Sexual Ethics … or How to Raise Sexually Healthy Kids

Photo by NSW Reference and Information on Flikr

Photo by NSW Reference and Information on Flikr

I do a lot of clinical work with folks whose sexual understanding, sexual expression and sense of self as a sexual person has been marred by culture, religion, others and often even by themselves.  They speak of feeling isolated and long to be deeply touched and known.  Desire for intimacy and pleasure is as core to a person’s nature as their heartbeat is to their health.  Our sexuality, bodies and our capacities to give and receive love is a healing, delicious gift … and more than chocolate, I desire to help others liberate from their sexual pain and begin to live into this powerful and sacred gift.

When I ask the question “How do we help people liberate?” I feel ushered into the question, “What allows people to grow up in our American culture ‘sludge free’? Or if that’s not possible – at least mostly ‘sludge-free’.  This line of thought and thoughts from a reader led to the following musings on constructing an intentional sexual ethic.

I recently had a reader send me a couple of questions about sexual education in America. Here is what he said –

  1. I wonder how we can have a healthy sexual society when we have such extremes of opinion, on both ends which tend to dominate our cultural discourse around this issue?
  2. What would a healthy society look like, in terms of incorporating a sexuality that allows for personal freedom, and freedom of choice, but also with responsibility and an understanding that some practices can negatively impact one’s self and/or the relationship they share with a partner?
  3. What would a healthy sex education look like inside a truly Christian paradigm? How do we teach our kids about sexuality when we believe our bodies and our sexual desires are a gift from God?

I appreciate these questions – and hear them often especially from those exposed to conservative western religious ideas. When the reader uses the phrase “we have such extremes of opinion, on both ends …” he is referring in part to the polar extreme of a religious right which espouses an abstinence only “education” which in essence means no human sexuality education, only a message of “no sex before marriage” on one side AND the world’s largest grossing porn industry and most promiscuous recreational sex culture in the western world on the other.

Ours is a confused sexual culture. One minute we say sex is a sacred act and the next minute we say for the right price, sex and people are for sale – no strings attached. Since I have written about this at length in the entry “Sex and Shame in America” and to some degree in the entry, “Three Blind Mice and Sex” I won’t go on here. If you want a more thorough understanding of the effects of the religious right on sexual health in America please read “Christian’s Caught Between the Sheets – How an Abstinence Only Ideology Hurts Us”. That should fill you up with that side.

The question I want to consider here is what could a healthy sexual paradigm look like for us? While I don’t kid myself into believing that the majority of Americans want to confront the embedded lack of personal ethic in our economy that justifies using people – men, women and children (and their bodies) to sell products, I DO believe the majority of American’s want to feel good about their sexuality and want to raise children who view themselves and their sexuality as valuable. I also believe that very few people who grew up in America had parents who knew how to help them develop an understanding of sexuality that could serve them in building loving and lasting relationships. As I talk about in “Sex and Shame in America” the majority of people were raised in silence, shame and ignorance around their sexuality. The only readily available information was what the culture literally ‘sold’ them.

To design a healthy sexual paradigm is to decide on a core ethic to guide us. In fact I would say that there is embedded in the absence of an overt and established ethic, an unintended ‘teaching’ of ideas about sexuality to our children that most agree is NOT helpful to them. For example,
***What is the ethic inside an education program that just provides anatomical information? Is it, “If you understand how your body works, you will know what to do.” But do we? Does ‘knowing what to do’ translate into a fulfilling loving sexual relationship?
***What is the ethic inside an education program that says “Just say NO!”? Is it that “sex is dangerous, bad, or secret”? But is it? And if I am raised to think sex is bad or dirty, how will that help me build a satisfying sexual relationship inside a committed partnership where sustaining a dynamic sexual connection can be challenging?
***What is the ethic inside an ‘education program’ where the media uses bodies, sex and people to sell goods and images? Is it that “The end justifies the means”? Or “You have the right to get what you want even if you have to use someone to get it.” But do we? And at what cost to us, to the ones we love, to our capacity for envisioning and developing skills to establish a deeply satisfying sexual relationship when the time comes … and over time?

I believe we need guidance on how to understand and be in relationship with our sexual longing, desires, and arousal. And we need an overt sexual ethic that can guide us in building a paradigm that provides the information – biopsychosocial and spiritual (biological, psychological, social and spiritual). So, here are my initial thoughts.

