My son was eating a blueberry pancake in a cafeteria when a woman in scrubs walked by. They smiled at each other and then he started to cough. She joked, "Oh, wow. You're so handsome. It's been so long since a man has been choked up by my beauty."
I responded to my son, "At least there are nurses and doctors around while you're choking, amore." Since he quickly stopped coughing and returned to picking the blueberries out of the pancakes, it seemed like an appropriate response to an inappropriate comment. We all returned to our breakfast and the strange woman walked away.
This isn't the first time someone has said something like this. My son, at 15 months old and for many months and years ahead, isn't flirting, "making eyes," or doing anything sexual towards the opposite and/or same sex. He's playing and learning. He's slowly developing a sense of his physical and emotional self, as well as his gender and sexuality. His relationships, both casual and close, as well as the language we use to describe them, matter as his foundations for the future are formed.
Let's teach our children that they can have appropriate friendships with all ages, genders, races, religions and classes. There's no need to sexualize a child, even through jokes. The words we use and our actions teach messages to children of all ages.
For more, visit Understanding Early Sexual Development from KidsHealth and the Mayo Clinic's article Sex education: Talking to toddlers and preschoolers about sex. For older kids and adults, I recommend Jane Bogart's book Sexploration.