You may recognize this sassy blonde from her appearances as a sexpert on The Today Show, E!, Fox News and MTV. By way of credentials, Levkoff holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality Education from the University of Pennsylvania. But her expertise isn’t just for adults hoping to make sense of their passions and predilections. Levkoff’s book, Third Base Ain’t What it Used to Be: What Your Kids are Learning About Sex Today and How to Teach Them to Become Sexually Healthy Adults (NAL/Penguin, October 2007), gives parents new ways to tackle issues of sexuality. And according to Levkoff, no, you can’t put off “the talk” until puberty arrives. Over a cup of tea, we dished with Levkoff about Oprah, Hooters ads and playing doctor. – Nicole Feliciano
As a self-described “sexpert” do you lead a wild social life?
I’m a married mom. A typical Friday night consists of putting on pjs and sharing a bottle of wine with our neighbors as we watch our kids race up and down the hallway.
It’s a parent’s worst nightmare: What’s a randy couple to do when a curious toddler walks in on the act?
First of all, they might not have any idea what they are seeing. Check to make sure you haven’t scared them. They may think you are wrestling. Don’t get more sophisticated than you have to. If your child asks what you’re doing, a proper reply would be that mom and dad are sharing a private moment.
How do you feel about in the buff households?
If you are okay with that, it’s fine. There is nothing wrong with nudity. However, if one of the parents is uncomfortable, the issue needs to be discussed. If bodies make one of you flustered and create an attitude of shame, it’s not a good idea.
We’ve got a playdate going on and discover the kids playing doctor. How should we react?
This is definitely going to happen, and it’s completely normal – especially at the potty-training age. The best advice is to think about your reaction in advance. Our bodies are fascinating. Remember, kids aren’t looking at their bodies as adults would. They don’t see their body parts as sexual. They are curious and getting a sense of gender. If it makes you uncomfortable to talk about the issue, distract the kids and offer up another activity. Don’t make a big deal out of the game – that’s where shame and guilt come in.
What about little kids touching themselves?
Not make a big deal out of it! My three-year-old son does it all the time. It’s completely normal. But if something is done in public you can say, “When we get home and you have some time to yourself, you can explore.” Kids are smart and manipulative. The bigger reaction you give them, the more they are going to do it.
We’re big into the time-saving group bath. When do we have to pull the plug on this?
It depends on your family. When you get uncomfortable, pull the plug. With one family I know, the dad wears shorts when he bathes with his three-year-old daughter, but covering genitals will only bring more attention to those body parts. The easier thing to do would be to have the tot take her own bath. But don’t let the kids think it’s about their bodies, instead say, “We’re playing too much and not getting clean. When you use slang or street terms, you infantilize important body parts. It’s time for you to take your bath alone.” In other families, the child will dictate when they want privacy.
What’s your beef with Oprah’s “vajayjay”?
I wrote a letter to the editor of the The New York Times in response to Stephanie Rosenbloom’s article ”What Did You Call It?” (referring to Oprah’s euphemism for her vagina) in the “Sunday Styles” section. There are a couple of things wrong here. When you use slang or street terms, you infantilize important body parts. Second, slang denies girls and women the opportunity to feel good about their bodies and their sexuality – teaching them that their parts aren’t good enough and are dirty. The effect on young women is drastic. Girls grow up detached from their bodies. They grow up with little understanding of how important and pleasurable these parts are.
Advertising is pretty racy these days. How do you explain all the buff dudes and buxom women bombarding our kids?
If your kids have questions, answer them. Find out what they are asking. For example, do they want to know why that woman in the bikini selling a car has giant breasts and you don’t? Maybe they want to know why breasts come in different sizes. Perhaps this is a perfect time to ask them, “What do you think would be a better way to sell a car?” On the positive side, the media provides us with incredible opportunities to talk about sexuality as a whole:body parts, family makeup, portrayal of gender. Even with three-year-olds we have to be proactive about “the talk.” We are laying the groundwork for how our kids develop as sexual beings.