Conversations Concerning Sex and Sexuality

Posted by: Asa Don Brown on November 28, 2012 2:56 pm

The mind of a child is a precious thing.  Parents frequently struggle with knowing when, why, and how to discuss sex and sexuality with their child.  Parents may have a wide range of questions themselves pertaining to the timing, the nature, and appropriateness of such conversations.    

  • When is it appropriate to discuss sex and sexuality with a child? 
  • Should a parent inform a child of sexual acts?  Or, should a child learn about sexual relationship on his / her own? 
  • How old should a child be when he / she learn of sexual relationships?
  • Is it ever appropriate to discuss sex with your child? 
  • Should the mother or father discuss the sex and sexuality with their child? Or both?
  • When is it not appropriate to converse about sex and sexuality?

It is important that children are taught at a young age about their own sexuality.  Parents may and often have to tackle such questions as:  Who am I? Why do I have a vagina, while my little brother has a penis?  Why are there boys and girls?  What are the differences between boys and girls?  Why do boys and girls have their own restrooms? Am I less a person because I have different anatomical parts? 

Parents should be made aware that not all conversations are appropriate.  If I discuss my sexual encounters with my wife, then I am crossing a barrier of safety and care.  However, if I am discussing the unique anatomical differences between a boy and a girl, then I am conversing appropriately with my child.  Every child should be made aware that his / her sexual anatomy is a healthy and beautiful thing.  No child should ever be taught to be ashamed of his / her physical anatomy.  All children should be taught at an early age appropriate and inappropriate touch.    Why?  If we understand our physicality and we are taught to respect our anatomy, then we are less likely to allow anyone to disrespect our person. 

A child should be made to feel comfortable with sex and sexuality.  Importantly, children who are left to determine and distinguish right from wrong, appropriate verses inappropriate; may have a higher likelihood of making personal errors in their personal development.   A child should be guided through such prudent matters such as sexual relationships, intimacy, and his / her own sexuality identity (gender). 

GENDER AWARENESS AND SEXUALITY

A child who is aware of his / her body’s anatomical parts is an informed child.  A child should be informed of his / her body’s sexuality for more than purposes of sexual intimacy.  The physical body is a complex device.  If a child is made aware of his / her physical anatomy he / she is more apt to be capable of discussing pains, changes, and queries about his/her anatomy.   If a child is unaware of his / her own anatomy, he/she may find it challenging not only describing difficulties or changes within his / her physical being, but may find it painfully awkward to discuss it with mom, dad, and/or a professional.  

Children begin becoming aware of their sexuality at a very young age.   The development of our gender consciousness begins around 2 to 3 years of age.  This very awareness has been labeled and defined to be our gender identity.  A person’s gender identity is an awareness of his / her physical anatomy, personhood (being male or female), and his / her gender distinction from being either male or female. 

“By the age of three, your child will probably begin to ask you for information about sex. It will help if you take as much care in preparing yourself for your child’s sexuality education as you do when preparing to teach him or her about health and physical safety.” (Pike, 2001, Online) For many parents, sex and sexuality is an unbearable task.  Parents frequently ask, “It feels personally awkward to discuss sex with my young child.”  “Will I not be encouraging my child to be sexually promiscuous if I discuss sex with him / her at an early age?”

“Don’t wait for your child to start the conversation. Many parents put off talking to their children about sexuality, assuming that a child will ask when he (she) wants to know something. But some children are reluctant to begin these talks, and others simply aren’t the type who ask a lot of questions. Do you wait for your child to ask about your religious faith, personal safety and other important topics before discussing them? The answer, more than likely, is no – and sexuality should be no different. It’s a parent’s responsibility to introduce the topic, little by little. Your child might never ask, but he (she) still needs to know.” (Needlman & Haffner, 2012, Online)

PARENTS FEARS, PHOBIAS, FRUSTRATIONS, AND CONCERNS

As a parent, it is important that you are diligent in the raising of your child.  If you are concerned that you may be “inappropriate” or “uncomfortable” discussing your child’s sexuality or matters of sex; there are a number of good resources, books, and practitioners that may help you with your personal dilemma. 

