet I think most folks still do. So, this is all making a lot of sense now.

SAINT WHITE:

That’s good.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

And so you talked a little bit about obviously that conversation evolves, in terms of content and age. What are some things that you feel are important pieces to cover when it comes to sex education?

Well, especially for that age bracket of kids for your audience, with this being a preschool podcast: Yeah, so it’s starting with accurate anatomy. And some reasons for that is, number one, it’s just kids have information and accurate language. They’re A) more informed, but also B) able to advocate for themselves.

So, if there’s no language, if there’s just this off-bounds, taboo nether regions, that that creates a strange energy that we can grow up with. In other words, if you don’t talk about it, usually there’s a reason why we’re not talking about it. Oftentimes that shame and kids pick up on that shame. So, that’s just kind of a broader perspective. There’s also a lot of cases and educators who would say if, heaven forbid, a child experienced unwanted touch or something, it’s really easier for them to speak up if they actually have language for all their body parts. So, that’s one piece to keep the mind.

Moving on from accurate anatomy, there’s also concern education [which] actually should start quite young. Now, when I say consent education, that doesn’t mean necessarily sexual consent because that’s not really relevant when kids are as young as five. But laying the groundwork for consent education, which basically just means learning that your body is your body and that no one gets to… basically, you’re in charge of your own body. And other people’s bodies are their bodies. That’s kind of like the most basic way of breaking it down for a five-year-old.

And we have a great book called All About Consent that really breaks this down for ages five plus in a way that is developmentally appropriate. And just the idea of learning to respect if someone says yes or no. And then again, at the age of five, you’re not even getting into sexuality as a concern to consent. You’re laying the groundwork of healthy communication and boundaries so that when you get older, you already have that foundation in place.

And just a little side note to show you one of the reasons we are so passionate about this work and advocacy work is in the US at least only seven states out of 50, only seven states require consent education to even be part of their sex ed curriculum. So, that’s a perfect example of where you can’t really rely on schools to offer key components of what should be part of a sex ed curriculum.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Wow, it’s actually really eye opening. The more we talk about this, the more, me personally, I’m realizing, it is super important. And I can see the value of sex education at an early age and why it makes so much sense. And you mentioned there about one of your books. Tell us a little bit more about your book series, which you mentioned earlier.

SAINT WHITE:

Yeah, so we have a ten-book series. It’s all under the series [which] is called Yoni Magic. And then there’s ten books. And the first two are getting into boy anatomy and girl anatomy. The third book in the series is getting into consent. The next book is called Masturbation Matters …or no, that’s not true. That was the old title and we realized it was too much. The title is actually What’s The M-word? And then we get into talking about masturbation just in the way… and this is a huge trigger for a lot of people.

But it’s more just framing the conversation of, “Hey,” – and I hear this from parents all the time. I mean, I’ve had dozens and dozens of these conversations with parents – of, “Hey, I noticed my five-year-old, six-year-old, seven-year-old or even sometimes three-year-old, I noticed my child masturbating. What do I do? Like, I don’t want to shame it. But also, this is a lot. What do I do? I want them to stay safe.” And so this book really provides resource and framing around that.

And the bottom line is, developmentally, it’s completely normal for children to just learn that touching their body in different ways feels good, or maybe rubbing on things feels good. And it’s not true for every child. And there’s different ages when this comes online for kids. But the reality is, if you’re listening as a parent, it’s absolutely normal if your young kid is masturbating.

And the thing that I think we all want as parents is just to make sure that our kids are safe. And so that’s why in our What’s The M Word? book, we get into a little bit about anatomy. Also just saying, “Hey, it’s normal to get to know your body.” Again, it gets into consent, “It’s your body.” And then privacy – that’s something to do in your room. That’s something to do in private space. That actually isn’t something to do publicly.

And then also, no one else should be touching your body. It’s not fine, it is perfectly normal to touch and explore your body. But that is something private for you. And I’m going to pause on that one because it’s so important. It’s not about where certain people in the media or certain people with political agendas will fan the flames. They say, “Oh my God, this sex educator is teaching kindergartners masturbation.” That is not accurate, that’s not true. What it is is acknowledging that developmentally it’s perfectly normal. And if you actually look at the population, statistically, a lot of kids, that’s just they start to discover their body. And even at that young age, it’s not even sexual. It’s just this, “I have a body, this feels good.”

And so as parents, can we learn to provide education that helps them stay safe, but then also doesn’t layer shame on top of them? Because shame never… it just isn’t good. If shame were good, then how we had been doing things for the last 300 years would be working. But it’s not working. And the reality is, in my opinion, shame oftentimes it leads to not-good outcomes. But if we can start to have healthy, honest conversations with our kids, it builds trust. And then they’re much more likely to be safe because they know that they can come to us with their concerns, with their questions and just grow up ideally with a good sense of self, but also respect for other people’s bodies.

And then yeah, we have books on… I already mentioned consent. Creating life, just how the embryo gets made, how the sperm and the egg come together. We have one called Beyond The Birds And The Bees. That’s out of your age bracket, that’s more like age eight. Unless, again, if kids are asking you, it’s so important. This is why we really defer to and like empowering parents because your own children.

And I think that’s why we’ve had support from parents, from all different backgrounds. Because we have Christian moms in the Midwest who love us. We then have a rock star Mormon dad who thinks what we’re doing is the best thing ever. We have urban moms, we have audience from all over. And I think the reason why is because we’re just trying to create tools to empower parents to speak directly to their own children. And so that’s why there are recommended ages for when to introduce some of this subject matter. The reality is some kids start asking certain questions younger, which means ideally you find a way to answer those questions appropriately, but also honestly.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Awesome, sounds like some great resources for all different ages. The Yoni Magic Book series, where can our listeners find that? Or to find My Little Yoni the superhero, as well, Ariel?

SAINT WHITE:

Thanks, Ron. Yeah, so www.MyLittleYoni.com. The whole book series is there. We’re also pretty active on socials, Instagram. I love coming on podcasts like this, so thank you. And one thing for people to know is that all our sex education work is not for profit. So, every time you buy a book, that goes towards our book donation program. So, we sell our stories and that’s amazing. And we have a loyal, rockin’ audience.

But then we are able to, through those book sales, we’re able to do pop-up book events and do these events in neighborhoods where we give the books away. We partner with other nonprofits such as www.Period.org, which is a huge youth-based period nonprofit. And that’s where we have a period book and we donate through them for that.

And so I think that’s a helpful thing to know, of even if you don’t have kids and for some reason are listening to this, there’s a way of supporting the larger work of helping this information get to families that really deserve to have it and need it the most.

SPREEUWENBERG: 

Awesome. Really great to chat with you, Ariel. This is a super important subject and I now totally understand so much more about why it’s important to start that conversation at an early age. So, I’m sure listeners of the Preschool Podcast got a lot of value out of this conversation. And thank you for joining us for it!

SAINT WHITE:

Absolutely. Thank you so much, Ron!

Christie White

Christie is a Senior Content Marketing Specialist at HiMama. She is passionate about children's development, parenting, and supporting the child care industry. She has been working to support child care centers with their events and marketing for almost a decade. In her personal life, Christie lives in Stouffville, ON with her husband Kyle and dog Tucker. She enjoys going for walks, baking, cooking, and watching reality tv!

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