Kids and Sexuality: It’s Time to Stop Walking on Eggshells

child blowing on dandelionWhen we think of sex therapy, we generally assume this takes place with (and is for) adults or couples. This neglects the importance of helping our children understand sexuality and their bodies.

If you are a parent, an aunt or uncle, or a much older sibling, you know that when it comes to the subject of sex and children, we walk around on eggshells. Children are sexual beings from the day they are born, though, and in depriving them of sexual knowledge and their own natural expressions we do them an injustice, often stunting their sexual development and growth.

We worry about overstimulation: that we are somehow being voyeuristic when we encourage kids to talk about sex. We worry that we might encourage or victimize them by educating and informing them. As educators, we worry about not having the parental permission. We assume, also, that many children live in a world where they are protected from sexually explicit material. I think we know that even the most protected child is exposed to sexual material in one form or another. Parents cannot monitor everything, but we can provide kids with tools to make informed choices and to process what they see, hear, and read.

It’s important to recognize that children are sexual beings. Children explore their bodies alone and with each other. This is normal behavior and should not be shamed or shunned. I am referring here to masturbation and mutual exploration (i.e. playing “doctor” or “house.”) Please note: I am not referring to sexual play between two or more youths of disparate age, or an adult with a child. Age is key here. A child is naturally inquisitive and curious about his or her body; an older individual should not exploit this. It is important to know, however, that same-age or close-in-age peer exploration is a part of natural and normal sexual development.

It’s important to recognize that children are sexual beings. Children explore their bodies alone and with each other. 

An example I make is of two girls, age 8, who are found being sexual in bed. The parents decide to punish the girls, separating them from future play dates. The parents are confused and shocked, perceiving this behavior to be wrong.

It is important to know, also, that exploration is often done with a peer of the same sex.

Punishment and shunning of normal and natural behaviors, including masturbation, may lead to shame and guilt about sexuality in adulthood, and confusion and embarrassment throughout development.

A great book to read on this matter is Sex, Therapy, and Kids: Addressing Their Concerns Through Talk and Play, by Sharon Lamb. If you are feeling ill-equipped, under-informed, or worrisome about talking about sex, it is important to know that when we’re silent, kids aren’t getting the adult guidance and help they need.

When we are silent in response to sexual material brought up by children, we mimic and reproduce the world the child is exposed to every day, one that excites and confuses him or her and provides little space for processing. As adults, it is important for us to take the lead and teach.

Seeking a trained psychotherapist in the area of sexuality can also be a great place to start.

© Copyright 2011 by Mou Wilson. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Allan

    Allan

    January 13th, 2011 at 1:14 PM

    The presence of sex in media in general is only increasing over the years and hence it is very important that parents make their children aware of the things associated with it.

  • molly

    molly

    January 13th, 2011 at 4:21 PM

    some things need to be communicated to kids and some others ommited.there needs to be a definition of where the line must bee drawn.I say this because recently the UK or some other country recently prescribed a very adult thing for fifth graders in their sex Ed class!

  • beatrice

    beatrice

    January 13th, 2011 at 5:51 PM

    I have a question please. What does “of disparaging age” mean? I don’t understand your use of that word in that context.

  • Joanne

    Joanne

    January 13th, 2011 at 6:35 PM

    If I found two eight year olds in bed like that I would be horrified too and do exactly what the parents did! Just out of curiosity, what would have been a better response to that?

  • Astrid

    Astrid

    January 14th, 2011 at 11:36 AM

    I don’t care if my children see sex around them in music videos and so on, I will not be addressing sex with them out of the blue! When they are old enough to ask me questions, I’ll answer them but I’m sure not going to bring it up and frighten the life out of them at too young an age.

  • Hal

    Hal

    January 14th, 2011 at 2:18 PM

    I think the more kids know about sex, the more likely they are to experiment sexually. Sex education in schools has a lot to answer for. It encourages them.

  • christie

    christie

    January 14th, 2011 at 3:17 PM

    I disagree. Sex education is the best thing that’s ever happened to modern day kids! It’s make them more aware of how easy it is to get pregnant and also avoid doing so for a start. Older kids have always had sex and they have never been as well informed about the consequences of that. Information is power.

  • Whitney

    Whitney

    January 14th, 2011 at 4:32 PM

    Kids will experiment. It’s natural. Having a class or a talk about it won’t make it happen more. That’s nonsense.

  • Jasper

    Jasper

    January 15th, 2011 at 12:37 PM

    A quick question to all the objectors that are so outraged: you never played doctor when you were children? I find that very hard to believe. Maybe you protest too much, eh? A guilty conscience will make you do that LOL. Kidding. :) But that kind of guilt carried into adulthood is exactly why children should be spoken to about sexual feelings. They need to know it’s not a dirty little secret but a normal part of maturing.

  • Nikki G

    Nikki G

    January 16th, 2011 at 10:38 AM

    Thanks so much for the book recommendation. My daughter is a tween and I have been struggling for the best way to talk to her about some of these things but have had no idea of how to get started. I am hoping that with the right reading material I will get some clues as to the best way to reach her with the information that I need to give her.

  • eva

    eva

    January 17th, 2011 at 8:11 PM

    Proper guidance is the most important.kids later on will explore and as parents we just here to guide them. we can not control it on our own because now kids can easily access on the internet on their own.so proper advise is a must.

  • Kevin

    Kevin

    January 19th, 2011 at 12:05 PM

    Let me recommend the wonderful book, “Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex But Were Afraid They Would Ask?” It offers many good suggestions for talking to children about sex, regardless of the age of the child. It has been a wonderful resource to give to parents.

    Of course kids are sexual from birth on, and it is incumbent on the adults in their lives to get up to speed on how best to acknowledge and respect that fact. In spite of the poor sexual upbringing that most of us had.

    Experimentation is of course going to go on, and we can gently help kids develop good boundaries and respect for healthy time and place.

  • Moushumi Ghose

    Moushumi Ghose

    February 11th, 2011 at 9:02 PM

    Disparaging age means a big difference in age, only because there is less likely to be an illegitimate coercion or force within two kids close in age, and even if there is some form of intimidation it is not necessary for a parent to intervene when it is same age peer-to-peer as this could deprive the child of learning necessary social skills. Disparaging age in sexual play could suggest coercion, force, intimidation and abuse which should not be tolerated.

  • Moushumi Ghose

    Moushumi Ghose

    February 11th, 2011 at 9:04 PM

    Unfortunately kids will learn about sex whether we teach it to them in school or not, The media is infiltrated with sex images, and at school, in the neighborhood and anywhere else sex is on the minds of many kids and teens and yes, they are talking about it with your child. You can choose whether or not to provide an open environment to discuss these things with your child or not, but your silence might send an even more harmful message down the road, one that suggests sex is naughty, dirty, should not be discussed.

  • Moushumi Ghose

    Moushumi Ghose

    February 11th, 2011 at 9:09 PM

    A great podcast to listen to is Dan Savage interviewing Amy Lang. She wrote Birds, Bees and Kids. It’s all about the appropriate way to talk to kids about sex. thestranger.com/seattle/SavageLovePodcast/Page/ episode #224.

    As parents you should not expect yourself to get it right every time. You are allowed to stumble and make mistakes too when it comes to talking to your kids about sex. It’s not easy and no one gets to be an expert at it the first time around. So, just relax and go easy on yourself. Just being available for your child is the most important.

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