It’s time to change the way we deal with kids’ on-line sexual behaviors

It’s time to change the way we deal with kids’ on-line sexual behaviors

What Parents Need to Know About Digital Consent

Say you’re out somewhere, at a party or on a date, and someone you’re with leans in for a kiss. They ask ‘May I?”  and  you either consent to it or not. Unless the person forces them self on you, it’s a pretty simple thing. There is nothing permanent about a kiss.

But things  are far from simple online and actually,  there is no sure way to have lasting consent for privacy or discretion when it comes to the exchange of photographs and texts.

This is an issue for parents, because if your child has a cell phone and a bedroom door there’s a pretty good chance that at some point he or she may be tempted to ask for or send a sexually suggestive text or photo. And what happens to that text or photo is entirely out of your child’s control, no matter what the receiver says in order to get it.

Not your child, you say? And not you, for that matter?

Well,  one study  of 870 adults aged 18 – 82 found that 88 percent reported they had shared sexually explicit language or photos. Another study reports that at least 20 percent of high school students said they had sent a naked picture of themselves through text or email, and almost twice that number report having sent sexually suggestive messages.

Every photo carries the possibility of embarrassment, including the trauma of bullying and shaming, and most kids – and a lot of adults – don’t consider the consequences of trust gone wrong and the possibility that those private images could become public – and permanent.

You can’t keep someone from asking your child for a nude selfie or prevent your child from asking for one. But you can help your child understand the risks and make a sensible decision when temptation arises.

What do parents need to know?

  • More than 20% of teens report ever having sent a naked photo of themselves through email or text.
  • Girls are more likely to be asked to send an explicit photo than to do the asking and are much more likely to be bothered by having been asked.
  • Sexting or sending a sexualized image via text message almost always occurs within the context of a dating/intimate relationship.
  • Sexting is more prevalent among sexually active teens. Read one good study here.
  • Teens’ sexual and reproductive systems mature several years before the part of their brain that regulates rational decision making.

 

  • Sexual activity for teens is progressive, from kissing to touching to petting to oral or genital intercourse. By 17, about  75 percent of adolescents have engaged in genital “petting,” or mutual masturbation.
  • Sexting or sharing explicit images and text is becoming a common part of sexual progression; in fact, it is referred to by some as ‘the new third base.’

What can parents communicate to  their children?

  • There is no guarantee that a person won’t distribute suggestive texts or photos, even if he or she promises not to. Someone shouldn’t send a photo that one wouldn’t want his or her family – and potentially everyone else in the world – to see.
  • Sexually safe and healthy people consider the pros and cons of any sexual act before they engage in it, and sharing sexualized  photos  is a sexual act,  and are prepared for it physically, emotionally and socially.
  • Sexually safe and healthy people can discuss each sexual act with their partner before they engage in it to ensure they are both comfortable with taking that step. If a person can’t discuss the sex act, they are not ready to engage it.

Ideally, open conversations and parental support will discourage a teen from asking for or sending explicit materials, but inevitably many will. It is also inevitable that some of these images will be shared further. When this happens, the subject of the photos has two traumas to process – the breach of trust from a former partner and the reactions by the outsiders, including his or her family, who can now see the images.

All too often a female victim is shamed and humiliated by her peers.  Humiliation is defined as the emotion experienced  when your status is lowered in front of others. Psychologically, responses to humiliation were both more negative than to anger, and more intense than to happiness.  Teens are at an especially high risk for a dangerously severe reaction  to humiliation, because of the high value teens place on the perceptions of their peers.  Parents have an important role in changing  social norms  to support — instead of shame —victims.  Parents can model  sympathy or empathy for any  victim of a breach of digital consent and make it  clear to children that shaming victims is not tolerated in your home and you expect them to bring this value to their school and community.

The notion of digital consent is fragile enough to begin with, but it can also vaporize when a real relationship ends, or good feelings turn ugly. Sometimes the relationship itself was an illusion, an excuse to lure a victim into a trap. Predators gradually seduce a victim into online communications, then photos, then nude photos. Images may also be taken without permission; the 12-year-old who finds an explicit photo on his big brother’s phone and shares it with the entire 7th grade class is developmentally incapable of realizing the pain he caused the subject of the photo.

