From What's Love Got To Do With It? and Talking With Your Kids about Sex
Dr. Phil has invited Dr. Chirban to join on shows to discuss his books, What's Love Got To Do With It? and How to Talk With Your Kids about Sex. Dr. Chirban's research draws on over 50,000 respondents to a survey on sex education and its role in families, schools, and personal stories. The central question asked of respondents was "How would you characterize your sex education?"
Sources of Sex Education – Regaining the Parent Role
"Eighty percent of my sex ed from my boyhood friends. Another ten percent came from what used to be called 'dirty books,' and another five percent from a mixture of military films about sexually transmitted diseases and barracks-wall porn flicks. The final five percent came from my first sexual partner."
Noticeably absent in this description is parental involvement. The use of percentages as a way to organize information reinforces the sense that this person's sources of information about sex were, largely removed from a nurturing atmosphere that could put sexual facts within a values-rich context.
Sexual education happens in many ways, and parents won't be a part of all of it. For instance, it is common and normal for boys to share their ideas about sex. But parents have a vital role to play in providing their child with a safe haven where information gathered from possibly dubious sources can be discussed and evaluated.
"What I learned about sex, I learned in school. My mother never sat down with me to talk about the birds and the bees. All she ever told me was 'Now you can get pregnant,' when I started menstruating."
"I received minimal sex education in school. My mom was terrified when it came to talking to us. She had me and my brother young, so she was scared the cycle of having sex early would continue with us."
Just like their children, parents are often reluctant to talk about sex because they simply feel embarrassed. But, as these responses to the survey suggest, parents sometimes carry another inhibition: fear. Caregivers' fear can stem from anxiety over what they might learn about their child or over anxiety about what they might inadvertently encourage. The unconscious hope seems to be that if nothing is said, nothing bad will happen.
Embarrassment and fear over sex are common – a little bit of both can probably be expected! But we must learn how not to let our anxieties stifle conversation. The best way to avoid real unhappiness in your family adn possibly harmful situations for your children is through effective communication. Silence teaches silence. Most likely, if you do not talk to your children, they will not talk to you when they have questions, concerns, or real problems. Talking teaches your kids the value of communication and trust. Parents who communicate honestly with their children equip them to make the choices that are best for themselves.
"I feel my parents were thoughtless about the way they introduced me to sex. They were not evey aware they had done so. This is because they would watch pornography when they thought my brothers and I were sleeping. That is how I first learned of sex. Due to this, my first introduction was chaotic. Fortunately, I did find a clearer definition of sex from sex ed at school and through my own research. The most difficult was learning that real-life sex has very little relation to the sex you see in pornography."
We live in a highly sexualized culture. Particularly because of the Internet, pornography has become quite common, and much of its sexual content has little connection to reality. Real tenderness, complex emotions, respect for physical and emotional vulnerabilities – such aspects of sex tend to be absent in pornographic materials. Ironically, while pornography misses much of what makes sex integral to a healthy person it gives far too much "information" in other ways. Its usually exclusive focus on the body can give a young person a distorted idea of what sex must be, as it did for the respondent. Whatever one's opinion about the acceptability of pornography for adults, realistic sexual information needs to be introduced gradually to young people, in line with their emotional and intellectual maturation.
Well-Educated And Well-Guided
"I grew up middle-class and church-going. I had a two-parent family household to help guide my choices. My religious exposure gave me a moral compass as to how to approach sexual contact with a man, and while I didn't always follow it, my beliefs have brought me to a place that I feel comfortable and safe in my choices. I have that to guide me."
One does not need to be middle-class and church-going or have a two-parent family to be sexually healthy. But this answer to the survey does show the general importance of family and values to a healthy sexuality. A child whose understanding of sex emerges out of a sense of caring guidance from parents, and out of organizations which are part of the family's value system, such as a religious organization, is empowered to make choices about sex that are integrated into her life and attend to her health. As this respondent indicates in her answer, loving sex education from an early age provides the compass that can guide a child throughout his or her life.