All bodies are cool.
It’s 3-year-old Dea Butler’s favorite phrase from her colorful collection of flashcards.
But this isn’t your average positive affirmations pack for kids.
The set was designed by her mother, sex educator Erica Butler, to teach “sex-positive” sayings primarily to toddlers, but also to children up to age 7.
The cards, or “Happermations,” facilitate healthy sexual development by engaging young people in age-appropriate conversations about bodies, consent, identity, emotions and self-love, according to Butler. .
“It’s something you should feel safe talking about,” said Butler, 36, of the Southeast Side, who owns her own sex education consulting firm, Happ E. SexTalk.
“The more (children) know about their bodies, and the more they understand about consent and boundaries, the less likely they are to be approached by a predator,” Butler said. “Someone looking to take advantage of a child is looking for someone who doesn’t have anyone in their life who talks to them about these things. They’re looking for someone who can be easily groomed or manipulated.
Flashcards can be purchased for $35 at happermations.com or at Columbus locations including Replenish Spa, Cover to Cover Children’s Books, and the Columbus Museum of Art Gift Shop.
Since its launch in May, Butler has sold over 250 collections worldwide.
The cards feature phrases such as “My private parts are private”, “I wear what feels good to me and my body” and “I am proud of myself”.
These concepts are part of “sex-positive” thinking, which involves having positive attitudes toward sex, understanding bodily autonomy, and showing respect for oneself and others, according to Butler.
The cards are marketed to parents, caregivers, social workers, doctors and teachers. They don’t involve any discussion of sexual activity, but Butler said some people still misinterpret his purpose.
“People think I’m just here talking to 2-year-olds about the names of their private parts,” she said. “I’m the one talking to adults who have toddlers in their lives. It’s about empowering them and making sure they feel like they have access to resources.
Columbus educator and relationship coach Meghna Mahambrey said Happermations is a progressive product because of its focus on toddlers.
“The sooner we can reach them, the better,” said Mahambrey, 37, of Clintonville, owner of Worthington-based company Spark Relationship and Sexual Wellness.
“We can start changing the dialogue and putting positive messages in their minds, rather than just letting them be exposed to the world and having them absorb everything they come in contact with. What’s great is that they’re short, sweet, and easy for kids to understand and read.
As a black woman, Butler said it was important to her to design the flashcards with the black community in mind. In fact, she interviewed black families about their questions and concerns about childhood sexual development.
“Unambiguously, the most important (topic) was consent, boundaries and body parts, but more so with the goal of preventing sexual abuse or assault, rather than wanting them to have bodily autonomy” , she said.
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Butler said she also hopes to promote intergenerational education and healing, which was experienced by customer Tiffany Musa, who purchased Happermations for her 6-year-old twins.
“I was sexually abused as a child,” said Musa, 39, of King-Lincoln/Bronzeville.
“It’s something I talk about openly. And so, having these conversations with my children is something extremely important to me. (But) these cards also confirmed me. They affirmed this child that was inside of me that didn’t know consent and didn’t learn to say no and that my body is mine.
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In addition to designing products for young children, Butler provides comprehensive sex education and healthy relationship skills to high school students. She also hosts “The Sex E. Zone”, an adult sex trivia event.
Her teaching style has been shaped by more than 15 years of experience, as well as degrees in health studies and human sexuality from the University of Miami and Widener University, respectively.
“Erica is incredibly passionate, engaging and full of humor,” Mahambrey said. “It’s contagious to be around her. She does a great job of associating important information with lightness and humor that can sometimes be uncomfortable for some people.
As for Happermations, Butler said she hopes to secure large retail distribution and eventually develop a digital app.
“Babies have a voice too,” she said. “And they have rights. They are humans like us. Just because they’re smaller and haven’t lived that long doesn’t mean their voice doesn’t matter. And you need to give them the confidence to talk about what they deserve early on.
If you are a survivor of sexual assault and looking for help, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-4673 (HOPE).