A healthy sexual ethic would be built on these 12 beliefs –

  1. You are a gift and your life is a gift – your body, mind, soul, and relationships are woven into the gift of the human experience.
  2. You are God’s Beloved. All creation is a gift (each person and all the earth that holds us) – including each person you experience.
  3. You have a responsibility to care for yourself and all creation in a way that honors and supports the fullest potential of every individual.
  4. All children and adolescents have the right to learn in age appropriate integrated ways about life, relationships, responsibility and sexuality each year, throughout their education, by parents, teachers, extended family and family support educators.
  5. There is a spiritual mystery in sexuality, in love and in the purest human encounters.
  6. You are hard wired for intimacy (deep safe attachment) and pleasure.
  7. Deep love, erotic experience, satiating sex … will require you ‘show up’ with your heart wide open, eyes and body fully present/in the moment and willing to penetrate and be penetrated by your lover. If the body shows up without the soul, eyes and heart, you may find yourself experiencing a kind of sex that leaves you wanting.
  8. Love … the action and the feeling … can at times feel risky and vulnerable. It will require more courage than most encounters, yet be the most satisfying relational and sexual skill you acquire.
  9. Real sexual freedom is found inside a loving safe partnership.
  10. When loving is fun and easy … it is nourishment.
  11. When loving is difficult – it is your teacher, your kiln, your crucible for becoming compassionate, wise, strong, centered and clear. It will grow you up.
  12. On your death-bed you will count the ways you loved well as your most satisfying life measure.

If we taught children … and if we guided ourselves … to make relationship decisions and later our sexual decisions through these 12 values, our inner wisdom would guide us. We would become skilled in the gifts of caring, and we would become skilled at discerning if others are treating us well. We would still make mistakes … but we would make less mistakes than we make now.  We would have a foundation with which to examine decisions and a template to learn from.  We would know more of the love, intimacy and blessing God desires to give us, His Beloved, through the gift of sexuality.

I’d love to hear your ideas?  What do you think?

One Comment

Making Sex Ed Easy …. # 4 in a Blog Series: Parenting 9 – 12 Year Olds | Musings by Candlelight • Tina Schermer Sellers • Life, Relationships, Sexuality, Faith

[…] Speaking about ways culture can function as an “educator” or communicator, I want to stop and talk for a minute about Porn – as a sex educator?? One of the other reasons it is so important you are talking to your kids about sexuality, in the context of real life, is so your child’s only “sex education” is not coming from American media and American pornography.  The porn industry has had a powerful effect on how men and, by proxy women, have come to view “normal”. For example, because it is easier to see a close up camera shot of hairless genitals, actors in porn are hairless.  Since this is the only consistent form of “sex education”, the vast majority of heterosexual men believe this is what a normal woman’s body is supposed to look and act like. Since the US provides no comprehensive sex education and most parents, churches and community groups, do not provide sex education – typical bodies and common sexual activity in the context of caring relationships is not shown or taught anywhere.  Media becomes the only window into human sexual behavior and bodies.  Since young people have nothing to compare it to, they assume porn and media’s depiction of sex is typical, common, normal, expected.  With the influx of internet pornography in the 90’s we began a new widespread “sex educator”.  Like Pavlov’s dog – a conditioned response was set in place to define as erotic or beautiful, hairless genitals, women who liked money shots, being demeaned, and a lack of sexual anticipation or sexual desire.  This is also what was then communicated to heterosexual women through men’s responses to them, usually when they were teenagers, who now spend billions of dollars waxing and pretending, in order to look like and act like the women who men have been viewing while they masturbate.  None of this however lends itself toward meaningful loving sexual engagement which looks, feels and deeply moves us heart, body, mind and soul … especially when this is a man or woman’s ONLY form of sex education.  Now, I am not trying to make a judgment about pornography – that is for your family to decide via your values and views.  I am however, wanting you to think about the understanding a child might grow to have about sex, sexuality, sexual expression, women and men, if pornography and media WERE THEIR ONLY OR PRIMARY form of information about sex and gender.   The average child is now exposed to porn around age 9. Just as a child needs to understand the difference between fantasy and reality, cartoon and real, REAL TV and life, so they need to understand the difference between pornography and real relationships where people are sexual and accountable to the effects of their behavior on each other. […]

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