Dr. Jennifer W. Shewmaker

Parent, Teacher, Author

Healthy Sexuality and Children

How To Model Healthy Sexuality for Our Daughters : Ms Magazine Blog.

In the article linked above, Joyce McFadden, psychoanalyst and author of Your Daughter’s Bedroom: Insights for Raising Confident Women, shares some practical tips for modeling healthy sexuality for our children. She talks specifically about daughters, but I think that these tips are equally important for parents of boys.  Specifically, she advocates doing the following:

  • teaching children about their anatomy from the time they are little
  • answering honestly any question they ask
  • explaining menstruation in the years before your daughter would likely start
  • as children grow into adolescents, discussing issues of safe sex and discussing the emotional components of sexuality–like mutual respect, an understanding that the pleasure of both partners in any physical relationship is important, encouraging them to listen to their own instincts

It’s vital to keep conversations about sexuality open, honest, and natural. Some of you may have children who are uncomfortable talking about sexuality. Some of this may stem from your own discomfort, but other times it’s a result of the child’s temperament or their ambiguous feelings about growing up in the first place. If you find yourself in this situation, here are some practical tips you might try:

1. Take it a little at a time.  There’s no need for one big week-end that you take out-of-town to have “the talk.” Instead try addressing issues of sexuality in natural moments. For example, when you see a pregnant woman, you can begin talking about how a woman’s body is made to carry a baby. This can be when a child is young and doesn’t even have to go into how the woman got pregnant to begin with. Don’t feel like you have to tackle everything at once, just commit to taking opportunities as they present themselves.

2. Talk about sexuality in terms of relationships. For example, you can use the idea of a hug as an example of physical closeness. I’ve used this with children who are reluctant to talk about sexuality. I’ll say something like, “You know how when you hug someone you care about, it feels good and makes you both feel closer to each other?” then we talk about how sometimes people try to force a hug on you, and it doesn’t feel good, how we don’t feel comfortable hugging just anyone, and so forth. There are a lot of ways to use the hug as an example of physical affection that also applies to sexuality in general and to sexual behaviors. It feels non-threatening to those reluctant children, and then you can build up the conversation to include other forms of affection, gradually leading into discussing intercourse.

3. Don’t be afraid to share your own experiences. Be honest about your own decisions in an age appropriate way and how you felt about them. Was that first kiss something that was special or did it feel forced? Where their ways that you wish you’d protected your self more physically or emotionally? Maybe you wish that you’d been more honest with your feelings in a certain relationship. We all have unique experiences that can benefit our child if we’re willing to share them.

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