Speaking Reverence, Speaking Truth
What captivates every one of us, defines our life’s course, moves us in profound ways, echoes of both our beginning and our end and brings greater health than nearly any other aspect of being human? Our sexuality.
What has been historically guarded, denied, relegated to the shadows and left for exploitation under the dark of avoidance? Our sexuality.
We are at such a powerful turning point in time, in regards to the presence sexuality may have in our collective awareness. It may be no news to say that, in America, sex is everywhere – in stark and hollow form – yet nowhere that we need it to be. As it has lingered there on the fringe of acceptable conversation or even attention, it has been subject to hijacking by those with motives other than love and health.
How could we have left it lonely and bereft so long?
The #MeToo movement has shone a light on the ways in which sex has been allowed to suffer distortions and trespasses for decades. Or is it centuries? A strong-hold of tolerance, or look-the-other-way is now loosening its grip as a collective claiming of What is Ours steps forward. The buried disgust or frustration of seeing that which is sacred continually exploited has now risen to tipping point levels, and enough is seriously enough.
It is this lack of reverence that suddenly now has such profound distaste in a new and awakening collective conscience. Regardless of any spiritual bent or proclivity – to revere is to hold in respectful gaze and handle from a place of honor. This is universal. It is even rooted in research and science. To regard our bodies, and one another with respect and to honor what is within and before us is a clear path. It leads to a kaleidoscope of health and awakening.
As guides to youth, we have a profoundly important role to play.
Just as ‘having no position’ is always taking a position, ‘saying nothing’ is always sending a message. When we fail to speak and acknowledge or address the significant physical, social and psycho-emotional changes happening in young people through puberty, we are denying a crucial part of them and their reality.
Imagine another creature, whom walks into the same room for many days as a salamander. Day after day, a long, lovely salamander. Then, ever-so-gradually, this salamander starts to shift. Its middle widens and its legs lengthen. Its shape literally changes before our eyes and it even begins to hop! A salamander has become a frog before our eyes. Yet we, as loving family and witness, say nothing.
Can you imagine the cognitive dissonance of such an experience?! To know you are changing. To know you are Visibly changing, and that others must see it too. To go through the loss and the disorientation, the occasional thrill and ever-present uncertainty . . . and have no one even acknowledge this?!
It nearly makes us mad.
Or, more poignantly, it sends a message. What are we saying when we say nothing?
- “This is so terrible and frightening, I cannot even face you; therefore, this part of you is so inherently wrong that you are now unfaceable
- You are not capable of handling what this change means and therefore, you cannot trust yourself as I clearly do not trust you
- This change is so miserable, and associated with unnamable pain, that we can’t even talk about it
Now, love, as the greater forest canopy of our sexual experiences, is truly profound and often holds both the greatest ecstasies and pains in any lifetime. My work with adult clients reminds me of this all the time. These are the experiences that shape us.
Please, dear guides and protectors of children, take my words easily and with heart…
I say all of this, not as criticism, but as a new lens in which to view reactions to sex and the potential impacts of these on the very young people we so adore.
What holds us back?
- a fear of overstepping a sensitive line with families
- a lack of belief in our ability to address this well (raise your hand if you haven’t had a tough experience in regards to sexuality!)
- discomfort and an urge to stick with safer, more familiar territory
We can, realistically, address these one by one. First, 1) I have to report, as a sexuality educator and consultant/coach to adults (particularly parents), we often fall into a trap of thinking, “Oh, the other folks have this”. By that I mean, parents sometimes think, “Well, the school has this covered.”, while the school thinks, “Now, that is the realm of family conversations, and they are tending to it”.
We are just not checking in. Who really has this? We need to start with a collaboration that brings the topic squarely and directly to the table. ‘What are you doing for sexuality education?’ is a question a parent can ask a teacher, and a teacher/guide/mentor can absolutely ask a parent. If we are working as teams for the health of our young people, we need to start having team updates on this point in particular.
Simply enough, this can be followed up with a discussion of needs – which flows into a discussion of dreams and wishes – which, true, can evoke a discussion of fears, pains and embarrassments. It’s ok. You can refer out. Send them my way.
Just know that starting the conversation is the crucial step. Again, I am suggesting that starting the conversation among the other adults caring for/guiding the child is the first step.