As much as they want to, parents can’t protect their children from the consequences of their bad decisions. But they can recognize the limits of their children’s social and emotional development and guide them toward healthy decisions when their relationships have an online component. And equally important, parents can set the standard that victims of breaches of digital consent are to be always supported and never shamed.

The prevalence of social media has  created many new and daunting  challenges, and parents have a  key role in  educating and supporting their children as they navigate them.

 

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig  began working  with child sexual abuse in 1978, coming into this field  with credentials as a sexuality educator. Through four decades of work in public, non-profit and academic settings,  she  has focused on the need for  accurate and age appropriate information about human sexuality as a protective factor in promoting sexual health and safety and developing resources to help parents be a primary sexuality educator of their children.  She is the author of  The Sex-Wise Parent, and the executive director of The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children

This  post first appeared at https://medium.com/sexual-assault-awareness-month-2019/what-parents-need-to-know-about-digital-consent-12e520bd0a03

 

 

 

 

 

To prevent abuse and promote health among kids, focus on impact of behavior  (Child Abuse Prevention Month, 2019)

To prevent abuse and promote health among kids, focus on impact of behavior (Child Abuse Prevention Month, 2019)

Each year, April is designated as child-abuse prevention month by public officials all over the United States, serving as a reminder of the need for all of us to focus on healthy child development. Happy, healthy children grow into happy, healthy, and productive adults and strengthen the economic and social fabric of our community.

April is also designated an Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and of course, the two issues intersect in several important ways.

One of the most obvious points of intersection is that abusers share a lack of regard for the impact their behavior has on the victim.

This month, former vice president Joe Biden was in the news for expressing a brand of affection that fits within his values of warm, hands-on contact with the public. But some people experience his touching as uncomfortable at best, and intrusive at worse.

On the more serious end of the spectrum are the type of sex offenders who develop relationships with victims and can convince themselves that the victim was a willing participant. Leaving Neverland, the HBO documentary describing singer Michael Jackson’s long-term, “loving” relationships with boys is an example.

Radio personality Robin Quivers offers another clear example of this type of ignorance.  At age 12, she gathered the courage to confront her sexually abusive father, who apparently was so disconnected from his victim that he believed that she had been enjoying the sex; he never touched Robin again, once he knew her truth.

Here are two much more commonly practiced behaviors which science has shown unequivocally hurt children:

  • Hitting: The data is in and respected organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association now warn  of the harms of hitting children and urge parents to use more supportive forms of discipline. All organizations might consider becoming No-Hit Zones;  faith-based organizations might consider following the example of Shiloh Baptist Church in Trenton, whose congregants voted  to make their church the first faith-based No-Hit Zone in the United States.
  • Psychological maltreatment: Constant insults, belittling, and threats take their toll on children. Many parents  just don’t pay close enough attention to their choice of words and tone — but in some families, terrorizing children seems to have become a sport. I’m shocked how many parents thinks it’s funny to scare the devil out of their child then  post the results online for others to see.

Both hitting and psychological abuse are known sources of toxic stress for children that can affect brain development, behavior, and relationships.

Most parents would do better if they knew better; everyone can spread the word about the impact of hitting and psychological maltreatment. We can have a long-term effect by raising this generation of children to focus on the impact all their behaviors have on others. And let’s reach out to the grown-ups too;  as Biden’s video explanation shows, it’s never too late to learn the lesson of considering the effects  your behaviors have on others.

Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA, is the executive director of The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children  and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent  and   The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex: A Complete Guide to Raising (Sexually) Safe, Smart, and Healthy Children.  For more information, read her blog and follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter.

This post first appeared at philly.com

Back to School in the #MeToo era: Sex Ed and Sexual Climate

Back to School in the #MeToo era

Well, the kids are back at school, and whether they’re just starting to read or learning the Pythagorean Theorem, they’re going to be learning something about sex.

Don’t look so surprised. Regardless of your children’s age, many of the behaviors they will learn or face as they navigate the jungle of the corridors and playground have their roots in sexual behavior both instinctive and learned. As parents you can help with each for the benefit of your children and everyone around them.

First, there’s sex education itself. Twenty-four states plus the District of Columbia including New Jersey, mandate some sort of sex education, but it’s up to the states to determine what to teach. Twenty-seven states, including both Pennsylvania and New Jersey require schools provide STD and HIV/AIDS education, and the school’s curriculum must be available to parents for review.

