Sexuality – What’s Normal?

What’s “normal”? — Safer Child views the human body as a beautiful and amazing thing – and sex as a normal human function. In and of itself, we don’t believe masturbation is “deviant” or that it will make anyone go blind.

Additionally, a child’s curiosity about the body and its functions is normal. It’s normal for your toddler to explore his or her own body, and it’s normal for your teen to consider experimenting. We believe a parent’s reaction (calm and matter-of-fact, or angry and judgmental) to a toddler’s exploration or to a teen’s awakening interest has much to do with how the child grows up to view both the sexual act and his or her own body. You don’t have to explain everything right away, and your child should learn that there are better and worse times to say and do certain things.

Do find out exactly what your child is asking, and keep your explanations simple. If you’re embarrassed, you can say so, but make sure your child knows you aren’t embarrassed because of him or her. We think it’s important for children to know how the body works, and what the proper names are for all the body parts. You can use cutesy euphemisms in the beginning if it makes you more comfortable, but do teach the proper terminology as well. Please keep in mind that your sexual attitudes and behavior have a great deal of influence on your child’s future behavior. If you feel unprepared or caught off guard, it’s OK to say that you need some time, and then pick a later time to talk about it.

If you’re interested in finding out which behavior is age-appropriate — contact an organization listed on our Talking About Sexuality page, a local hospital, health provider or parenting resource center. Being aware and knowledgeable will enable you to better teach and guide your child. It will also help alert you to inappropriate behavior (a child who masturbates obsessively or preys on younger children, for example, might be suffering an overwhelmingly stressful situation — or be a victim of physical or sexual abuse). Ultimately, when your teen needs guidance or information, the groundwork will have been laid.

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Oral sex is “sex” — Although we know that curiosity is normal, that doesn’t mean to say that we think any child (under age of legal consent) should be engaging in “petting,” intercourse or oral sex. Children must learn that oral sex is NOT a “safe” way to be intimate. Oral sex IS sex, and it has the potential to transmit sexually transmitted diseasesSexual activity with oneself (masturbation) should be private. Activity with others is not to be undertaken lightly (and with or between juveniles, not at all).

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Teach Your Child — Safer Child believes it’s critical to teach your children the facts of life before they’re in a position to create some of their own. Good topics to cover (not listed here in any particular order): proper names for body parts,dating, safe dating, sex, safe sex, the human body structure and basic functions, birth control, the differences between males and females, love, commitment, responsibility, family values, morals, communication, babies, pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, relationships, sexual orientation, abstinence and masturbation.

We believe that if your teen is aware of the reasons other teens have consensual sex (to prove something; to fill an emptiness; to rebel; to hold on to a relationship; to be accepted; to avoid saying no; a result of previous sexual abuse) — he or she is much better armed for saying no.

Some people advocate teaching children that if they’re going to engage in sex, they should do it safely. Others would put abstinence front and center in the discussion. Some people feel that belonging to an organization like True Love Waitscan take the pressure off and give a teen-ager a way to say no. However you approach the details with your child, we feel it’s most important to make sure that the lines of communication stay open. Once they’re slammed shut, you mightnever get them open again. See Talking About Sexuality for more.

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Communicate With Your child: Try to avoid lecturing your child about sexuality issues. Allow for feedback and questions. Don’t berate, judge, tease or laugh at your child’s questions or misconceptions. But don’t assume that your child doesn’t want to talk about it or isn’t listening. Your reaction will have a large influence on your child’s reaction. Remember that no one is born already knowing how things work, and a poor reaction — or overreaction — can slam the door shut. Do take the time for a proper and thorough discussion, and make sure there are no distractions or interruptions. Continue even if it seems the child  isn’t hearing you. You can begin with the human body – perhaps while your child is quite young – and over time, gradually work your way into other areas as appropriate. Your children will not absorb everything you tell them the first time. But they will take a cue from you. If you’re embarrassed, they’re more likely to be embarrassed (perhaps too embarrassed to ask the critical questions). See our Communication page for more.

Try various forms of communication: Many parents can discuss sexuality with their children without embarrassment. But others feel uncomfortable. Consider leaving books for children to read at their own leisure (see our Talking About Sexuality page for suggestions), or taking children to doctors, family planning organizations, or sex education classes. Use situations in the newspaper, in books or on television to begin conversations. Whatever works for you is okay with us, as long as children have someone to go to with questions, concerns or problems. For more on communication, see the Safer Child Communication page.

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