Give the gift of knowledge to support your childs sexual health and safety

A few weeks ago I heard Sherri Sheppard, one of the hosts on The View, wondering out loud what to tell her very young son who had apparently just discovered that rubbing lotion on his genitals felt good.

What an opportunity this presented! Parents can use age-appropriate words to tell a child that their genitals are special places that bring special feelings. These special feelings are for the child to have all by him/herself, and enjoy in private. The conversation can end with “do you have any questions about that?” and the parent can smile, knowing that they’d just cemented one brick into the foundation of sexual health and safety.

There is no more important ‘fact of life’ for a child or teen to understand that this one: Just because their body responds in a reflexive way to stimulation of some kind — even when that response feels good in a lot of ways — does not mean that they ‘wanted’ the act to occur. Nor does it mean they have any emotional tie to another person who may have shared or initiated the act; predators bank on your child not knowing that. Too many adults recall guilt and shame from their own innocent touch, a totally unnecessary roadblock on the road the sexual health and safety.

Here’s a sample of the protection you and your child receive from this simple shared understanding:

• Protection from the pedophile who believes that once he gets a child to orgasm, the child will be hooked into the relationship.
• Protection from the predatory high school teacher counting on the fact that adolescents can’t distinguish lust from love.
• Protection from the fear and self-doubt that comes from thinking your body is abnormal.

After decades working with child sexual abuse there is no question in my mind that sexual predators prey on a child’s innocence and ignorance. And, from working with parents, I know that many parents think these words are synonymous, that is, when we replace ignorance with knowledge we somehow threaten our child’s innocence. It’s time to get over that misconception.

When you provide accurate information in a loving and age-appropriate way, you create a foundation for your child’s sexual health and safety. Among the most urgent things that a parent must teach their child is the medical fact that sexual arousal is an autonomic, reflexive physical response to stimulation.

Ignorance about sexual health and development can lead to many painful experiences; the girl who thinks she is dying of cancer when her genitals start to bleed, or the boy who believes his penis is malfunctioning because he has nocturnal emissions. We can and must alleviate this pain. Knowledge about sexual health and development can bring safety, confidence and ultimately joy.

I urge parents to become sex-wise, find the courage to be uncomfortable, and step up not only to protect your child from danger but to make it possible for him or her to ultimately grow into healthy, fulfilling relationships. Give your child the gift of knowledge. Find help at or in The Sex-Wise Parent.

Ever hear of an ephebophile? They are just like pedophiles, except they’re after teens!

The story of Brittni Colleps, a Texas school teacher charged with having sex with four students at her home, is a sickening example of a loss of discipline in the people and institutions to whom we entrust our children.

As upsetting as it is, this case can give parents the opportunity and motivation to make sure that their schools, and their children, are safe from type of sexual predator. And it is predation – even though the (alleged) victims were all over 18, they were students in Colleps’ school and we depend on that relationship to be friendly and professional, but not sexual.

Have a look at my checklist to determine if the ‘sexual climate’ in your child’s school might also allow this kind of behavior.

Sexual climate in this context is a variation of “school climate”, a concept used by scholars of educational administration to describe the “feel” of being is a specific school. While “school culture” refers to the rules, policies and procedures of a school district and is uniform throughout a school district, the climate can vary greatly from school to school, depending on the faculty, staff, students, or even factors like the design of a building. The sexual climate in a school where a teacher might be sexually involved with a number of students is clearly dangerous.

The Sandusky case and clergy scandals have placed a bright spotlight on pedophiles, adults who are sexually attracted to young children and eventually sexualize their trust and affection, generally leading to rape. The allegations against Brittny Colleps remind us that there is more than one type of sexual predator lusting after our kids.

Professionals use the term hebephile for someone with a preference for children just entering puberty and the term ephebophile to describe someone with an attraction to older adolescents. You don’t need to remember the names; you do need to understand that the need to know every adult who spends time with our kids does not end with elementary school.

An example of the destruction an ephebophile can leave in his path might be found in the story of Monica Lewinsky. Lewinsky was sexually involved with her high school drama teacher, a man described in a HBO special by other students in her school as a known predator. If kids know which teachers are predators, adults stand a chance of knowing as well. There are easy steps that any parent can take, including recognizing the prevalence of these relationships, maintaining open communication with a teen, and knowing every adult who spends alone-time with them. Then, consider talking with other parents to answer these questions.