While  there are  highly regarded professional  standards  available to educators,  curricula as taught may not be medically accurate, may teach abstinence-only and only two states – California and Louisiana – specifically prohibit the teaching of religion as part of sex education. So, parents should be engaged enough to know what, if any, sex education curriculum is taught in their children’s schools.

Then there’s what I call the “sexual climate” of a school, how it feels to be in that specific building, among those specific faculty, staff and students.

Generally, scholars describe a healthy school climate as having 4 components:

  • A physical environment that is welcoming and conducive to learning
  • A social environment that promotes communication and interaction
  • An affective environment that promotes a sense of belonging and self-esteem for all; and
  • An academic environment that promotes learning and self-fulfillment

A healthy sexual climate in a school addresses these issues as they pertain to sexuality.   A school with a healthy sexual climate promotes tolerance and respect and responds’ quickly to real or perceived threats including rumor, innuendo and bullying. Responses by school personnel to teasing and touching offer teachable moments early in the year, and opportunities to show the consequences of ignoring rules as the school year progresses.  Little ones learn not to tease, and older ones learn that even high-status kids don’t get to grab anyone’s breasts or genitals.

Here’s where parents can play a most important role:  teaching children about empathy. It doesn’t always come naturally to a child, and in fact, it is developmentally normal for  young people to  see the world as revolving around him or herself. But a healthy regard for what other people are feeling will help   your child resist the impulse to snap a girl’s bra strap, tip over the books she’s carrying or call her names when she starts to develop physically. It will help them from shunning the unpopular student, or making fun of their looks, manners of speech or interests, or posting anything on-line without the expressed permission of the subject.

It’s too easy for parents write these behaviors off as “kids will be kids” or to recall one’s own childhood behavior. After all, you turned out all right, didn’t you? But if you look back, what did those inconsiderate and bullying actions mean to the boys and girls at whom they were directed?  How did you learn empathy, and how should your children learn? Does your child stop and think about how his or her actions or words will make the other person feel?

Living an empathic life takes a conscious effort for everyone, but one only has to look at how society is roiling over sexual abuse, sexual harassment and the decline in civil discourse to understand how important it is.

The highest standard for promoting sexual health and safety is for parents to send their children out in the world filled with age-appropriate, medically accurate information about sexuality, wrapped up in their  family’s values. If you haven’t had the conversation about empathy you haven’t finished the conversation about sex. Empathy is certainly a subtext of a great deal of what’s taught in school, but if your children are really going to learn this most important lesson you’ll have to start by teaching it at home.

 

 

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig is the Executive Director of  The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children  and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent  and   The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex: A Complete Guide to Raising (Sexually) Safe, Smart, and Healthy Children.  For more information, read her blog, follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter or contact DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com to schedule a program for your school or community group

 

 

Conspiracies of silence endanger sexual health and safety

The news that more than 300 Pennsylvania priests may have sexually abused more than 1,000 identifiable children during the last 70 years is shocking for the enormity of the accusation, but by now there have been enough of these tragic accusations against so many of our institutions that parents should be neither unaware of the risks to their children nor unwilling to confront those risks before their own child might be abused.

The grand jury indictments accuse the Catholic Church of covering up the abuse with criminal conspiracies of silence. Healthy institutions – and the family is the most basic institution of our society — need to break the silence about sexual health and safety, and there is never a better time than the present to do that.

Let’s start with a few basic ideas:

  • Children should have medically accurate, age-appropriate facts about sexual anatomy and physiology. Little kids should know all the external parts; as kids age they need to know the internal parts and all kids need to know that sexual arousal is an autonomic reflex. Too many predators entrap kids by convincing a child they were not a victim because they became aroused. Parents can neutralize the pedophile’s devastating, all too-common tool with medically accurate information.
  • Parents can open a conversation by reminding children that many people will put their own interests above that of someone else. Children may have already experienced that by being bullied or lied to or experiencing someone taking something of theirs. Abusing someone sexually is but one of the many ways people put their own feelings above those of another, and it’s one that can leave most damaging scars. Especially if faith plays a role in your family, you will want to address the difference between a person who espouses or teaches the words of  your faith,  and the meaning of those words. Widespread allegations of abuse = can challenge the faith of both child and family, and this is a good chance to draw a defining line between the meaning of your religion and the actions of the accused priests and the people who protected them.
  • Focus on trust. Damage can cut the deepest when abuse is in the context of a trusted relationship. Pedophile priests are in our news now, but other trusted adults including physicians, educators, parental figures and coaches have been there too. Parents can support their children to trust their own instincts when something doesn’t seem right, and to trust that their parents will listen to them and support them when they share those concerns. I’ve heard stories from peers growing up in the 1960s whose parents smacked them for speaking ill of a priest when the child tried to tell about sexual abuse. I hope those days are long gone –children deserve better, and parents can do better.

