When Kids Discover the Hot Tub Jets (or Setting Rules for Masturbating in the Jacuzzi.

Questions from a sex smart parent… And my answers.

 Q: So… I’ve been doing what I considered a good job naming parts, being open and upfront with my kids about sex and their bodies. I almost thought this would be easy. Last summer, however, my 5 and 8 year old girls discovered “the jets” at the pool and have been masturbating till orgasm. They are quite vocally eager to go swimming/bathe every night! And often are cozying up to jets when we have company over. And since I’ve given them the language they are using it… at the dinner table, with siblings and in public! Not cool! How do I explain the appropriate where and whens of this type of activity without resorting to traditional lame excuses? Like you’ll understand ‘when you are older’ and ‘sexuality is private’. It’s not working — especially for my very loving 8 year old who wants to share her discovery with the world!  When is too much information too much?

A: First of all, good on your kids for finding their clits and good for you for staying sex-positive even when you hit a bit of a wall. Not easy.

Is it just me or does this look like a Barbie hot tub?

Is it just me or does this look like a Barbie hot tub?

So, I’ll begin by saying this isn’t a huge problem even though it makes so many people uncomfortable. Your daughters discovered something good. That’s awesome. I think the goal here can be to help contain your kids’ unbridled enthusiasm for this newfound pleasure. You want to do this because you want to keep them safe and because you don’t want other people to feel uncomfortable. Both are legitimate and real. The goal isn’t to stop the pleasure or make them feel shame.

Seems like a good time to set some rules for when it’s OK to masturbate in the hot tub. Ie. Is it ok if it’s just the immediate family? Should the girls be alone when they masturbate?  There’s no right or wrong answer for this. That’s because they are young and feeling good and safe is something they ought to feel in lots of places. Masturbation by young kids is often a self-soothing technique. So part of the challenge is to not sexualize our kids unnecessarily. And we all need to articulate our values around this and then communicate them in ways our kids will understand.

A couple of things you could do:

1) Let them know that touching or rubbing their genitals or letting the jets touch or rub their genitals and the feeling it causes is perfectly healthy;

2) Explain that it’s also a private activity since our genitals are private;

3) Explain that while it’s ok to do it privately, it’s generally not ok to talk about it with friends or people outside the family. That’s because different families have different rules about genitals and when it’s ok to talk about them so to be respectful, we ought to keep conversations on the topic at home;

4) Where they have questions about it, or just want to talk about it, you are happy to answer their questions or chat about the topic with them.

Also, you could disable the jets and say the hot tub is broken. It may be that both girls forget. Then you can let them know when they are 12 or 13!

Q: Everything you said makes total sense. Had a good chat with my eldest daughter last night. My only question comes around the concept of “sexualizing” kids unnecessarily and too soon. What could that look like? I’m also struggling with my feelings about her sharing her thoughts on this topic with her older brother. Not sure where to draw lines with opposite sex sibs.

A:  I personally wouldn’t distinguish children by gender around this stuff.  Your son will benefit from hearing about female pleasure. That being said, people are different at different times in their lives and a pubescent boy (or girl) may not want to hear ‘stuff like that’ from/about a sibling.  So I think it’s about you reinforcing messages about privacy and respect for others. That means checking in if it’s an okay topic and developing skills to read non-verbal cues that indicate that a person is uncomfortable or disinterested and moderating from there. It’s hard for adults to learn and respect this… so helping your kids understand that you don’t expect it to be perfect is good too.

On sexualizing kids – this is tough. What it looks like is tough. I struggle with it too. Essentially it’s about projecting sexuality on to kids before they are projecting it out into the world themselves.  Ie.  A young girl dancing, moving her hips.  We can interpret it as sexually provocative. She’s just moving her body – dancing, feeling carefree. Even if she’s mimicking adults who are dancing provocatively. Even if she is doing it as entertainment for others, we are making her behaviour sexual. It’s tricky because WE know there are people who will sexualize a young girl dancing but I want to be careful not to shut a kid down because of my fear of those people. THOSE people should not dictate how my child (any child! any person!) moves or dresses in the world. At some point, we do need to talk to kids about how others think and behave. This isn’t done to change how they show up in the world but does offer them an understanding of human behavior and then empowers them to make choices knowing the dynamics that exist around them.  Saying ‘don’t’ doesn’t teach them how to manage themselves. Giving them information and allowing them to exercise power and agency over their bodies, are lessons that will serve them well forever.

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