6 Strategies to Help Parents Communicate About Sex

There’s no longer the one big talk when communicating about sexuality with children.

The one-time birds and the bees discussion is a thing of the past. Research indicates that parents who talk to their children at younger ages about sexuality de-stigmatize the topic and have more influence over children’s sexual behavior as they get older.

Here are 6 strategies to help parents talk about sexuality with their children:

1. Start young. Parents can talk with children ages 3 to 5 by naming the body parts with proper names and segue into how adults have babies together. It’s also appropriate to talk about “private areas” as sexual areas that nobody else should touch and educating kids that it’s a violation if anyone does touch private areas and that parents need to be told immediately. When children get a little older parents can talk about masturbation and how it’s okay to touch sexual organs for pleasure if done in private. As children enter elementary school, parents can talk about menstruation what it means to be gay versus straight and bisexual.

2. Talk about sexuality in everyday life. Our media is overflowing with sexuality and parents can use movies, television and magazines as a springboard for educating children and teens about sexually related topics such as dating, pregnancy, and puberty. When discussing sexuality in a context outside of themselves children are more likely to ask questions because it’s not about their own lives or people they know. Parents should engage their children in a discussion and have their full attention; talking while playing video games doesn’t count.

3. Parents need to open and honest about sexuality. It’s important for parents to be authentic and accurate and convey values regarding sexuality. Children should know that ultimately they are going to have to make responsible choices about sexuality. Today’s teens report that parents are the biggest influence in their lives regarding decisions about sex. Teens who report having fewer conversations about sex with their parents are more likely to be sexually promiscuous than teens who are open with their parents about sex. Open communication allows a forum for discussion around partners, condoms, contraceptives and when to have sexual activity. With open communication parents can help teenagers understand and manage a variety of topics that are associated with sexuality including pregnancy, STDs and having sex with friends versus having sex in relationships. Current research indicates the teens are more sexually active than parents think. By the time teens are 19 years old, 7 out of 10 teens have had sex. 2,000 teens get pregnant in the Unites States every day.

4. Parents need to be comfortable with their own sexuality. If parents have histories of sexual abuse or unresolved sexual conflicts it’s going to make discussing sexuality more difficult for parents. The more parents talk about sex the easier it is to have an ongoing open communication. Parents should be aware of their own embarrassment and how it impacts open communication with their children. Parents can vocalize to children that it’s awkward and uncomfortable to talk about sex and they can also say that it’s important and that they’re going to do it anyway.

5. Parents can learn by listening to what their children have to say. The more parents can hear their children’s thoughts, the more they’re going to be able to guide them appropriately regarding sex. With sexual discussions, non-judgmental reflective listening is key. For example statements like “I understand how you’re feeling or so you’re feeling like…” help foster open communication and allow questioning children to feel safe exploring their sexuality their parents. Parents should be aware that children might disguise their questions with other questions. No matter how difficult the questions are parents always need to be honest and factual. If they don’t know the answers, they can get the information and bring it back to children at a later time.

6. Always get clarification for understanding. When discussing sexuality with children, parents should not assume children understand what parents are trying to communicate. Parents can ask kids to repeat back what they think they’ve heard. If parents are unclear about what is being asked, they too should get further clarification from their children. Children might be intentionally evasive due to embarrassment. Parents should encourage children to be as direct as possible. Parents should avoid responding with too much information and answer without lecturing to keep an active dialogue going and children thoroughly engaged.



The Surprising Source of Our Sexual Morals

People often ask what kind of human sexual relationship is most evolutionarily “natural.” Is human nature adapted for promiscuity or long-term relationships, for example? And if we’re wired for long-term relationships, what kind—monogamy or some type of polygamy?

It turns out that people are probably adapted—biologically and psychologically—for all of the above. That is, people appear to be, sexually, “strategically pluralistic”: We are adapted for various kinds of long-term and short-term relationships, and the mating strategy we choose depends on factors including our gender (on average and cross-culturally, men are more interested than women in short-term relationships), our attractiveness, and the specific characteristics of our sociocultural and ecological environments [1,2]. This evolved flexibility leads to considerable diversity across individuals and cultures in the mating strategies that people pursue.

However, being intensely social and moralistic creatures, people are often not content simply to choose the mating strategy that suits them best and just get on with it. They often also feel compelled to pass judgement about the sexual behavior of others.