Too many parents still feel uncomfortable talking to their children about sexuality, yet research shows that parents consistently underestimate the importance children place on their thoughts. Parents may feel as if they don’t know to what say, but other professionals and I can provide resources to help you. Information from the American Academy of Pediatrics, The Sex-Wise Parent books and website are but two of the places where you can find help. If you’re’ really uncomfortable, practice roleplaying with a friend, or ask your school or faith-based organization to schedule a parent workshop.

Our children deserve the very best from all the institutions designed to help bring them to healthy, productive adulthood. Parents can focus on their own children now, when headlines can be causing fear and confusion, but in the long term parents can focus on the policies, procedures and sexual climate  of the institutions that serve their children.

Support for your children’s sexual health and safety must start at home and spread out into the community. Use this current spate of tragic stories to ensure there is no conspiracy of silence around sex in your home.

 

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig is the Executive Director of  The American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children  and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent  and   The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex: A Complete Guide to Raising (Sexually) Safe, Smart, and Healthy Children.  For more information, read her blog , follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter or contact DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com to schedule a program for your school or community group

 

Spring break advice from a sex-wise  parent to teen–

Spring break advice from a sex-wise parent to teen–

Whether your teen is anxiously awaiting their departure to a tropical paradise or snow covered peaks, you may be equally anxious about their health and safety on their trip.  Find the time for a bon voyage conversation that shares your love and concern, along with practical advice.  To help you make the best use of the limited time your child is likely to share with you, I’ve prepared things a sex-wise parent might have on their agenda:

I want you to have a wonderful time. Surround yourself with people who you admire and trust, and keep a careful distance from others. 

I want you to be safe, so use these tips business travelers follow:  Drink a lot of water and stay hydrated!   When you get to your hotel, don’t let strangers see your room number when you check in.   No matter how great the reputation of your hotel or resort, move around the facility with a friend and keep your valuables with you at all time. Trust your instincts about people getting too close to you physically. NEVER leave a drink unattended.

I want you to stay healthy.   Carefully pack required prescriptions and keep them with you on the plane.   Find an option with protein at every meal.  Use sun screen. Stretch carefully before physical exertion like a run or day on the slopes.  Stay away from unlicensed attractions, like parasailing companies not associated with your hotel.

I want you to remember that drugs and alcohol make you stupid. Being in a different city country where access to drugs or alcohol is unrestricted may make you feel more mature.  You’re not.  Make concrete rules now, before you go, while you’re sober and stick to them.  Have a 12 ounce glass of water or club soda between every alcoholic drink. Don’t smoke anything if you don’t know the source. Ingest no pills or powders; you just don’t know the composition.  Rotate among your friends the role of designated sober person to keep watch over each other.

I want you to remember that sexual arousal just happens, and it comes a part of the brain that is very far away from the part where executive decision making happens.  Do not let your genitalia make a decision about sharing body parts with a stranger.  The list of risks run from being robbed to getting a STI.  Make a pact with your friends not to let anyone leave the group, and be prepared to make a scene if someone tries.

I want you to call me immediately if something goes wrong.   I will help first and ask questions later because I love you.

I want you to treat yourself with the same care and respect you would show if you were taking care of your younger sibling or best friend.

I want you to have a wonderful time, and if you stay safe and healthy, I know you will.

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig is the Vice President, Research and Programs for Prevent Child Abuse America and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent  and   The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex: A Complete Guide to Raising (Sexually) Safe, Smart, and Healthy Children.    For more information, read her blog , follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter or contact DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com to schedule a program for your school or community group.

 

This  post origionally appeared  in the Healthy Kids blog for Philly.com  bit.ly/1Szt1PI

Make Holiday Hugs  a Child’s Choice!

Make Holiday Hugs a Child’s Choice!

