Fresh Ideas: Having the ‘talk’ is more important than ever
For the Nevada Appeal
It’s taken me months to gather the courage to write about this topic. It’s not easy for most of us to talk with our children about sex. And, it’s certainly not easy to write about it, to mostly strangers no less. But, I have pushed myself to do it, and this is why: it’s really important. More important than it used to be.
If you are a parent, grandparent, a teacher or doctor of a teen, then you grew up in a time when most of us either got “the talk,” or, didn’t get the talk (we got nothing at all). We muddled our way through learning about sexuality. In today’s sexualized social media and Internet-pornography infused world, it’s simply too dangerous to handle the sexual education of our children like our parents did.
The statistics are frightening. A recent study of college students in Britain found about 60 percent of students had searched Internet pornography for at least “some of their sexual education.” Estimates are about 70 percent of American boys, as young as 10 years old, are watching pornography regularly. Some are getting addicted to it. It takes about 45 seconds for an average middle or high school student to access pornography on the Internet. Most of the pornography being watched contains little to no intimacy and is filled with extreme and exploitive acts that most of us wouldn’t want our children imitating. Music videos, video games, magazines, and song lyrics, provide a constant message about the importance of being sexual and of young women portraying themselves as “sexy.”
When adults do talk with children about their sexuality, we tend to talk with them about safety issues and prevention of pregnancy. Research in the last five years is emerging, and it tells us we’re missing some really important topics in our sexual education: respecting each other, reciprocity, relationships building, sensuality, and the ethics of sexuality. We forget to say women are also entitled to sexual pleasure.
If we don’t talk with our children about the importance of intimacy and mutual pleasure, they are left with the messages from social media and Internet sexuality: sex is simply a physical act, sometimes manipulated or forced, with multiple partners, often with casual acquaintances or complete stranger.
These messages are taking a toll on our children. The largest study of American sexuality in decades, published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in 2010 by Indiana University, found increasing numbers of young men are focused solely on their own sexual pleasure and increasing numbers of young men don’t reciprocate sexual intimacy or think of their partner’s pleasure. Instead, increasing numbers of both young men and young women focus simply on the man’s pleasure. And, more females and males than ever before expect females to perform sexual acts that cause them pain.
How do we battle the over-sexualization of our children by social media and Internet pornography: by adults talking to them, a lot. Posters on the East Coast have popped up in recent months that read simply: “Porn kills love.” Tell your children you know they can easily access pornography, but, if they do, they will be damaging their ability to have mutually satisfying, healthy relationships, with real people.
Keep all electronics in the public places in your home and don’t allow “screens” in their bedrooms. Talk with them about the ethics and responsibility of sexuality. But, also talk with them about the joy of sexuality in trusting and respectful relationships where both people are heard and equally valued. If you want your children to delay sexuality until marriage, these messages are equally important within the context of marriage.
Research indicates the younger, and more often, parents, teachers and doctors talk with children about sexuality, the less likely young people are to have early sex, to have multiple partners, and to have unwanted pregnancy. The more likely they are to develop emotional intimacy in their relationships. In preparing myself for writing this article I listened to an excellent Ted Talk by Dr. Phillip Zimbardo called “The demise of guys.” You can listen to it for free at Ted.com. Another excellent free talk called, “Girls: Sex and the importance of talking to young women about pleasure,” can be heard at npr.org.
It’s going to be hard to get ourselves to have these talks. But, we must.
Lisa Keating, Ph.D., is a Carson City clinical psychologist.