If you don't, let me tell you who will...
Many parents find it difficult to talk about sex and intimacy with their children. No one ever taught them how, and it's understandably uncomfortable. But like anything else, as a parent you need to figure out how and when to discuss sex and intimacy with your child before society does.
Today’s children are at greater risk of developing a warped view of sex and intimacy than ever before. They desperately need you to explain to them your view of what healthy sex and intimacy look like.
When I use the phrase ”warped view” I’m not referring to kinky sex practices or alternative sexuality. I'm far more concerned about the average views regarding sex and sexuality and how they are communicated.
Research shows that young people receive most of their modeling around sexual behavior from the media — in particular, pornography.
Don’t misunderstand me. This is not an anti-pornography stance. My concerns here revolve around the fact young people are getting the majority of their information from such an impersonal source.
While attending the recent TED Women Conference, what I heard from speaker Peggy Orenstein chilled me to the bone.
Orenstein conducted research focused on girls and sex. She performed an in-depth interview with a group of 70 racially and ethnically diverse girls between the ages of 15 and 20 who identified as either college bound or already in college. Among the group, 10 percent placed themselves on the sexuality spectrum as being either lesbian or bisexual.
Research shows a high prevalence of sexual assault occurs on college campuses. Even in our modern culture we still have difficulty navigating discussions of consent without the inevitable spiral into talk of "false allegations."
As the mother of a 14 ½-year-old son who has been raised in a complicated family, I strive to give him the tools necessary for negotiating the minefield of sexual and intimate relationships.
- He has a variety of people he can talk to about these decisions who I know will always have his back.
- He knows that he needs to discover his own desires, likes, and dislikes.
- He knows that his body belongs to him.
- He knows about consent.
- He knows to treat his partners with respect and not to be judgmental.
- He also knows that talking about these things, though potentially embarrassing, is essential to having healthy and satisfying long-term sexual relationships.
As an intimacy coach and a psychologist, I remain concerned for those kids raised in homes in which their parents never even mention sex, the children whose parents are never physically affectionate in front of them, and those in homes in which too much adult sexual behavior is seen.
Paul Bryant, a professor of telecommunications at Indiana University Bloomington, highlights the trouble faced by children learning about sex through pornography in his "sexual script theory" regarding the sexual socialization of teens.
For today’s teen, pornography lays down internal scripts for a variety of sexual behaviors and scenarios.
If parents do not present an alternative view, the only model for how to behave in sexual relationships will come from media — not just pornography, but from music and music videos as well. Without the safeguard of knowing they have a non-judgmental parent to discuss with what they see and learn, they have no meaningful way to understand and consider the positives and negatives among the variety of sexual scripts they see in order to weigh their feeling about the perceived possibilities.
There is no easy fix to this discussion.
As adults, we need to examine the way we relate to sex and how we talk about it with each other. As we become more comfortable talking about sex with our own partners and peers, we will become more confident about discussing it as a parent as well.
To get you on your way, here are 4 steps you can take to begin addressing the problem and have conversations with your child about sex — starting right now.
1. Take a look at your own experiences of sex and sexuality.
If you have experienced sexual trauma, this is the time to resolve any issues that remain charged or live for you. You may need help to do this or you may already get help through your social support network.
If you haven't experienced sexual trauma, this is the time to look at any issues, stuck places, and/or negative thought patterns you have in relation to sex and sexual relationships. You can work through this on your own, with your partner, or with your social support network as well.
2. Learn about what is normal for your children at each stage of development.
Try to do this without judgment. Have a look at what your children are being exposed to in your wider culture. Each of us has our own moral code, and moral codes are constructed whereas sexual development is built as part of a biological process.
You may believe that masturbation is a sin, but this is a moral belief. Biologically, ALL children discover that when they touch their genitals, it feels good. This is the way human beings are constructed. Healthy and comprehensive personal development depends on the combination of biological, psychological, spiritual, and moral development, as well as development that is culture specific.
3. Create a safe space to have intimate conversations with your children.
This may seem like a given, but many homes offer no safe space for a child to bring up issues around sex and sexuality. In many families, these topics are dealt with by simply handing children reading materials. There are some excellent books out there to help children with all manner of topics relating to sex and sexuality, but books are not a substitute for a home environment that fosters safe conversation.
Your children need a place where they can get questions answered. Start creating that safe space to talk about emotions first (if you haven’t already). Once your children are used to talking about more difficult topics and you are used to dealing with these without judgment, with acceptance, and in a way that fosters growth, then you can begin to have the talks about sex.
4. Find out what is age appropriate for your child and pitch your conversation to that level.
Talking to a five-year-old who asks where babies come from is very different from answering a question about how you get pregnant from a 10-year-old. Keep the conversations short and sweet. Do use videos, audio recordings, and books as aids, and encourage your children to come back to you with questions.
Set up a consistent routine so your child knows there will always be a time and a place to bring up these topics. If you're not comfortable having these sorts of conversations with your child OR your child is too embarrassed to talk to you, make sure you have an alternate trusted adult (or a few) the child knows they can feel free to approach. Children thrive when they have more than one viewpoint to consider about this amazing, yet complicated part of life.
Remember that this is a process that will continue to take shape throughout your child’s development.
If you do so, then your young adult will also come to you with questions and your adult child will be much more likely to create satisfying intimate relationships for himself or herself.
Children who have self-knowledge and an understanding of the joy and dangers of sex are at lower the risk of becoming victims of sexual assaults.
The more knowledge you possess, the more quickly you are apt to take a firm stance, and therefore the more likely you are to be seen by a perpetrator as a difficult target. Perpetrators go for the softest targets they can find, so the harder a target you make yourself, the more you lower your risks.
So go have that talk!
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