Learning to set and hold boundaries is an important life skill. Adults without boundaries are routinely taken advantage of by others because they lack the skill set it takes to say “no” in various situations. Many don’t even realize they have a choice when asked to do something: They become “people pleasers,” responding to the needs and requests of others often without considering the cost to themselves. Holding personal boundaries and respecting those of others is a critical component of sexual health and safety, and it’s never too early to teach and model healthy assertiveness for our kids.

The only girl in my college dorm who had a car had just that problem. She never refused anyone who asked for a ride, no matter how inconvenient it was for her. Eventually, after she and I became pretty close friends, I asked her for a lift and to my surprise she said no, offering the explanation that she could only say no to her friends because they already liked her. She should have been able to assert herself to everyone, and her inability to do so with people who were not her friends could have led her into trouble.

Assertiveness training was a popular trend in the 1970s and 1980s. Books with titles such as Your Perfect Right1 or Don’t Say Yes When You Want to Say No2 became bestsellers, the concepts embraced by millions of readers. Assertiveness training offers strategies to stand up for your rights while respecting the rights of others. Use this concept as inspiration when promoting assertiveness in young children and teens as a tool for keeping their bodies and psyches healthy and safe; support kids learning to stand up for themselves while respecting others.

“But Grandmom needs a hug for the holidays!” exclaims your spouse. Maybe she does, but the needs of the adults never take priority over the needs of a child. If an adult says she “needs” a hug, that magnifies the reasons for a child to have permission to keep her boundaries. Children are not meant to meet the needs of adults; nature has designed things to be the other way around. When adults forget that, children can be at risk.

Talking with your children about setting and keeping boundaries is just another way of describing the act of standing up for one’s rights; parents can teach kids what their rights are and give them the skills, and the permission, to stand up for themselves as protection against boundary-pushers of all types — peers, as well as adults. Consider teaching school-aged children to respond to a request for a hug or a kiss by offering a warm smile and a handshake if that’s what they’d prefer.

A critical part of human development is individuating, which means becoming someone who is separate and different from others. As infants, children are attached to the adults who nurture and nourish them —they come into the world with no boundaries at all. As they become toddlers, some boundaries begin to develop, but don’t mistake ego-centrism (the belief that the world revolves around them) for boundaries. Just because a child can yell “mine!” when someone wants one of her toys does not mean she has the maturity to set and keep social or bodily boundaries; these are very different skillsets and concepts. Little ones need the adults who love them to respect and protect their boundaries for them.

Parents can start teaching children bodily boundaries by the age of two or three. Teaching by example is most effective, and one of the best examples is allowing a child to decide with whom they will share physical affection. Be warm and polite about it, but support your child in holding boundaries that keep them feeling safe and comfortable. Grandmom will suffer no ill effects from a polite and charming declining of a hug, and in fact should commend your child’s ability to think for himself!

 

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig is the Vice President, Research and Programs for Prevent Child Abuse America and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent  and   The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex: A Complete Guide to Raising (Sexually) Safe, Smart, and Healthy Children.    For more information, read her blog , follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter or contact DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com to schedule a program for your school or community group.

 

Mutual consent laws?  Parental advice has much  more to offer!

Mutual consent laws? Parental advice has much more to offer!

 

Consent for sex is in the news these days – from Bill Cosby’s acknowledgement to using drugs which removed partners’ capability to consent, to proposed mutual consent state laws and campus policies — there is a lot of buzz on this topic and that’s a good thing.

The buzz is turning into initiatives on college campuses and elsewhere to require clear and provable mutual consent before sex, but that solution brings with it another raft of problems. The better solution – which parents can do themselves, today – is to show and teach their children the values of honesty and respect that will make date rape unthinkable.

Parents need to be their children’s primary sex educators.  But unlike the conversations about anatomy and physiology, which I know makes some parents uncomfortable, conversations about honesty and respect should be easy to have.

And you’re probably doing some of it already.

We start with the youngest of kids when we teach them not to take things that don’t belong to them. We teach them to think about the effect their behaviors have on others.  We teach them to be kind and honest, and we teach them to stand up for themselves if they are being taken advantage of.   And as they grow up, we hope they will develop good judgement.  That doesn’t happen overnight and there’s a good reason why.

In his book aptly entitled Why Do They Act That Way? A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen[1]Dr. David Walsh says that modern neuroscience provides a window into some of the mysteries of the teen years. He says “because the prefrontal cortex’s (PFC) wiring is incomplete, the adolescent’s PFC can’t always distinguish between a good decision and a bad one, no matter how smart a kid is.”  Couple this undeveloped ability to assess risk and make good decisions with hormonally induced physical urges and appetites, and we see that kids need adult guidance now more than ever and want it less, making parenting a challenge.

