By Anita Anand
It is important for parents to impart values and provide information to their children that will enable them to handle their sexuality as they grow up.
Susan Sontag, writer and poet, puts it rather poetically and yet graphically, “Tamed as it may be, sexuality remains one of the demonic forces in human consciousness. It pushes us at intervals close to taboo and dangerous desires, which range from the impulse to commit sudden arbitrary violence upon another person, to the voluptuous yearning for the extinction of one’s consciousness, for death itself. Even on the level of simple physical sensation and mood, making love surely resembles having an epileptic fit at least as much as, if not more than, it does eating a meal or conversing with someone.” Sexuality is the quality or state of being sexual. How do we become sexual beings? Are we taught this in the institutions we have grown in – home, school, religion or society? Unlike training to become lawyers, doctors or any other profession, there is little preparation for women and men to be sexual beings. It is assumed that it is something they will learn from their environment. But do they?
With easy access to Internet, information on sex and sexuality is a boon and a curse. Young people can get any information on the net. When I was growing up, I sought and read Masters and Johnson in the local library to educate myself. Sex was always discussed in hushed tones and there was no place to get proper information or guidance on contraception or intercourse. Where it was, it was clinical. The sexual experience was mostly trial and error. Our parents didn’t and couldn’t guide us because they didn’t have the skills or the vocabulary. For many families today, this is still true. As adults, the search for healthy sexuality has meant reading, witnessing and striving to understand our own sexuality. It doesn’t come naturally, as many think. “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it,” says Rumi. Some of these barriers go back to our childhood as Freud theorised. To uncover these we need self-awareness and therapies to break out of those barriers we have created.
One of the hardest tasks of parenthood, but also one of the most important and rewarding, is teaching a child about sexuality. What do I say? When do I start? I say start when the questions come – and they come as young as when children can speak. Answer to the point and as truthfully as you can. Don’t give too much or too little information. This challenge is also an opportunity to get in touch with your own sexuality.Think about your own early curiosity about sex. What did you want to know? How did you find answers to your questions? What do you wish had been different about your education or experiences? You may remember that much of what you learned from friends, or pieced together yourself, often turned out to be untrue. Even though our society probably treats sexuality differently today than when you were a teenager, young people still have many of the same questions and needs that you did.
A dialogue with the young
Children need answers to their questions, to listen, and to help them to form educated opinions and decisions. Start with conversations. In fact, when sexuality is discussed as a part of everyday situations, rather than having the ‘big talk,’ parents (and youth) often find the experience more comfortable. To help you with this, consider the following issues as you guide your children in understanding their sexuality and sexual decisions. Physical changes: Emphasise that changes are normal and happen at different rates for different people. The awkwardness will not last. They also need to know what to expect in terms of a growth spurt, hair growth and menstruation. Parents should also familiarise themselves with, and teach their children the names for sexual organs.
Sexual intercourse: Children wonder exactly what it is, how it feels, and when it is okay to have intercourse. They also need to know the place of intercourse within a loving relationship. Explain that intercourse occurs when a man places his erect penis inside a woman’s vagina, and that this can lead to pregnancy, and it is never okay to have intercourse unless both partners understand the consequences and willingly agree.
Masturbation: Children need to know that this is one way that many people handle their sexual feelings and pressures. If you are uncomfortable addressing this issue, give children leads as to where they can explore this issue on their own. Reassure them that getting familiar and comfortable with their own body, how it functions, and how it responds to touching is a normal part of understanding themselves.
Peer pressure: There are desires and pressures that children feel to become sexually active. They will be tempted in many situations over the course of their adolescent years. Learning to handle sexual feelings and to make mature decisions is part of growing up. Decision-making: One of the most important choices is when to have intercourse. Delaying intercourse until maturity is beneficial for teens, but most of them need help and support to do so. Of course, the teen years are filled with lots of decisions about risky behaviours. Coping with the consequences of good and poor decisions is an important step to maturity.
Values: Both boys and girls feel tremendous pressure to participate in sexual acts from their friends. They fear being ridiculed or rejected by peers. Talk to your children about making responsible decisions as well as the difference between positive and negative popularity. If your children decide to delay having sex, this does not mean that the decision is final. Young people have to make this decision repeatedly, which may become increasingly difficult. Therefore, it is essential to discuss protection and how to use birth control correctly. This is a part of sex education. Some parents fear that discussing contraception will encourage sexual activity, but the opposite is true.Many parents assume that their children know about birth control, where to get it, and how to properly use it. Unfortunately, they may not. Important topics are abstinence, birth control pills, IUD/intrauterine devices, diaphragms, foam, condoms, and natural family planning. Consider speaking about risks of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV/AIDS, when discussing contraception. The most important part of talking to your children about sex and their sexuality is not the facts that you present, but the manner and sincerity with which you deliver those facts. Letting them know your values is very important. Despite how you may sometimes feel, teens still look to parents as an important source of guidance and boundaries. Regardless of what values are taught in the home, young people will consider many attitudes and opinions before they decide on their own sexual values. Be patient and understanding as your children explore and make decisions. Always keep the lines of communication open. In addition, keep the following points in mind:
Listen: All children need to feel that their ideas or concerns about sex are worth listening to.
Look for natural opportunities to talk to your children: Do not wait until they come to you with questions or comments about sex. Take advantage of natural openings to talk about sexuality– television programmes, newspaper stories or incidents with other people. Listen carefully for hidden feelings: Many times children have trouble saying exactly what they mean, especially when it comes to sex.
Do not judge your child: Making harsh judgments or criticising your child’s attitudes about sex will often cut off communication. Expressing feelings freely: Many young people have values or opinions about sex that are different from those of their parents. Remember, these may not be firmly held ideas or values, but only part of the sorting- out process. First, listen to what your child has to say. If you agree, say so. If you disagree, clearly state your own viewpoint and why you feel that way. Open communication: Parents sometimes lose the chance to help their child think and talk about sex because they begin to nag, preach or moralise. Resist the temptation to do this. Your child needs to know that talking about sex is two-way communication. Pose questions to the child that, when they answer, will help make the best decision obvious. Avoid over/under-answering questions: Answer questions directly, in words the child understands. Do not assume that a simple question about sex needs an answer far beyond what was asked. Ask your child to share back with you what they understand has been said.
Help your child develop strong self-esteem: A healthy self-concept is important for teens to make good decisions about sexual issues. A well-known educator said, ‘Hope is the best contraceptive.’ There are good reference books in the market and information on the Internet. First, inform yourself and become comfortable with your own sexuality. Working with children will become easier. If you are uncomfortable, ask a friend to talk to your child. However remember, as a parent and an adult, it is your responsibility . Abdicating this means you are ncomfortable with your own sexuality. Breaking down the barriers around you is the first step. It starts with you.
Anita Anand is a Delhi-based hypnotherapist and crystal healer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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One of the hardest tasks of parenthood, but also one of the most important and rewarding, is teaching a child about sexuality.
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