Sunday, October 7, 2012

Sex Ed - talking to your children about masturbation

A tricky topic has been on my mind lately, but as it is in my nature to overshare, I am going to go there anyway. If nothing else, it might get some good debate going.

What message do you give your children about masturbation? And how could that message affect their future inherent, subconscious perceptions of sex and orgasm as something natural and God-given, or something dirty and to be ashamed about?

What message did your parents or church give you about masturbation, and what impact has it had on you and on your marriage intimate relationship with your spouse?

This starts from an early age. Toddlers and young children touch their genitals, and the general reaction of parents is to say "Stop touching yourself!" What message does this give to the child, and can this be the start of an unspoken idea that good feelings 'down there' are shameful and wrong? Is it not better to restrain your initial gut-reaction and instead to take the child aside and calmly explain to them that while we understand that it feels good to touch themselves, and that mommy and daddy do it too sometimes, that this is something intimate that we do in private and not in public or in front of others. It can also be a good opportunity to have a broader age-appropriate discussion about sex and marriage. Also, that no-one else should be allowed to touch them there, and that they should tell mommy and daddy, or a teacher, if an adult or another child ever tries to do so.

Very importantly, does your message differ for your sons and daughters? I think there is a general feeling out there that is more tolerant of boys masturbating, given the biological imperative for a turnover in semen stocks, than it is for girls. Can this contribute to the negative perceptions that many young Christian girls are brought up to have about sex and their genitals, to the detriment of their future intimate relationship with their husbands, and their ability to experience and enjoy orgasm?

And at what age should you be talking to your children about this issue? Chances are, you need to do it much earlier than you think especially if you plan to wait until the teenage years. I was eleven when I first discovered masturbation for myself, by chance, after having become aroused while reading a romance novel from my mother's bookshelf (I was a voracious reader as a child, reading anything I could lay my hands on). I had no idea what had happened to me, just that it felt really good, and for the next year and a bit I continued experimenting in a mixture of excitement and confusion until at age thirteen I finally came across a description of masturbation while reading (again!) a human biology book in our local public library. My parents had given me a sex-ed book to read when I was twelve ("Here, read this and ask dad if you have any questions..." :), but it was incredibly elementary and conveniently ignored any contentious issues like masturbation and orgasm, so had left me even more confused. 

I asked C whether her mom ever spoke to her about masturbating, and she also says not, similar to me the sum-total of her parental sex-ed was a book left waiting on her bedside table one afternoon for her to read! She discovered masturbation from an article she came across in the Cosmopolitan!

That was the early 80's and thankfully there are some fantastic Christian-based books available today to assist parents with having age appropriate discussions with their children about sex, including masturbation, but please have a think about my series of questions posed above, and decide for yourself how to best address these questions with your own children. It is important, as the consequences can be potentially enduring and damaging for their marriages one day.