 

Brain development continues into the early twenties; we are sending kids off to college before their capacity for judgement is fully formed. Situations that arise from  bad judgement, like substance abuse and  ill-considered sex  on campuses is certainly not news; the American College Health Association has been promoting programmatic solutions to these issues for at least three decades, and many campuses take advantage of  proven tactics to reduce  out of control behavior.

 

What is new now is that we are finally  talking about  sexual coercion and  ways to make it stop;  the calls for  consent laws and polices is a sign that this behavior is no longer tolerable.

Social media is filled with expressions of disgust at entitled,  high-status males helping themselves to the sexual acts with  females incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.

 

Whether it’s TV’s favorite Dad or a college football team, its variations on a theme and the mood is right to make it stop. Parents can step up and be the heroes here who raise children to live by the values that abhor this behavior.  When teens are in situations where their undeveloped sense of judgement may be overcome by hormones and alcohol, they need sober peers and adults in their life to monitor their behavior.  And if parents aren’t physically present, their values can be there with their child.  When tempted  to do something stupid there’s nothing wrong with a parents voice resonating a  young man’s  head  saying “that’s not how we  behave in our family”.

 

Consent laws are also a new idea, but as well-intentioned as they are, consent laws are essentially unenforceable and may also have some unintended consequences. Recorded consent to sexual acts may go viral and do as much damage as a physical act.  A wide net may be cast and trap people who had no ill intent.

 

The best thing about the proposed consent laws and polices is  that they’re starting a starting some very important discussions.  The best prevention comes from parents’ expression, in word and deed, that sex is an expression of a relationship between two people whose consent is never coerced.

 

Dr. Janet Rosenzweig is the Vice President, Research and programs for Prevent Child Abuse America and the author of The Sex-Wise Parent  and   The Parent’s Guide to Talking About Sex: A Complete Guide to Raising (Sexually) Safe, Smart, and Healthy Children.    For more information, read her blog , follow @JanetRosenzweig on Twitter or contact DrRosenzweig@sexwiseparent.com to schedule a program for your school or community group.



[1] David Walsh Why Do They Act That Way? Free Press, NY 2004

 

This post originally appeared at  http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/Mutual-consent-laws–can-we-legislate-intimate-conversations-.html

Get ready — 50 Shades of Grey is coming to a theater near your kids!

Love it or hate it, a movie glorifying some of the darker sides of sexual behaviors between consenting adults is coming to a theater near you. What’s near you is near your kids, so get ready to take advantage of this teachable moment.

If you don’t know the theme of this best-selling trilogy, Mr. Grey is psychologically damaged from an abusive childhood and finds relief in sadomasochistic practices. He meets sexually inexperienced Anna, they develop a relationship, he teaches her about sex and she teaches him about love, all with lots of sex going on designed to arouse readers of all persuasions.

Here’s a few topics from this movie that make a great discussion with any child, from around age 10 on:

  • In real life, it is never OK for an adult to seduce a child (Grey was introduced to sex by a friend of his mother)
  • In real life, it is never OK for people to hurt each other
  • In real life, girls  want to have their own lives, their own opinions and don’t crave domination
  • In real life, if a man tells a woman (or a woman tells a man) he’s too damaged for a relationship, as Grey tells Anna early on, listen to him and run the other way.

With all of the hype about the books and movie, you may have read points like these, or thought about them yourself if you’ve read the books. As a sex educator, here’s the point I consider most important: This material was written to induce sexual arousal, and when it does, your child needs to understand that just because they experience reflexive arousal does not mean that this is the type of sex they want to have when they are mature enough to have sex.  It is a very common experience for humans to experience arousal from observing or reading about a sexual act they would never consider, and it takes honesty and maturity to understand that fact.

When a male experiences an erection, when a female experiences warmth and lubrication in her genitals, it is a sign that a primal part of their brain has been activated. Young people who don’t understand this are at a terrible disadvantage. People who exploit children and adolescents use the child’s reflexive arousal to convince them that they were a willing partner. Adolescents unfortunate enough to develop a crush on a predatory adult may find their arousal used as a tool for seduction. A teen  may mistake a partner’s arousal for a “yes,” even when they are  clearly saying “no.”  Each of these scenarios are too common and can have disastrous results that devoted parents can help prevent.