Promiscuity, for example, has historically attracted harsh disapproval. Why? We could attribute it to the influence of organized religion, which has indeed been a historically powerful purveyor of anti-promiscuity morality. But explaining morality in terms of religion (or any other cultural force) seems superficial, as it just moves the question back one step, at which point any truly curious person must ask: Why has promiscuity been the target of so much religious reprobation? Instead of trying to explain culture in terms of more culture, it would be more satisfying to find an ultimateevolutionary explanation for anti-promiscuity morality.

In search of such an explanation, I collaborated with two other psychologists, Nicholas Pound and Isabel Scott, on a paper (free to download) that has just been published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior [3]. We hypothesized, based on the evolutionary concepts of paternity certainty and paternal investment, that in social environments in which women were more dependent economically on a male mate, people would be more opposed to promiscuity. When women depend more on men to provide resources for their children (paternal investment), then mothers and fathers both have greater interest in ensuring that fathers can identify their own children and thus deliver on this investment. Because promiscuity undermines paternity certainty, people object to it more in environments where there is higher female economic dependence.

We tested this hypothesis in two studies involving a sample of over 5,000 United States residents. We found that in states where women earn more money and are perceived as being less economically dependent on men, attitudes towards promiscuity are indeed more relaxed. We also found that individuals who reported knowing more economically-dependent women tended to be more opposed to promiscuity. These relationships between female economic dependence and anti-promiscuity morality persisted, even after controlling for other influences on sexual morality such as religiosity and political conservatism. That is, female economic dependence wasn’t correlated with anti-promiscuity morality merely because religious and conservative people tended to score highly on both female economic dependence and anti-promiscuity morality; instead, female economic dependence explained variance in anti-promiscuity morality above and beyond that explained by religiosity and conservatism. Moreover, attitudes towards promiscuity were specifically related to female income, rather than to male income or wealth in general.

These findings have potentially important implications for how people in different social environments judge the sexual behavior of others. In communities where women earn less, people may be more hostile towards behaviors that are perceived (rightly or wrongly) to entail promiscuity, such as open marriage or homosexuality. People in these environments may also be more likely to think that promiscuous individuals deserve any hardships that befall them. For example, if they perceive a pregnancy as having resulted from a woman’s promiscuity, they may see it as a justified “punishment” for her behavior, and even see abortion as an unfair attempt to escape this punishment.

Our results don’t suggest that female economic dependence is the onlyinfluence on moral attitudes about promiscuity; religion and conservatism were also highly related to such attitudes in our study. However, our results do imply a hypothesis for why religious and conservative ideologies themselves tend to be anti-promiscuity: because they emerged in environments characterized by high female economic dependence.


5 Myths About Men’s Sexuality

1. Men are not naturally monogamous, but women are. 

I’ve always figured that this one is simply wishful thinking on the part of the male scientists influenced by their culture who persistently reached this conclusion until new data made it an untenable position. DNA testing has established that in most animal species, neither males nor females are sexually monogamous although many are socially monogamous at least for a season. Humans are no exception. Women are heavily socialized to restrict their sexual attraction to one guy at a time. They have been severely punished for transgressions, but women’s biology and personality are both well suited to multiple partners — more so than men’s. The masculine often has a deep desire for simplicity, and monogamy is generally much more simple than non-monogamy.

Women have been shown to be better at multi-tasking, and to have better communication skills, two important factors in multi-partner relating. Because women generally take more time than men to become sexually aroused and to reach orgasm and are less likely to be “finished” after one orgasm, more than one partner, even in close proximity, is not only easily manageable biologically but may be advantageous. The psychological factors, especially the impacts of jealousy and competition for both men and women, are a bit more complex, but it’s safe to say that women are no better suited to monogamy than men are.

2.  Men are more interested in sex than women

Fortunately for us, all this is not true. Nature wants all of us enrolled in reproducing the species! Women can become disinterested in sex as a result of childhood abuse, rape, social conditioning including body image challenges, unaddressed relationship issues, unskilled lovemaking or demands of juggling children and work, but these all represent deviations from her inherent nature. Women are socialized to channel their erotic yearnings into romantic fantasy rather than genital imagery, but when freed of sex-negative conditioning and social judgments, women desire erotic connection.

