I hope it disrupts shame and brings more families closer: a Q+A w/ Melissa Pintor Carnagey

Sinclair: You teach families and youth about sexual health in awesome ways. How were you able to turn your passion into a business?

Melissa: Thank you! A year ago when I entered entrepreneurship, I’d been a social worker in the field of sexual health for ten years prior, and I’d reached a point where I felt that the impact and creative freedom I desired to have was limited working within government-funded organizations. I took a leap of faith and stepped away from my full-time, benefited job with the State of Texas.

I didn’t know what exactly I was going to do next, but I knew that I was capable of so much more.

Within a week of leaving, the idea came to me to create a platform that could help parents feel more confident in having sexual health talks with their children. I’ve been in action ever since following what I quickly realized was part of my purpose. Finding meaningful ways to deliver the tools and strategies to parents and caring adults is what my business is all about.  

Sinclair: What impact do you hope Sex Positive Families has on the world?

Melissa: I hope that it helps normalize sexual health conversations between parents and children. I hope it disrupts shame and brings more families closer.

Sinclair: What are you reading right now that you think others should check out? What made you pick it up in the first place? 

Melissa: Tell Me About Sex, Grandma by Anastasia Higginbotham (affiliate link 🎁). Most of the books I check out these days are children’s books related to sexual health, since I maintain a list for families to use to support the talks. This book is really special visually in the way it depicts a nurturing relationship between a caring adult and young child.

It’s honest, and it beautifully exemplifies the amazing curiosities children possess around sexual health topics. If you have a child in your life, especially before their tweenhood, this is a must-have for your family library.

Sinclair: What is something we often get wrong when talking about sexuality?

Melissa: The idea that it is only an “adult” thing or that it’s something we age into. The truth is that sexuality is with us from within the womb to our last breath. It’s not limited to sexual activity and we must talk about it, especially with our children as they grow.

Sinclair: What’s the importance of being a sex positive family, and what are a few ways folks can start to shift the narrative around sex within their own families?

Melissa: One of the hallmarks of a sex-positive family is creating a shame-free culture within the home where no topic is taboo. This can be challenging, especially because many parents today did not have this modeled for them growing up. Knowing that children aren’t looking for their parents to be an encyclopedia but more simply to just be available and supportive when needed, is important.

Some key shifts parents and caregivers can make are to start an open dialogue early and use everyday opportunities versus one big talk. This lessens the sense of awkwardness as they get older. Start by teaching toddlers the accurate names for genitals (ex. vulva, penis, breasts, scrotum, anus, etc) versus nicknames. This better supports their safety.

When children begin playing on devices, video games, or online, talk about sexually explicit media (such as porn). Help them interpret images or words they see and hear, so they can make informed decisions, and know that you’re a safe adult they can talk to when they have questions or concerns. It’s also important to stay curious not investigative, especially as they get older.

Leaving tweens and teens some wiggle room for healthy risk-taking is an important part of their autonomy. Ask open-ended questions and be available to listen versus lecture. The sooner we prepare them for independent decision making, the better. And if you’re not sure where or how to begin in any area, connect with us and the many resources available to help you along this journey. Remember, parents are number one influencers in children’s lives when it comes to sexual health info, and they want to hear it from us.

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In spite of the pervasive stigma, shame and toxic societal messaging around sex and sexual health, Sex Positive Families is pushing through to ensure caring adults have the information needed to feel their most confident when talking about taboo topics with the children in their lives. . I am motivated by the fact that many who follow this work did not have the best models for sex ed growing up (myself included!), yet feel the pressure to do better because the next generation deserves healthier, safer, and more pleasurable outcomes than many of us have experienced. . But friends, this work can be fucking hard! It isn’t always met with cheers or eager support; many times I face hesitation, caution, criticism or silence. . But when I reflect on the sexual health journeys of my own children- the strong bonds, fostered through a sex-positive approach, that have been literally lifesaving- and the now countless workshops facilitated for teens and adults where the most vulnerable breakthrough and aha moments have occurred, I know there is no other work I am meant to do. THIS is the path. . I’m getting all reflective on you because it’s been an amazing year in this work and today we’ve reached another milestone- 5,000 IG followers. The goal of reaching 10k by Dec 31st is attainable and important because comprehensive, inclusive sexual health education is a human right for all, and when in the hands of the highest influencers in a child’s life, has the power to shake the shame and shift us into the healthier, safer and more pleasurable lives that we deserve. . I thank you for your continued support and following of this work. For sharing with others. For opening your minds and hearts in the workshops you participate in. For connecting SPF to greater opportunities for this work to reach broader audiences. For your collaborations. And most importantly, for taking the brave steps of breaking the silence and stigma around sexual health with children and adults in your life. One talk at a time, we are affecting change. It can’t be done alone, so with all my heart, I thank you and look forward to all that lies ahead.

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Sinclair: Tell us about your podcast and share an episode that you think everyone should hear. 

Melissa: Sex Positive Families The Podcast is a collection of interviews with other passionate folx- sexual health professionals, parents, caring adults- who understand the power of shaking the shame around taboo topics. We share valuable knowledge and experiences to help people make more informed choices about sexual health.