2) Are we capable? This is the “powerful turning point in time“ part. We want to do better. We deeply ache to do better and are committed to our kids (mentees/offspring/students) and willing. But, and it needs to be acknowledged, we came up with so little. Or, if we did have guidance around this, it was very likely disturbed, awkward-to-the-point-of-
We can acknowledge, too, that we are in a time of cultural shift around social norms and sexual behavior. Old rules no longer apply and new ones are yet to be established or clarified. Divorce rates have hovered around the 50% point (yet it still carries some nebulous stigma). Increasingly, Millennials are choosing to have their babies before marriage – 57% are unmarried at the time of birthing – if they marry at all. 46% of Millennials and 44% of GenXers say “Marriage is becoming obsolete”. Where we are ultimately Going with all of this (where-sex-leads) is itself in shift.
This is ok too. We still need to talk about it.
The same principles that apply to great guiding/mentoring absolutely apply to sexuality education. We are helping to align them to the greater truth within themselves. We are asking them to find the courage to live that truth. We teach young people to be aware of their actions, the needs of others, while staying true who they know themselves to be… All of this applies directly to sexuality.
So, we simply have self-compassion, perspective and start trusting ourselves anyway. Like many fears, the belief that we may be incapable of addressing this (such a large and significant) topic diminishes as soon as we begin. We don’t move blindly, but we begin to move with it. We model positive intimacy by admitting we might be nervous. We own our uncertainty, and send the message of what we do want. “I’m a little uncomfortable bringing this up because I’m not used to it, but it’s really important to me that you feel safe coming to me with questions about sex or relationships…” We can do this.
3) It is remarkable how some risks seem smaller in the choice to ‘not do them’ category, when in fact, the ‘doing them’ proves to be the smaller risk by far.
In some parts of life, the greater the risk ventured, the greater the reward. This is so true in choosing to bumble through discomfort to becoming a safe guide for kids around sex. Imagine, inversely, that a trusted adult in your world took the risk to be awkward and nervous to give you a space in which to truly process the world of sex as you grew… What might you have gained? How might your path have been different?
Do you think you would have remembered how s/he was nervous at first? Or would you be more impacted by the relief you felt to unpack some of the massive confusion you were carrying?
When you, as guide or mentor, find yourself lingering back in the ‘safe’ and comfortable zone on this, I encourage you to think of the way a small, intentional risk may yield hugely positive rewards for the young person before you. When in doubt, just ask more questions: “What are kids saying about _____?” / “How did you feel when you saw _____ & _____ kissing?” / “What are you hoping for yourself in all of this?”. We all know the power of reflection.
For basic reassurance, I offer these parameters:
- Don’t share about your own sexual experiences. Kids simply don’t need to know details. This in one of the edicts of sex educators: personal information has no place in teaching here. Beyond this – there is always a greater question, such as, “Am I normal?” or “How do I know when I’m ready?” that we can whole-heartedly address, with more effectiveness.
- Know the difference between guiding for health and imparting our own values on the kids. There is a line where behavior and lifestyle choices deserve to be imparted by parents and within families. Our job is not to raise other people’s kids in our values. Our job is to guide kids toward comfort with and acceptance of their bodies, their emotions and desires. We can do this without crossing the line of values. How do we recognize this line? We identify our own sexual values and get clear with parents on what theirs are. This brings reassurance.
- Know that research shows a comprehensive approach has the greatest positive effects long-term. This is where we have a powerful position as guides, mentors, educators (at least, those who are not bound by federally-approved curriculum). Our role is comprehensive. I offer that we have much to learn from our European neighbors, here. Comfort with sex, when shared by a culture, has an immensely positive effects.
I offer a “Raising Sexually Healthy Kids” workbook online; an ongoing professional coaching program for parents sifting through all the richness of this topic as they, too, grow; one-on-one coaching for men and women both to get to integrity and health with their experiences of sexuality. I am here.
My urging comes to you from a vision of the world we will have when we do, even slowly, begin to act from this place of comfort and acceptance. True, the landscape is shifting before us. But love is ever-present and eternal. Intimacy remains one of our greatest needs as humans. Sex is a force we can skillfully meet and move with for the sake of a more loving and vibrant world.
Here we go!