Making home a 'safe zone' for sexuality questions

Making home a 'safe zone' for sexuality questions

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SALT LAKE CITY — When it comes to memorable conversations with youngsters, many parents are faced with questions related to sexuality and collectively report experiencing themselves going from a fun-loving, approachable parent to some tongue-tied, flushed-face, panicky version, where all they can think of is changing the subject or making it from the living room to the back door in record-breaking speeds.

Following are some tips to help parents avoid further utilizing the old “bolt-for-the-door” technique and make the home a place for questions.

1. Check yourself before you wreck your child’s healthy sexual development

Use that old rap song to help you take a walk down memory lane and identify just what experiences, cultural messages, misinformation — or perhaps lack of accurate information — may have contributed to you not feeling the most secure with the topic.

Just like you, your child is going to be faced with situations over the years that create a healthy curiosity about their body, how they relate to their peers, and about their body’s natural sexual development. There is no time like the present to become aware of where your own discomfort may be coming from and ask yourself what you may need to feel more at ease with this topic. If the goal is for your children to feel comfortable talking to you about sexuality, this is an invaluable place to start.

2. Learn the lingo

Familiarize yourself with ways of discussing your youngster’s relationship to their body, peer relationships, sexual development, and what it all means to them — at all stages. Every age deserves its own dialogue. It’s no question that chatting with your 4-year-old about why it’s best to keep her underwear on when she’s at pre-school is going to sound a lot different from the conversation with your 16-year-old about her developing sexual interest and the necessity of consent.

Sexually active or not, youth are in the midst of migrating a difficult and complex territory and it is possible to teach them that they can bring their questions home.

3. Let it be complicated

As much as parents would love for the subject of sexuality to be simple, it is not. For example, a teenager actively developing insight in their ongoing, happening-whether-you-like-it-or-not sexual development is different from deciding to be sexually active. Do everything you can to not lump all things sex into one giant bucket of fear, discomfort and shame.

4. Get real with current social media

It is no secret that social media is integral in the lives of youth today. When it comes to sexuality, social media opens up avenues for mild flirting up to the parents’ ever-feared “sexting.” Familiarize yourself with the most up-to-date social media and frequently have open discussions not only about how they feel they are relating to their peers, but exactly how they are doing the relating.

Sites like Your Sphere – For Parents can be helpful in keeping in the loop.

5. Make no assumptions

I have repeatedly found in my counseling practice that one of the most difficult experiences a child or teen can have is their own parent talking to them as if they are without sexual experience, when that is not the case. It can be even more heartbreaking when the experience was unwanted and they are in desperate need for comfort, guidance and answers.

Sexually active or not, youth are in the midst of migrating a difficult and complex territory and it is possible to teach them that they can bring their questions home.

6. Speak about sexuality as a concept versus behaviors

Al Vernacchio, a high school sexuality educator, writes in his book, “We’re whole people with bodies, brains, emotions and spirits. All of those things are part of our sexuality.”

How much more affirming would it be if throughout your child’s upbringing, they were fully aware of the roles their brain, emotions and spirit play in their sexual development and experience? Imagine how much more equipped they would be to traverse the confusing and complicated sexual journey.


7. Consent is everything

More important than your discomfort about your child engaging sexually is your child’s ability to know where they stand, why they stand there, and have the skills to exercise their irrefutable right to consent. Most teenagers have heard what they “should” and “shouldn’t” be doing within the sexual realm; but what they don’t hear is how to skillfully set and respect boundaries.

Also, familiarize yourself with the various ways to teach your little ones — every single age — to know about setting physical boundaries and when to come talk to you if a situation makes him or her uncomfortable.

8. Speak through unconditional love

Due to an overwhelming “all-or-nothing” mindset in our culture when it comes to sex, countless youth are swarmed with an “all is lost” mentality after a premature or impulsive sexual encounter.

In these moments they need to know that they are no less worthy of being loved and it is part of healthy development to learn from difficult experiences as these leads to wisdom and more responsible decisions in the future. It may be helpful to familiarize yourself with the difference between supportive guidance and shame-based speeches. You don’t have to alter your beliefs, however, you may need to alter the way you express them if you want your child to be receptive to your view.

It’s amazing to experience youth connecting the dots and see the relief in their face that they don’t have to figure this out alone. Even more inspiring is when parents display immense amounts of love in their willingness to face their own discomfort in order to help their child grow and heal. How ideal would it be for parents to feel confident that they have created a place in their home where difficult questions can be asked? It is never too late to start.

Kristin Bennion, LCSW, is a therapist at Intimate Connections Counseling, LLC, where she treats issues related to intimacy, sexuality, eating disorders, and other relationship and mood concerns. Visit for information.

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