Allegations like those against Brittni Colleps and the reports of convictions of teachers from schools all over the country remind us that sexual predators can be of any age or gender. If we read the report published by the US Department of Education — and I urge you to follow this link — Educator Sexual Misconduct: A Synthesis of Existing Literature — you’ll see how common this behavior really is.

But if you’ll read my checklist you’ll see that there are steps a Sex-Wise Parent can take to ensure that the sexual climate of the schools serving their kids will promote sexual health and safety.


Sex abuse in school?

As the back to school transition eases into a comfortable routine, this is a good time to consider  a finding published in a report by the U.S. Department of Education: Various studies show that as many as 5 percent of kids report a sexual contact with a school employee sometime during their school experience.

Section 5414 of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended required a study of sexual abuse in U.S. schools and the United States Department of Education contracted with Dr. Charol Shakeshaft of Hofstra University to complete a literature review and analysis. You can — and should — read the entire report entitled  Educator Sexual Misconduct:  A Synthesis of Existing Literature .

Shakeshaft reviewed and critiqued dozens of studies on sexual abuse in schools and no matter how we slice and dice her results — even if she is off by a factor of 10 (which I totally doubt) her findings should make any parent stand up and take notice. Parents of young, prepubescent children need to be aware of the way pedophiles can ingratiate themselves into the life of your child and family, gaining trust then violating it in the most unimaginably devastating manner.

By the time  our kids become teens, we are less worried about pedophiles and more worried about stupid, manipulative adults of either gender. Many adolescents,  particularly girls, appear to be a sexually mature adult years before their  social, emotional and intellectual development catch up to their bodies. While  many of us know about school-girl crushes that teens develop on adults, it’s also true that adults develop crushes on kids. Whether it’s the male teacher  living out his mid-life crisis with a crush on a young girl, or the young, plain-jane teacher responding to her first experience of male adoration, there  is a surprisingly large number of possibilities for indiscretions. And most teachers are completely unprepared for this experience.

A smart social worker I know sought support from her supervisor to maintain a treatment relationship with a particularly handsome 17-year-old-boy. A teacher I met knew to make sure he was never alone with the student who fit his model of attraction. Not all professionals bother to do the work necessary to process their very human reaction to an attractive or charming person. Teens, with their still under-developed frontal lobes, lack the judgment to understand that  this type of adult attention is wholly inappropriate.

Parents of little ones need to know every adult who may have the opportunity to be alone with their child. Parents of teens need to pay close attention to all of the relationships their kids have with adults. All parents can do their best to make sure their kids have age-appropriate knowledge and language about sex and sexuality, and keep lines of communication wide open.

More information is coming!  Read my forthcoming  book The Sex-Wise Parent, on sale  April 2012 from Skyhorse Publishing

Kids, books and sex: Thoughts for a sex-wise parent!

I remember the first time I was swept away by a book. I was reading Gone with the Wind as a young teen, and noon became dinner time in what seemed like 5 minutes. I still recall my delight at finally understanding why people said that reading could be magic; I felt like a grown up secret had been revealed to me when I experienced the sense of being transported through time and by developing what seemed like a real emotional attachment to the characters.

Later, while reading the wildly popular ”’Flowers in the Attic” series of books and I felt torn as themes of love and longing came into the story, confounded by the fact that the attraction was between siblings. The female protagonist in the book describes her powerful, newfound feeling by saying “I was coming alive, feeling things I hadn’t felt before. Strange achings, longings. Wanting something, and not knowing what is was that woke me up at night”.  And no doubt, those same feelings were happening to me and millions of other readers.
As a parent, I relied on ratings when evaluating media my child might consume. The young adult specialists of American Library Association use the “YA,” or Young Adult designation for books they deem appropriate for readers between the ages of 12 and 18. There is a world of difference among kids at either end of this age group and YA books deal with some very mature themes. So-called ‘coming of age’ stories are prominent in this genre and often include a theme of a young person experiencing a grown-up challenge or experience for the first time. Young love and first romance are common and a young reader’s reaction to detailed descriptions of strong feelings and romantic interludes, – even the ones that don’t involve actual sex – may be surprisingly intense. Many kids experience their first stirrings of sexual arousal while reading.