Becoming sexually aroused is a reflexive response to stimulus. Sexual response comes from a primal part of the brain that has nothing to do with reasoning. Our kids need to learn that there is no shame in sexual arousal – ever! A key lesson in becoming a mature adult is learning the difference between lust, which is physical arousal and love.  The ubiquitous promotions for the  50 Shades  books and movie provide a most useful teaching aid to make this point.

Loving, responsible parents can find the words and the courage to explain sexual arousal to their children. Young people can learn about the joy of these wonderful feelings and  the angst of them occurring at inopportune times.  Parents can share  the critical lesson that these feelings have nothing to do with the thoughtful, deliberate decisions they will make about their own sexuality. Just because they experience arousal at a book, a move, video, or even the sight of popular young teacher does not at all mean that they can or should act on these feelings.

Your child will most likely have access to clips, summaries and other excerpts from 50 Shades of Grey. Along with processing the obvious lessons about loving, equal relationships between real adults in love, use this as an opportunity to prepare them for the complexities of understanding sexual arousal, a most important lesson for a lifetime of sexual health and safety.

This article appeared first at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/healthy_kids/Fifty-Shades-of-Grey-is-coming–are-you-ready.html

 

A Lesson in Sexual Abuse Prevention from Oprah Winfrey’s interview with Matt Sandusky

In her recent interview with Matt Sandusky, Oprah Winfrey hit one of the toughest issues associated with child sexual abuse head-on.

Her interview with the man both victimized and adopted by former Penn State assistant football coach and convicted pedophile Jerry Sandusky drove home this  point:  people must rid themselves of the notion that all sexual abuse hurts physically.

“It is part of my mission to expose sexual abuse for what it really is” said Winfrey, and her  questioning of Matt Sandusky was one more step on that path.

As she did with former child actor Todd Bridges in 2010, she directed her questioning of Sandusky to reveal that sexual arousal and climax were part of the abuse.

“It’s very confusing, it’s very confusing to you because you … have a reaction,” Sandusky said, tearfully stumbling over his words. “It’s something that you definitely don’t know what’s happening, but that’s just what it is, I guess, I don’t want to say that it’s pleasurable, but it’s not the most painful thing I guess.”

Winfrey firmly told Sandusky that it is OK to say it’s pleasurable, “because it is. You don’t have the language to even explain what’s happening,” she said.

And therein lies one of the most compelling arguments for sexual education for children. We can neutralize one of the most powerful tools used by predators when we raise kids who truly understand that genital arousal in response to stimulation is as uncontrollable as getting goose bumps when they are tickled. There is no shame or mystery – that’s just how the body works. Parents are the best people to share this information with their kids in age–appropriate doses as they develop, and I believe that so strongly that I developed resources to help them.  With practice and tools  like these, it can be easier than it seems.

Oprah Winfrey shares my dedication to ensuring that people understand that involuntary physical sexual arousal is often an aspect of sexual victimization, and ignorance of this fact traps victims into confusion, shame and silence.

In April 2010, she asked Todd Bridges to read the section from his autobiography “Killing Willis” where he described his awful confusion from climaxing when molested. That show inspired me to bring a sex educator’s perspective to child sexual abuse prevention, write the Sex-Wise Parent and put resources at SexWiseParent.com. In 2012, I heard boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard speak at a Penn State conference on child sexual abuse; he said that hearing Todd Bridges acknowledge this physical reaction on national TV gave him the courage to speak out about his own victimization.

Sexual abuse of children takes many forms, each of them painful in its own awful way. We know that the majority of abuse is initiated by a person known to the child.  In many of these situations, the abuser uses so-called ‘grooming’ techniques to seduce a child into compliance before the child knows what’s happening. Accurate information, lovingly shared by informed parents, can provide children an extra means of defense against fear, guilt and shame and provide a robust defense against sexual a most common type of sexual predator; those who shun physical violence in favor of inducing a physical reaction.

I will always thank Oprah Winfrey for using her platform to continue to share this very important message. Let’s honor that by helping families and communities provide accurate and honest information about sexuality. To paraphrase a pedophile I interviewed when writing the Sex-Wise Parent: “kids want to talk about sex and if their parents won’t do it, I will”.

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