TACKLING THE TALK

As a parent of two daughters, I too have my personal and professional concerns about tackling the conversation.   Am I, a man with a doctorate of philosophy in clinical psychology suppose to tackle this most prudent question?  Or, should I hand this topic off to my spouse making her solely responsible to discuss this most prudent topic?  The answer is not simple, but here is my professional proposal.  Children need to know that both parents are interested in their sex and sexuality.  A child needs to feel comfortable presenting his / her concerns, questions, and interests with either parent.  Importantly, if parents are comfortable with sex and their sexuality, then a child should not be made to feel uncomfortable.

“In talking with your child or adolescent, it is helpful to: 

  • Encourage your child to talk and ask questions
  • Maintain a calm and non-critical atmosphere for discussions.
  • Use words that are understandable and comfortable
  • Try to determine your child’s level of knowledge and understanding.
  • Keep your sense of humor and don’t be afraid to talk about your own discomfort.
  • Relate sex to love, intimacy, caring, and respect for oneself and one’s partner.
  • Be open in sharing your values and concerns.
  • Discuss the importance of responsibility for choices and decisions.
  • Help your child to consider the pros and cons of choices.” (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 2005, Online)

A child should never be made to feel that sex and/or his / her sexuality is taboo or a mistake.  A child should always be made to feel comfortable with discussions of sex and sexuality.   If a child is made to feel that sex or his / her sexuality is wrong, then that child has a higher probability of developing an issue pertaining to sex and/or his / her personal sexuality. 

“It is important to talk about the responsibilities and consequences that come from being sexually active.  Pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and feelings about sex are important issues to be discussed.  Talking to your children can help them make the decisions that are best for them without feeling pressured to do something before they are ready.  Helping children understand that these are decisions that require maturity and responsibility will increase the chance that they make good choices.” (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 2005, Online)

During the talk, parents should inform their child of the beauty within their relationship.  As parents, it is important to be comfortable with your own sexuality and sexual relationship.  Otherwise, you may be offering a “sexual talk,” but the child will distinguish between your personal level of comfortability and uncomfortableness.  Furthermore, if a parent is uncomfortable with his / her own sexuality or sexual relationship, then the parent will be projecting a number of conflicting messages: (a) listen to my advice, but watch me travel a different path, (b) ignore your true nature and desires, (c) live a personal mistruth, (d) do not always tell the truth, (e) while I offer you one way of living, I will follow a different message all together. 

The talk should always include personal safety and care.   A child should never be made to feel as though he / she  must have a sexual relations or sexual encounter.   If a child is taught to respect his / her own personal space and body at an early age, then the likelihood of having someone mistreat him / her or disrespect him / her is decreased drastically.   All persons, should feel safe within their own body and as an individual.  No one should be empowered to make you feel unsafe. 

A child should never be made to feel unsafe with their own personal level of sexual intimacy.  A healthy discussion around sexual exploration (masturbation) should never be turned into something dirty, disgusting, or awkward.  Masturbation is a natural way of life.  A child who is capable of pleasing themselves, will be enabled to know his / her personal desires and personal level of comfortableness.   “Concerns regarding masturbation, menstruation, contraception, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases are common.  Some adolescents also struggle with conflicts around family, religious or cultural values.  Open communication and accurate information from parents increases the chance that teens will postpone sex and will use appropriate methods of birth control once they begin.” (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 2005, Online)  The key to any relationship or sexual encounter is to always use safety and care.  Never allow yourself to be sexually manipulated or exploited. 

Sexual relationships are about creating a personal level of cohesiveness.  There should always be a connection, a desire, and a choice when pursuing a sexual relationship.   A child should be made aware that all sexual relations should be mutually acknowledged and acceptable. 

The life of a child is precious.  All children deserve to feel comfortable, acceptable, approvable, worthy, and loved.   No child should be made to feel as though he / she are dirty or disgusting.  No child should be made to feel that sex and/or one’s sexuality is an ugly or repugnant part of his / her being.   Sexuality is a remarkable aspect of the human condition.   Children should be taught the inner and outer beauty related to one’s sexuality and personal relationship to sex. 

