Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sex Education

My younger son's school recently hosted a talk for parents related to the sex seminars our 5th graders will receive next week.  Fred Kaeser, EdD, author of What Your Child Needs To Know About Sex (And When), provided a straight-forward look at how to talk to our kids about sex, with an emphasis on becoming an approachable parent - someone with whom kids are comfortable discussing embarrassing questions.

He explained that kids are growing up faster than ever and are exposed to more sexual messages at younger and younger ages (which is why he asserts that "10 is the new 16").  The earlier you establish a dialogue with your child, the longer you will have to find natural teachable moments and impart the values you think are important in an authentic (not lecturing) way before peer influence outweighs parental influence and before your child is actually in the midst of grappling with sexual feelings.

His number one lesson is that love, respect, and trust are the three most important words about sex.  Sex can good be great if all three are present, but without them, sex can devastate your life (via violence/abuse, unwanted pregnancy, STDs, betrayal, etc.).  It takes time to develop the kind of close relationship that naturally progresses into sexual intimacy, just as it takes time to develop a best friend.

He urged parents to talk about the body changes that are part of puberty, of course, but also about the various levels of sexual activity (including masturbation - a safe and completely normal form of sexual expression; kissing; touching; undressing; intercourse - vaginal, oral, anal).  He is concerned about the rising incidents of sexual harassment/bullying among school-age kids and encouraged parents to talk about different orientations (gay, lesbian, transgender).  He recognized that these talks will be embarrassing for kids, and said that parents must persist -- eventually the hands will come off the ears.

Kids should be encouraged to pay attention to that "uh-oh" feeling - it is a sixth sense, a sign that you should stop.  No one should have to do something that makes them uncomfortable, whether it is pure exploitation or just an unhealthy relationship or behavior (e.g. "rainbow parties").

The goal is to be comfortable with sexuality and to avoid risky behaviors (the younger you start, the more partners, the more risk -- and other risky behaviors like alcohol or drugs help increase the risk).  Sexual feelings are incredibly powerful - that's why one thing so often leads to another.

For parents who think their kids aren't yet interested in the opposite sex or already know everything they need to know, he suggested parents take a look at his list of questions from 5th graders.

So I had all this in mind when I read today's New York Times article How Do We Talk About This?  When Children See Internet Pornography.  While our family has some controls to unlimited web surfing in place, there is no doubt in my mind that eventually my sons will stumble - intentionally or not - across porn.  I worry that porn will give them an unrealistic view of sex, not just like the boy in the article who wondered why women like to be choked, but about what's normal and expected.  So clearly that will have to be part of our ongoing discussion.

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