It’s not easy to wade through the messages out there about sex.
Gathering information from magazines, sitcoms, billboards and fragmented adult inferences would leave anyone fuzzy about what exactly sex even is. Coming of age in this high tech, fast-paced environment is even more complex. Add in peers and porn, and it becomes even more muddled for the younger generation.
A recent study about teenage girls and sex revealed that girls are having sex more than ever before—and often rough sex. The article states that oral sex is today what sneaking to have a cigarette was forty years ago. It also reports that boys are trying things they learned or saw in porn and are surprised when girls aren’t into it.
It’s honestly all a bit shocking. What is the world coming to when instead of shaving their legs, middle school girls are getting Brazilian waxes? What is going on when girls don’t value their bodies and their sexuality, and at 11 they are sending nude photos via text message?
While I am disheartened—as were most of the other readers—I know that we can do better:
There is a huge opening for us to do things differently. We can teach children differently than we were taught.
Studies show that the more open we are about sexuality—its power and its joy—the more likely children are to value it and wait longer to share it. As parents, aunts and uncles and community members, we are not powerless here. We are being called to a higher order—to help shape a positive sexual future for our children and therefore our planet.
Before we can pretend to impart any wisdom about sexuality, we have to address our own shame and do our own healing.
That’s an ongoing process; we don’t have to be perfect. Our children—and I mean our collective children—feel who we are more than they hear what we say. They will listen to us when they feel that we have something to offer. They will listen when we speak from our hearts and from our sex about our real experiences, in the past and right now. Being righteous won’t help. Whether we think things are right or wrong makes no impact on the fact that they are happening. Children need our heartfelt honesty to be able to understand where our fear or indignation is coming from.
Healing sexual shame is no small task. We live in a sex negative culture, where even admitting our sexual natures can be confronting for many people. Sex is something private—for behind closed doors. But the repercussions of that are vast: teenage pregnancies, incoherent behavior (teenage mothers advocating for celibacy) and a reliance on the internet as a source for information. Making your intimate life a priority will have ripple effects on how the youth of the next generation relate to and love one another.
We can create a sex positive culture.
We owe it to our children to help them make their way through the confusion we have contributed in creating. Together we can create a safe space for conversation that is more alluring than the internet. Most people spend hours a day using social media outlets and text messages to satisfy the craving to be connected. We can set examples for our children by authentically relating in all arenas—including sex.
Besides living your fullest, most expressed erotic life, here are some tangible ways that you can ensure that porn is not the sex educator for the next generation:
1. As a trusted elder, friend, aunt or uncle, talk openly and ask open-ended questions to the children in your life. You might be thinking, how do I do this without being creepy? To start, be authentic. If you are feeling awkward, say that: “I am feeling awkward bringing this up, but I just read an article about kids learning about sex through porn and I was wondering what you know about that.”
2. Rather than having the dreaded “Talk,” sprinkle facts about sex into your conversations. This sends the message that sex doesn’t have to be a totally separate topic to address, with special circumstances and a big lead-in. Your child will let you know when is enough. They will change the subject, leave the room, or get super quiet. Respect those cues.
3. Talk to young women about how they feel about their bodies, their menstrual cycles and their social lives. Share your own stories. (I recently taught a sexuality class where every single one of the women had sought advice from a female role model when they started to feel sexual pressure. They were all met with some variation of “all boys want is sex. Don’t do it.” All they were asking for was how to deal with the attention and attraction.)
4. Find ways to experience and extend healthy touch. Most of us are starved for touch. Many of us are starved for intimacy. Learning to how to ask for and enjoy these simple exchanges opens up the palette of touch. We can share this touch with friends and family. This could be foot massages, back rubs or playing with each other’s hair.
5. Be honest about how you view sexuality. What does sex mean to you? Is it something that you share with a select few? Is it something exciting that you experiment with? What do you learn about yourself through your sex life? Sex is not one thing, and it should not be one thing for everyone. How you feel about sex is what you have been taught, the messages you have been given and an accumulation of your life experiences. Stay open about what sex means for other people.
6. Create circles where women come together with girls and men come together with boys. These can be creative and project-oriented, or thematic-based. Everything doesn’t have to be about the topic “sex.” Opportunities for healthy, soulful connection are often what we are looking for, and we think sex will give it to us.
7. Share your own stories about things you wish you had known or things you wish you could do differently. Focus more on the details of the story (at an age appropriate level) than the moral of the story. Let the child draw their own conclusions. I can’t imagine how my life would have changed if the older women in my life had shared some about their first sexual experiences, how they were affected by them and what they would have done differently. I could have chosen the women that I identified with and imagined myself in their positions, and then taken that with me on a visceral level in my own choices. I am sure that knowledge would have stayed with me.
Together, we can guide our youth towards healthy and fulfilling sexual explorations.
Author: Kimberly Johnson
Editor: Toby Israel
Photo: Chrisjtse at Flickr