When women are initiated into the pleasures of sex with a lover who is sensitive, considerate, skilled, and receptive to guidance, their sexual potential is awakened, and their interest in sex equals or exceeds the interest of most men.

It may appear that men are more interested in sex because their sex organs are less mysterious and hidden than women’s and because they are taught that sex is about their own pleasure, not the woman’s. Both men and women can benefit from learning more about their own bodies, freeing themselves from sex negative conditioning, and seeking instruction in how to give and receive pleasure.


3. Men must ejaculate to be satisfied or to experience sexual pleasure.

This is a very common belief but ask any man who has learned to separate orgasm from ejaculation and he will tell you there are many benefits to non-ejaculatory orgasm. For many men orgasm without ejaculation enables a man to be multi-orgasmic, to maintain consistent sexual energy, desire, and confidence, and to magnetically attract interested partners. Once men learn to orgasm without ejaculation they rarely want to go back to ejaculating every time.

Most women have been orgasming without ejaculating for a long time because they’ve been shamed out of allowing ejaculation, or because their partners didn’t know how to arouse them sufficiently to cause an ejaculatory release. So women know that orgasm and ejaculation are not the same thing. That said, the idea is not to shame men out of their ejaculation but to recognize that they have choices.

 4. A man must have an erection to enjoy sexual play.

This is another false assumption. Why? For one thing most women like “foreplay” even without intercourse. In fact, some women prefer “foreplay” to intercourse and generally enjoy it more when it’s not experienced as a strategy to get somewhere else as quickly as possible. Men tend to equate sex and intercourse, but the reality is that exciting sexual play encompasses much more than penis and vagina. Foreplay does not require an erection, and the process of arousing the woman and feeling her turn on can be very pleasurable in itself, and might even stimulate an erection, if the mind is not preoccupied with performance concerns.

Furthermore, a semi-erect penis can be more sensitive to subtle sensations, and less driven to seek release. This allows a man to increase his capacity to experience and enjoy erotic sensations throughout his body and to contain more erotic energy which can eventually be shared with a partner, with or without penetration.


5. The bigger the penis, the better. 

Compatibility of size is the real barometer. A big penis and a small vagina are not a happy combination, especially after menopause. Further, knowing how to use the penis skillfully is far more important than size. This can be learned. A smaller penis is often easier to maneuver inside the vagina, and may motivate the man to explore a variety of ways to please his lover.

The main problem with a smaller penis is the man’s belief that he’s inadequate or not good enough. Many men have this concern even when their penis is larger than average and refuse to believe it’s not an issue for the woman. A man who believes his penis is too small also becomes an easy target for an angry woman who knows just how to push his insecurity and shame buttons. Don’t fall for it, guys!


Sexless Marriage? A Quick Fix Guide

Evan Asher, a 40-year-old handsome man living in the hip neighborhood of Cherry Creek North, a suburb of Denver, sits in my therapy office with his 37-year-old beautiful wife Jennifer on a beautiful summer morning last week. The couple has two school-aged children and both have careers to be proud of. They have a great family support system, money in the bank and their health. This couple sits in my office after Evan called to make an appointment to discuss the truth about their marriage.

They have not had sex for the last four years, for about as long as their youngest child is old. 

“What’s the problem, do you not find me attractive?” Evan asks his wife with a scared look on his face.”No, it’s not that, you are attractive, I just feel like we don’t have that kind of connection anymore.” Jennifer says to him.


“Do you guys talk about not having sex in your marriage?” I ask Evan and Jennifer.

“Not really.” Evan answers and then puts his head in his hands. He keeps talking despite being a bit muffled in the position he is slumped over in. “I just want to feel like I don’t carry this secret from everyone. The fact that we never have sex, it’s so embarrassing. I feel alone in this and I feel like it’s not a bother to her.”

“That’s not true!” Jennifer chimes in. “I think about it often but I just don’t know what you want me to do!”

Having a sexless marriage can feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders. As a psychotherapist specializing in intimacy and sex difficulties, I offer up these ideas to get your sexual relationship back on track:

  • Set up a time free of distractions to discuss the problem.

Setting aside time to talk about your feelings and wants is important to moving towards the goal of fixing things.

  • Make a list of barriers that keep you from having a sexual relationship with your partner.

Just writing down the barriers can be a huge exercise of organizing your feelings around the problem.