Author:   Dr. Asa Don Brown, Ph.D., C.C.C., N.C.C.M.

 

REFERENCES 

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (2005) Talking to your kids about sex Author. 62   Retrieved from http://www.aacap.org/galleries/FactsForFamilies/62_talking_to_your_kids_about_sex.pdf

Berman, L. (2012) How to have the sex talk with your child. Retrieved November 25, 2012 from http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Dr-Laura-Berman-Helps-a-Mom-Explain-Sex-to-Her-Daughter-Video#ixzz2DMdfMj9L

Haffner, D. W. & Needlman, R. (2011) Talking with children about sexuality: Nine tips. Retrieved November 25, 2012 from http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/tips_for_talking_with_children_about_sexuality.html/context/562

Pike, L. B. (2001) Sexuality and your child:  For children.  Retrieved November 25, 2012 from http://extension.missouri.edu/p/GH6002   University of Missouri

 




*The views expressed by our authors are personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect the views of the CCPA

8 comments on “Conversations Concerning Sex and Sexuality”

  1. Dear Ian,

    I am sincerely appreciative of your time and feedback on this most prudent topic.
    It is clear that people often hide behind mysticism and religious orders for many sexual deviances and perversions; sadly, altering them from their original course, meaning, or perfect state. Unfortunately, not unlike many good forums in our society, sexual deviances seem to slip into the shadows of goodwill. Nevertheless, it is also important to recognize that even those who reject mysticism and religious orders are capable of sexual deviances. It is vitally important to know that sexual deviants have less to do with belief systems and more to do with the distorted thinking of an individual. Whether a believer in a higher power or not; sexual deviants can inject their unacceptable ways into anyone’s life. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that “we” as parents, teachers, and professionals relate one’s sexuality and sexual person as being pure and worthy. We should celebrate our sexuality and sexual person, knowing that we should never allow harm or accept harm to that person. Finally, if unfortunately we are to be harmed, we should not accept that harm to embark upon our sexuality, sexual identity, or overall personhood. For who we are is greater than any harm that may be casted upon us. For who we are is a person worthy of unconditional love, acceptance, and approval; anything less is not worthy of our person.

    Finally, thank you for your thoughtful remarks.

    May you also have a very blessed day.

    Warm Regards,

    Dr. Asa Don Brown

  2. Ian says:

    Good article Dr Brown. A difficult subject. As parents we should tackle this subject, we owe it to our children. Equally important but difficult to help is that some parents feel it is right to approach the issue with the aid of the spirit realm. Be it a current religion or any mythology that is likely misogynistic and riddled with Freudian troubles. Parents that are of the spiritual mind need to seek a secular approach to sexual education regardless of their god’s instruction. Children should know that they are of value in mind and body, and matter to society 100%. Parents should not let old scriptures of guilt and shame, written by primitive men with sexual perversions and god complexes, influence our society’s sexual education of our children. The sexual education that will give our children self respect and confidence and love for their fellow human doesn’t exist in any bible, koran or torah. Your approach on this subject stresses the love and respect our children need in order to give it to others as they grow. Thank you.

    1. Mohammad Rafi says:

      Dr. Brown’s article is impressively engaging. My response is primarly for Ian. Why do people believe what they believe? It surprises me how many people believe in something without ever really knowing why they believe it. While Ian’s points are valid, I disagree with his take on religious issues. I am a practising muslim and I respect everyone for their center of belief. Even nonbelievers. Why do they believe in the religion that they do? Why do they believe in the politics that they do? Why do they believe in the morals that they do? Why do they believe that anything at all is right or wrong? It is based on a family or religious tradition. I have not always been a practising muslim, but found my way into the muslim faith after feeling empty by my previous Christianity. I wanted to know the truth about what I really felt, since I know from experience that what I think I feel and what I actually feel are usually two very different things. I wanted to know what I really feared when it came to scrutinizing my beliefs, and where I really wanted to go next with it. It would be fasincinating to hear Ian’s response. Thank you Dr. Brown, Mohammad Rafi

