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Flush all the blushing: Sexuality is a lifelong subject

By Amy Johnson, Sex in the Suburbs

I endure some teasing about being a sexuality educator, seeing things from this perspective and making connections to sexuality that others don’t.

That’s fine. What frustrates me is the belief that we “shouldn’t” talk about sex, or that it’s embarrassing or shameful for grown adults to discuss sexuality in a matter-of-fact manner. I believe we do ourselves and our children a disservice when we confine sexuality discussions to teasing, racy jokes and red faces.

In the classes I facilitate with senior high youth, we put poster paper on the floor with ages on each page, ranging from infancy to adolescence and through old age. We divide the kids into groups, have them start at one age and quickly list how sexuality is expressed at that age. When the timer rings, they move on to the next sheet, so all groups eventually get to all sheets. Not surprisingly, the sheet that is usually the most full is the adolescent one, and occasionally the young adult sheet is a close runner-up. They can relate personally to these stages, plus they have hormones raging through their bodies, MTV, MySpace and their peers, so it’s on their minds.

But sexuality is a lifelong process. Babies and young children are curious about their bodies. It’s adults who let them know whether or not they should be ashamed. And that shame has followed many of us throughout our adolescence and young adulthood right on into parenthood, so we become red-faced and avoidant when the subject comes up.

Although they (and you) may feel some embarrassment, it is actually a relief for most children to know they have parents who understand their feelings. Talking matter-of-factly with your child about their changing bodies, bodily functions and emerging sexual feelings is not equivalent to giving them permission to be sexually active.

Just as you can be angry and expected not to hit someone, you can have sexual feelings and be expected to consider carefully how you will express them. Denying these feelings or calling them “wrong” will only create confusion, guilt, shame and frustration. Is that the kind of spouse or partner you want to raise your child to be?

I’m not saying it is easy. However, if we deny our own sexuality and are uncomfortable with it, we will pass this on to our kids. If this is true for you, get help and figure out how to discuss sexuality in an open and healthy manner.

Read some books like: “Everything You Never Wanted Your Children to Know About Sex But Were Afraid They’d Ask” by Justin Richardson and Mark Schuster; or “The Ten Talks Parents Must Have With Their Children About Sex and Character” by Dominic Cappello and Pepper Schwarz.

Watch “Juno” or “Quinceanera” and decide if that’s a movie that could spark some good discussions with your preteen or teen. Read a romantic novel to reconnect with how it feels to be young and swept away by emotion. And then talk to your children — but more importantly, listen.

Amy Johnson, MSW, is a professional life and parent coach in Federal Way. She facilitates faith and sexuality classes for youth, and parenting classes at the Federal Way Community Center. Contact: comments@diligentjoy.com.

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