Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

Sexuality and the Whole Person


I was recently talking with a group of college students, and I asked them, “If you could tell parents anything about what kids need to know about sexuality, what would it be?”

What they said was interesting. In a nutshell, here were their responses:

  1. Your children want to talk to you about sex and their sexuality. The college students said that they wish so much that their parents had known that they, as kids, really wanted to be able to talk with them about issues of sexuality. They didn’t want to be handed a book, with no discussion. They didn’t want to be told, “Don’t have sex,” with no further discussion. They wanted to feel safe in coming to their parents and asking questions and sharing their confusion.
  2. Don’t lecture, listen. These young adults reminisced on the times they had either been able to come to their parents to ask questions, or the times they hadn’t. Many said that if they brought up sexuality at all, they were given a lecture on the spot, or presented later with a well-rehearsed talk. What they missed was the ability to just have an open conversation with their parents. One student said, “I would’ve been okay with my parents saying that they didn’t really know much about that issue either, or that it made them uncomfortable, as long as we could have shared our thoughts together.”
  3. Sexuality needs to be put into context. The college students I talked with said that when they were just given “the talk” about sexual intercourse, but didn’t have the chance to understand how their sexuality functioned as a part of their person, the information just didn’t sink in. One student said, “You don’t have to plan one big talk about sexuality. It would be easier if you discussed it as the topic came up in different situations. It needs to be talked about a lot and from the time a child is young.”

What I walked away from this conversation with was the idea that I’ve heard again and again from adolescents and young adults. And it’s this: sexuality functions within the context of the whole person. Kids need to see that they were made as a beautiful, complete person, and a piece of that is their sexuality. When we begin with a continual discussion of what makes them unique and how it’s their job and our job to respect and protect that precious person, we can then move into the concept of sharing oneself. From telling your secrets to holding hands to kissing, you are sharing yourself with another person. Perhaps if we begin our discussion on sexuality with appreciating oneself, that idea of sharing yourself becomes more salient. Instead of saying, “Don’t have sex,” maybe what we should be saying is, “Don’t share yourself in any way with someone without thinking about the repercussions.”

With each conversation that I have with kids, each study I conduct, each paper or book that I read, I become more convinced that understanding and approaching sexuality within the context of identity is critical. This is what allows an open flow of conversation, understanding that we are hoping to instill in the kids the idea that before they share themselves with another person in ANY way, they need to feel confident in who they are and what will come of that relationship. Maybe taking this approach also relieves some of the awkwardness of having “the talk.” Instead of doing that, you’re having a lot of small talks whenever you can, presenting and confirming their worth as an individual, and asking what decisions they need to make to respect and protect themselves. Within that context, talking about sexuality is a natural fit, and not a one time shot.

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This entry was posted on November 1, 2010 by in Talking and tagged , , , .
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