Recently, a Canadian professor, Katja Thieme, proclaimed, “Let. Little. Children. See. Penises. And. Vulvas. Of. Various. Ages. And. Sizes. In. A. Casual. Normalized. Totally. Safe. Way.” Professor Thieme proposes a simplistic form of exposure therapy to teach children about sexual themes, which is at best misguided and, at its worst, laying the foundation for children to be abused. Children in their early developmental stage are still learning to cope with the world around them and gradually try to make sense of their individual experiences. Early exposure to nudity can distort conceptions around sexuality, but more importantly intimacy. As a society, it is our duty to protect children and their psychological and social well-being.

There are certain topics that can potentially harm children. For example, ratings for television and movies are age restrictive. One of the main facets of an MA-17 movie rating is nudity. Even Hollywood agrees that young kids do not benefit from being exposed to nudity and sexual content, so why should we normalize such content to our children in day-to-day life? Children under 17 are not outright banned; they are allowed to see these films if accompanied by their parents. The responsibility to determine what children should be exposed to is on the parents, and parents have the right to make decisions for their children. However, parents who are comfortable with exposing their children to nudity and sexual material do not have a right to compel other parents to also expose their children. 

Furthermore, with respect to childhood development, the introduction of sexual content, especially lacking proper context, can lead to cognitive distortions about body image, sexuality, and relationships. In my elementary school, when we first began puberty classes, they separated the boys and the girls. This was not an act of discrimination, but rather an effective way to only teach the children what they need to know. Young boys do not need to be educated on how to use pads and tampons or on how frequently females get their period and what getting a period means about your body. Additionally, exposure to sexual content in the presence of the opposite sex creates a discomforting environment where those potentially judging you sexually are present when you learn about sexual aspects of your own body. There are clear differences between young girls and young boys, and to this day I do not know what the boys were told, but I know it was specific to the male experience, something that will never be my reality. 

Professor Thieme’s ideals also reflect a confused reality where adults and children are the same, a parallel to the misplaced view that men and women are interchangeable. Suggesting young girls should be exposed to naked males is traumatic. Puberty for young girls is a challenging and unique experience. We should empower them to learn about their changing bodies, not make them feel ashamed and vulnerable by exposing them to naked males. When you first start changing in public spaces, the first instinct is to cover up. This fear can prevent young girls from taking part in regular activities and impact social interactions. I know this firsthand from years of undressing in a locker room. It took me years to feel comfortable even to undress around other girls and to become comfortable with my body changes post-puberty. 

Societal rules are in place to protect children from unsuitable content. This isn’t about sheltering, it is about preserving their innocence and ensuring that they develop into emotionally stable and socially mature adults. We must protect and guard the well-being of the next generation. Our responsibility is to ensure that children are exposed to content that nurtures rather than damages their growth.