Discussing books with our kids can provide a drama-free opportunity to discuss sexuality; you’re not asking them to do something or forbidding them from something else. A shared interest in a book can be a great conversation-starter to help guide your child toward healthy attitudes about gender roles, intimacy, respect, love, relationships, communication and other areas. We can share our own feeling about books and characters we’ve loved: “One reason we love a book it makes us feel things,” you might explain. “A murder mystery might scare you, an adventure story may get you excited about something and a romance may stir up sexual feelings.” This conversation might feel awkward if you’ve never broached the issue of sexual feelings with your child, but it’s a good place to start. This conversation can be especially important for our daughters; sexual arousal is way less obvious for them than it is for our sons and it’s good for them to have a name for that warm feeling they get when reading about love or romance. Boys and girls both reap lifelong benefits from the knowledge that arousal is a reflex, something their body does in response to stimulation, whether they want it to happen or not… that’s a topic for another blog!

Books are a tool for connecting with our kids of all ages. They learned about love and intimacy during cozy toddler moments as they drifted off to sleep in our lap listening to their favorite story. As they enter the “YA” phase, they stand to learn many more lessons about love and intimacy, and we can continue to help make sure they understand the lessons!

Note — this post origionally appeared   at  5 Minutes  for Mom — see


Summer camp and safety – how relaxed is too relaxed??

It’s that time of year when we can smell summer in the air, and working parents thoughts turn to summer arrangements for their kids. Summer camps are a popular choice and can span the range from totally unstructured programs offered at local parks to seriously academic programs offered by schools and colleges. Your choice must be based on your child’s interest, the cost and convenience, and  the knowledge that the program is operated  in a way that ensures your child’s wellbeing. Limited adult supervision coupled with the joy of not being in school has been known to lead kids to act out in many ways– including exploring their sexuality —  at summer camp.

In many states, short-term summer camps are not subject to the same stringent licensing requirements as childcare centers, and some faith-based programs may be exempt from public regulation altogether, so it becomes even more important for you to do your homework before entrusting your child to a specific camp environment. To make sure your child will be sexually safe and healthy all day (and night) at camp, start with a typical day and consider all activities that your child will involve your child. Here’s some areas to consider:

The bus: If your children will be picked up by a bus or van, will there be someone other than the driver to provide supervision? Excited kids can become unruly and distract a driver. Often, an older child is assigned to lead songs and keep order on a camp-bound bus. This may be sufficient if a staff member is not available, but if the bus is carrying multiple teens, the supervising child may be unable to resist peer pressure and may join the commotion. And, huddled groups of  kids or high-backed seats  can hide  aggressive grabbing and  all  kinds of showing off !

Sports and swimming:  If the camp day includes swimming, ask camp administrators if the staff has been prepared to deal with children who get embarrassed changing clothes in front of others, and be sure you’re comfortable with the reply. If there is a focus on sports, are all children encouraged to participate? Is competition kept at a healthy level?

Moving around camp grounds: You should find out if your child will be supervised as she moves through the camp grounds and facilities. If a child needs to use a rest room will an adult accompany her? If no, is there a policy in place to carefully monitor the amount of time a child is gone? In addition, if the camp takes your child on field trips, does the camp take adequate measures to ensure the safety of your child? Tight supervision is a must for field trips; whether walking to a neighborhood park or traveling to a local tourist destination, counselors should assign buddies and perform constant head counts to make sure all children are safe and accounted for.

Staff: Camp administrators should check the background and references for all people who have access to children. This includes maintenance and food services staff as well as the counselors, teachers, or volunteers working directly with the kids. It is common for summer camps to employ adolescents; these young people should participate in pre-service training to learn the rules, values, and standards of the camp, and be assigned an experienced supervisor. Adolescent brains are still developing and lapses in judgment are expected. In fact, I’ve seen instances of young camp staff participating in bullying a targeted child!

Check with the camp director to see if safety and suypervision measures are in place before you entrust your child to their care. Likewise, you can visit the camp or talk to other parents who have sent their child in prior years to get a feel for the workings and safety of the camp environment.

Parents can find more information and a checklist to use in choosing a summer camp  in my book The Sex Wise Parent.  For a copy of the checklist, E-mail

Check back  for more tips!