  • After discussing your lists, figure out if the problems and barriers can be solved.

Be solution oriented about what needs to happen in order for you to move forward in your relationship.

  • Be willing to make some changes.

Often, hearing the way our partner is feeling can lead to feeling criticized or defensiveness.  Understand that for a relationship to function you need to hear how they feel and begin to accept your role in it.

  • Make a plan to reconnect.

Beginning to take steps towards rebuilding your relationship will require time set aside to reconnect as friends before engaging in physical touch.

  • Make a maintenance plan.

Once you are reconnected or have even agreed to go to counseling together to work through the issues make it a point to not slip back into old bad habits. Reorganize your relationship and your lives to have time to connect emotionally and physically. Relationships cannot survive without these ingredients.


5 Signs the Man You Are Dating Is Sexist

Would you be able to spot sexist attitudes in the man you’re dating?

Consider that most men are on their best behavior in the early stages of a relationship and are unlikely to express blatantly sexist opinions (although remarkably, many still do). Instead, sexist men often display negative beliefs about women in subtle ways, ones that are easy to miss in the early stages of excitement and romance.

Further complicating matters, some men hold beliefs they don’t even realize are sexist, as do some women. For example, a man who believes a woman should be protected, cared for, and admired might not seem sexist except such men are unlikely to feel comfortable with a woman who significantly out-earns them. Sure, some women might want a partner who protects them, cares for them, and admires them but they would probably also want the option of being successful without it causing him to feel resentment, insecurity, and hostility.

Most women would probably want to know if the man they’re dating is potentially sexist and the following tips should help them do so. However, these signs should only be considered red flags or issues that warrant further attention—not grounds for immediate condemnation. Some men might not have thought through their attitudes sufficiently and others might not be aware their behavior or opinions are problematic. If your date displays any of these signs, it might be a good idea to ask them directly about issues that concern you (e.g., whether they would be comfortable with a women who made more than they did, or whether they think it’s okay for men to participate equally in child-rearing or be primary caretakers).

Five Signs Your Date Might Be Sexist

1. He orders you a drink or dinner without asking want you want.When someone orders for you they’re assuming they know what’s good for you or what you would like. Unless your date is a renowned mind reader with his own Vegas spectacular, he should always check with you first.

It might not be sexist if: He had mentioned his favorite drink/meal earlier and you indicated you would be open to trying it. Even then, he should have checked with you but hopefully his unilateral move is more a reflection of over-enthusiasm than it is sexism.

2. He asks you questions about your child-rearing goals but not your career goals. By doing so he’s assuming you should be more focused on motherhood than on your career.

It might not be sexist if: You had clarified your preference to be a stay-at-home mom previously, if he discussed his role as a father with equal enthusiasm, or if he happily mentioned his company gives paternity leave.

3. He calls you babe, sweetie, toots, or other pet names on a first date. Pet names should reflect feelings of love or affection and as such, they should be earned. If he’s doling out pet names after knowing you for all of two hours, it more likely reflects feelings of superiority on his part.

It might not be sexist if: You called him a pet name first or if he works as a waiter in a greasy diner (“What can I get fer ya, toots?”).

4. He resorts to name calling when referring to a previous girlfriend or ex-wife. Using derogatory terms about another woman when on a date is not just bad judgment but likely a reflection of his feelings about women in general.

It might not be sexist if: He’s getting over a really bad and really recent divorce in which he sustained significant emotional or financial wounds and you were the one who (unwisely) asked him about his ex. Regardless, he’s definitely not ready for a new relationship, so give this one a pass.

5. He finds it necessary to share his “philosophy of women.” The fact that he even has a philosophy of women is a problem as it assumes all women are alike and want the same things which smacks of sexism even if his “beliefs” sound positive (e.g., I think women should be put on a pedestal!).

It might not be sexist if: You asked him about his views “on women,” offered your own manifesto about your views on men, or criticized an ex for how they viewed women—prompting your date to make the point that he’s not “like that.”

Remember, if the man you’re dating fits any of these criteria it should warrant further discussion not immediate dismissal. It might also be a good idea to think through your own opinions and attitudes about the differences between men and women to assess whether your own beliefs are sexist in some ways. Having sexist beliefs is usually a product of our upbringing and social context so we might have such opinions but our attitudes can and should be updated if we take the time to think things through.