      1. Dear Mohammad Rafi,

        I am sincerely appreciative of your thoughtful review and remarks on spirituality and religion. As a believer, I am unequivocally convinced that we must allow each person on the planet to define, to develop, and to follow what they see as his/her faith path and journey. Furthermore, as a friend and acquaintance of many nonbelievers; I have no doubt that they too have their own pathway in life. As a clinician, I am not to sway or persuade my patients – clients systems of faith; rather I am here to learn about his/her own pathway in life. I use each patient’s pathway for the betterment and improvement of his/her own person. If a patient deny’s a spiritual system of faith; I encourage them to see that we all have a system of faith, whether it be a system of faith in one another, a higher being, or familial influence; we are all drawn to placing faith in something. It has been shown that having a system of faith will positively influence an individual’s perceptions and worldview.

        I am sincerely appreciative of your time and feedback.

        Warm Regards,

        Dr. Asa Don Brown

  3. Jennifer says:

    What a great article! This is such an important topic. I was too embarrassed to ask my parents anything about my body or sexuality growing up, but one of my friends shared a book her mother gave her. It was written to educate girls about these topics. Her mother just left the book for her in her room with a note to feel free to come to her with any questions. It was so validating to see my own questions asked and answered in print and to realize that everyone wonders about the same things. Left to themselves and their friends, children develop all sorts of misconceptions about sexuality that can be truly harmful to their development and self-concept.

    1. Dear Jennifer,

      Thank you for taking the time to offer your valuable feedback on this most prudent topic.
      It is sad that we are taught to be “embarrassed” to discuss our sexuality and sexual development with others. As a practitioner, I have witnessed many sexual identity issues stream through my office because of embarrassment. Whether one is embarrassed because of friends, family, or others; embarrassment is a normed issue amongst our society. In fact, I would say that it is more acceptable to be embarrassed than for someone to embrace their sexuality and sexual identity.

      Jennifer, I really like the idea of leaving a book for one’s child to read in their own time. On the flip side, we need to take caution with “secretly” leaving a book or materials on sexuality, because such “secretiveness” can be thought of as embarrassment or shame. It is vitally important that our children are made aware at a young age that their own sexuality is something to be celebrated and embraced and not secretive. Likewise, the note was genius, because it reaffirms their person and empowers that child to ask questions in their own timing.

      Finally, thank you for your thoughtful remarks.

      May you also have a very blessed day.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

  4. Tracy says:

    Thank you for your inspiring words and guidance Dr Brown.

    Sexuality is such a unique topic. Personal beliefs and spiritual values can strongly influence how we as adults approach sexuality. For the health of our children I agree that we need to be more open and honest about sexual development. If our children understand the changes that they are experiencing, then they can accept the changes. Puberty and sexual development should be celebrated. It is the time in our children’s lives where they are transforming into young adults. Why as a society do we not celebrate the shift from child to young adult. For females, the beginning of the menstrual cycle is the physical beginning of womanhood. We need to embrace this time, celebrate it and discuss it. By addressing sexuality as our children are developing physically, we are also able to address the more delicate discussions of intercourse, relationships and mental development and readiness.

    Thank you again for your needed article.

    Tracy

    1. Dear Tracy,

      I am sincerely appreciative of your time and thoughtful feedback on this most prudent topic.
      You are so correct that our “personal beliefs and spiritual values can strongly influence how we as adults approach sexuality.” In my practice, I have witnessed familial and couples breakdown because of these simple and yet complex differences. As you stated, our personal sexuality should be celebrated. Sexuality and sexual development are a process of our maturing being. If we deny such a celebration we are denying our inner beauty and personal creation. It is vitally important that we see ourselves beyond the negativity that humanity often places upon us. For young ladies, there should be no shame in their development. We should not see a females menstrual cycle as a source of entertainment or negativity, rather as a source of human development and sexuality. As a professor, I am currently teaching lifespan development at the undergraduate level. It is sad to hear how many females have been mocked because of their sexuality. Perhaps in the future, we can learn to celebrate rather than degrade that human maturation.

      May you also have a very blessed day.

      Warm Regards,

      Dr. Asa Don Brown

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