Our most downloaded episode has been number 6 on the myths of monogamy. I think it hits home for a lot of people who are feeling challenged in their relationships and are trying to find healthier ways to connect. Our guest expert for that one is, Adam Maurer, who is a brilliant sex-positive therapist practicing in Austin. He keeps it real and offers a lot of actionable tips for couples to consider a more modern take on monogamy.

Sinclair: What’s something you wish you could say to your 16 year old self?

Melissa: I love you. I’m so proud of you. You are absolutely enough.

One of the hallmarks of a sex-positive family is creating a shame-free culture within the home where no topic is taboo. This can be challenging, especially because many parents today did not have this modeled for them growing up. – Melissa Pintor Carnagey

Sinclair: What’s something you’re working to unlearn? 

Melissa: I am working to unlearn the idea that I am not enough as is; unlearning that my worth is based in others’ perceptions of me. I definitely see the fallacy in that more today than ever, but regular mantras and redirection are helpful sometimes. In terms of the world, I’m working to unlearn this country’s history as I was taught it.

Sinclair: Who do you go to when you’re needing support and guidance?

Melissa: First I go within. I remind myself to breathe. My favorite mantra during times of stress is, “This is not my life. This is just a moment of my life.” And when I need to call for backup, I have amazing supports within my partner, Ryan, my biz bestie, Christie, and my children. I am authentic and vulnerable with all of them and they give me nothing but love and support in return. I’m forever grateful.

Sinclair: What’s one challenge you face in your work that you’re still working on navigating?

Melissa: Maintaining healthy work/life balance. Being an entrepreneur is different than working for someone else. The success of your business can feel heavy on your shoulders, so if you’re not being mindful of creating functioning systems, balance and acquiring support, then you could burnout, not be sustainable, and it can affect your relationships.

I am in the process of expanding, bringing on more support staff. I’ve had to face the fact that this work and mission is all bigger than me, so I have to ask for help and I have to take breaks.

When we nurture a child, we nurture ourselves. Opening my heart to the children I raise is what has helped me learn this firsthand. – Melissa Pintor Carnagey

Sinclair: When was the last time you practiced self-care? What did you do?

Melissa: This week! I’ve unplugged from the business Instagram and redirected my time toward rest and my family. I also binge watched This Is Us, which I slept on when it originally aired. It’s so good!

Sinclair: What’s something that’s been bringing you joy lately?

Melissa: It’s someone- his name is Tyson. He’s 8 years old, has such a zest for life and for human connection. His curiosities are endless. Spending time with him feeds my soul. He happens to be the last child I gave birth to.

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Sinclair: What’s something that’s been pissing you off lately?

Melissa: American history, culture, and politics.

Sinclair: When was a time that self-doubt was at its worst for you while on your career and life journey?

Melissa: Just before I made my transition to entrepreneurship. I was sitting in a cubicle of a job that I’d worked more than a decade toward. This was supposed to feel like success, but it wasn’t a fit. I didn’t know at the time what else was. I felt lost and like I was failing. I am so thankful to my partner and family for being supports and believing in me when I was struggling to believe in me. I ultimately took the leap of faith away and toward my purpose, and I’ve never looked back.

Sinclair: What are your unshakable values and when did you become clear on them?

Melissa: Respect is an important one. Especially respect for children. Too often they are framed and treated as less capable, but children are our greatest teachers and collaborators. They possess such high capacities for curiosity, unfiltered joy, and bravery. We sometimes forget that this was once us. When we nurture a child, we nurture ourselves. Opening my heart to the children I raise is what has helped me learn this firsthand.

Sinclair: Who are a few amazing people that we should follow and why? 

Melissa:

  • Amaze.org– because we need comprehensive sex education and they deliver it in fun, bite sized nuggets for the whole family.
  • O.school – because pleasure-positive, shame-free sex education for adults offered free everyday via live online classes, by an amazing crew of educators, is too good to pass up.
  • Rachel Elizabeth Cargle -because she’s a truth teller working tirelessly to dismantle white supremacy.
  • Afrosexology –  because black sexuality matters.
  • The Vulva Gallery– @the.vulva.gallery – because everyone needs to know what a vulva is and all of the beautiful forms vulvas can come in. It’s been repressed for far too long.

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Sinclair: What is one piece of advice you’d give to someone struggling to start their own business feeling like giving up on their dreams?

Melissa: Stay in action. If this is what lights you up, what you feel called to do. Do it. Don’t wait for validation from others. Don’t talk about it; be about it.

Sinclair: It’s years in the future. You’re on stage to accept an award for your life’s work.  What’s your five word acceptance speech?

Melissa: I believed. So it became.

Sinclair: Imagine that all your life’s work disappeared and you only had 1 minute to tell the world what you truly believe to be true. What would you say?

Melissa: Stay curious.

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Melissa Carnagey is a sex educator and licensed social worker with over 10 years experience in the field of sexual health. She founded Sex Positive Families in June 2017 with a passion for creating safe, shame-free spaces for comprehensive and pleasure-positive sexual health education for all ages. Alongside her work with SPF, Melissa facilitates sex education classes for youth with organizations such as Unhushed and EngenderHealth. She currently lives in Austin, Texas with her partner, Ryan, raising their three sex-positive children between the ages of 4-19. Instagram. Twitter. Website

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