Last summer in a human sexuality course, the professor started by discussing how awkward it is to talk about human sexuality. One student asked the question, “Why is it that something as basic to our human nature and survival as a race is so uncomfortable to talk about?” There was a long and lively class discussion about religious sexual shaming, the mystery of human sexuality, and how the dark side of sexuality makes us reluctant to talk about any sexuality. Then one student raised her hand and said, “I’m more worried that our culture and media talks about sex too much!” Then it hit me. Unhealthy sexuality is flaunted all around us, and yet we are embarrassed about talking about healthy sexuality. This paradox struck me as absurd and really sad at the same time. We can’t combat unhealthy sexualization if we don’t talk about what healthy sexuality is.
For many, honestly addressing sexuality at an individual level is scary, let alone discussing sexuality with someone else. Whether it is comfortable or not, we are all sexual beings. We pay a high price when we don’t talk about sex because being able to talk about sex is crucial in couple relationships as well as helping children navigate the journey to sexual maturity.
We’ve all seen those awkward moments on TV, and in the movies, where a child asks their parent a question relating to sex and the parent, taken off guard, comes up with a vague funny answer. We laugh at these scenes, but the reality is miscommunication in teaching children about sexual health is no laughing matter. John Chirban stated that, “The fact is, sex is one of the most important, but least talked about subjects in parenting” (2007, xiv). Some parents do not talk sex with their child because they are afraid that discussing sex will make the child more curious about risky sexual behavior. However, Jill Manning, a therapist who specializes in pornography addiction, suggests children who have not been taught about sex by their parents are MORE likely to experiment with risky sexual behavior (2010). Manning also suggests that children prefer to hear about sexuality from their parents over other resources (2008).
When parents choose to not talk about sex with their child they are leaving their child to interpret sexual information outside of the context of their parent’s value system. And unfortunately, much of what is conveyed in the media objectifies human bodies, places too much value on visual stimuli, devalues human nature, and promotes selfish sexual behavior. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines sexual health as, “. . . a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity” (2006, para. 4). If parents do not teach their children about sexual health, who will?
Recently, I ran across some research by Drs. John and Julie Gottman concerning couples and their sexuality. They suggest that couples who can comfortably talk about sex with each other are significantly more satisfied sexually than couples who are not able to talk comfortably about sex (Gottman & Gottman, 2013). I couldn’t help but think that learning how to discuss sexuality comfortably in a couple relationship starts with whether or not sexuality was comfortably discussed within the homes of each partner in the relationship. Children need to know that their parents are at ease when talking about sex and comfortable setting boundaries on what appropriate sexual behavior is. This helps children develop into sexually mature adults.
Convinced that you need to talk about sex with your children, but are not sure where to start? There are many books on the market to help aid you in the task. Most library systems and bookstores have several books on this topic on their shelves. Skim through the content of the books to see if there is a good fit for your belief system. It is also a good idea to talk with other parents in your faith system or school or play groups about resources that they have found helpful. I like What’s Love Got to do with it: Talking with Your Kids about Sex by John Chirban. Chirban does a good job addressing not only the physical aspects of sex, but also the spiritual, social, emotional, and relational aspects of sex. However I also understand that this book may not be a good fit for everyone. It is important that as a parent you use resources that fit your value system.
Chirban, J. (2007). What’s love got to do with it: Talking with your kids about sex? Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.
Gottman, J., & Gottman, J. (2013). The art and science of lovemaking. Seattle, WA: The Gottman Institute, Inc.
Manning, J. (2008). What’s the big deal about pornography?. Ann Arbor, MI: Shadow Mountain.
Manning, J. (2010). Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. Audiobook. Deseret Book.
World Health Organization. (2006). Defining sexual health. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/topics/sexual_health/sh_definitions/en/