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The Most Delicate Subject

March 2014

Mental health workers have long been aware that a great deal of human unhappiness is due to the difficulties most people encounter when they attempt to achieve and sustain sexual satisfaction in close interpersonal relationships. Disturbances in sexual functioning affect every aspect of a person’s life including activities and pursuits far removed from sexual functions. Therefore it is important for you as a parent to focus your attention on this aspect of human experience, both as it relates to you and to your child.

In spite of the many advances made by scientists in the way we understand human sexuality, conventional views of sex still reflect an underlying attitude that perceives it as somehow “dirty” or something that should be hidden. These distorted views, along with the specific attitudes and beliefs you as a parent might have, can damage your child very early in his or her formative years. This damage can be ameliorated by taking time to develop healthy personal and family guidelines to sexuality.

The process of helping your child to develop a healthy orientation toward his body and towards sexuality is difficult first of all because there are almost no road maps provided by our society to help you accomplish the task. Secondly, you face complicated issues in light of society’s restrictive views. However, if you learn to view sex as a natural and simple activity, you will be better equipped to teach your child that his feelings about sex are acceptable, even if others think differently.

Another thing to keep in mind is that when parents are emotionally mature they naturally provide correct support for their child’s developing sexuality. Your beliefs and behaviors, good and bad, will inevitably be determining factors in your child’s sexual development. If you, like the majority of people, grew up in a family that incorporated distorted views about sex, it is inescapable that you will pass on those same biases to your child unless you examine them carefully. Rest reassured, however, that both you and your child will benefit greatly by your doing so.

Take note that children who can talk to their parents about sex are less likely to engage in inappropriate sexual activity and are more responsible in their approach towards sexuality. One Planned Parenthood Survey found 65% of boys and girls aged 15 to 18 reported they could not talk to their parents about sex. They also reported that their parents often had angry reactions to their questions about sex, teased them for being interested in the subject, or put them off entirely.

If you do not feel comfortable talking with your child about sex you can educate yourself about the sexual nature of children and the various stages in their sexual development by reading books on the topic or by talking with a mental health professional. You might feel some personal embarrassment as you approach the issue. Yet if you want to maintain personal communication with your child about sexuality, as well as to be able to answer their questions as straightforwardly as you would about any other topic, then it is important that you take the time to do so.

After all is said and done, how can you communicate constructive attitudes about sex to your child in a forthright manner? You can accomplish this most important task by viewing the emerging sexuality of your child as a natural human function and by learning to respond to your child’s sexuality and questions about sex in a calm and non-dramatic manner. In addition, since sexual experiences are the most fulfilling when they are the outgrowth of affectionate feelings, by your own loving relationship you can teach your child that loving sexual contact combined with genuine friendship in a long-lasting relationship is conducive to good feelings in life, and good mental health as well.

More information on communicating constructive attitudes about sex to your child can be found in the book “Compassionate Child-Rearing,” by Robert W. Firestone, Ph.D.



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