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 www.SexWiseParent.com or in The Sex-Wise Parent. http://www.amazon.com/dp/1616085096