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Rape Culture and the Concept of Affirmative Consent

March against rape culture

March against rape culture

Throughout most of our history, rape was a property crime.

Today we do not, in the modern United States at least, think of a woman’s sexuality as a financial asset. But that is a recent phenomenon. For most of our history, rape was not treated the same way as other violent assaults because it wasn’t just a violent assault, it was also a crime against property.

You can see this view–of a woman’s sexuality belonging to her father and later her husband–in laws concerning rape and sexual assault. It was even possible for a father to sue a man who had consensual sex with his daughter because he had lost the value of his daughter. Based on this view, value is lost in terms of her work if she became pregnant and was no longer able to earn wages, or in terms of a future wife for someone else because of this stain on her character. Men could not be held accountable for raping their wives because a wife was a man’s property and consent to sex–at any time of his choosing–was part of the arrangement.

Lest you think that these laws are ancient examples of a culture that no longer bears relation to our current policies on rape, spousal rape was not made illegal in all fifty states until 1993, where it still may carry a less severe sentence than other rape offenses. The tort of seduction was technically on the books in North Carolina in 2003.

This context is important given our current cultural attitudes toward sexual assault. To understand this culture and how it can be amended, we need to look more deeply at the historical understandings of rape and consent.


Force Means No

The framework for defining rape underpins our understanding of who is required to prove consent or non-consent. The Hebrew Scriptures, which established longstanding cultural norms that helped form a basis for what was morally and legally acceptable in early America, make a distinction between a woman who was raped within a city and one who was raped outside of the city limits. The first woman was stoned to death and the second considered blameless (assuming she was a virgin). This distinction is based on the idea that it was the woman’s responsibility to cry out for help and show that she was non-consenting. A woman who was raped in the city obviously had not screamed because if she had someone would have come to her rescue and stopped the rape. The woman outside the city had no one to rescue her so she could not be blamed for being victimized.

This brutal logic, which is completely inconsistent with how we know some victims of rape react to an attack, was continued in the American legal system when our laws on rape were formulated. Rape was defined as a having a male perpetrator and a female victim and involving sexual penetration and a lack of consent. But it was again the woman’s responsibility to prove that she had not consented and the way that this was demonstrated was through her resistance. She was only actually raped if she had attempted to fight off her attacker. Different jurisdictions required different levels of force to show a true lack of consent. For example, fighting off an assailant to your utmost ability or even up to the point where the choice was either to submit to being raped or to being killed. Indeed, the cultural significance of chastity as a virtue that the female was expected to guard was so profound that many female Christian saints are saints at least in part because they chose to die rather than be raped or be a bride to anyone but Christ.

Potential canonization aside, it was consistently the responsibility of the woman alleging that she was the victim of a rape to prove that she had fought off her attacker in order to show that she had not consented. If she could not show that she had sufficiently resisted, she was deemed to not have been raped. Her chastity was someone else’s property, either her father’s or her husband’s/future husband’s, so it was always understood that someone, other than her, had the right to her sexuality. The assailant had assumed that he had the right to use her sexually and was only a rapist if she acted in such a way that a reasonable man would have known that she did not belong to him. Her failure to communicate that fact, that she was the property of some other man, was a sign that she had in fact consented. Therefore the rape was not his moral failing in stealing another man’s property but her moral failing in not protecting that property from being stolen.


Culture Wars

We can see the effects of this ideology in how we treat rape victims today. Although we don’t necessarily require evidence of forceful resistance, it is considered helpful in prosecuting a rape case. Rape shield laws may have eliminated the most egregious examples of slut-shaming victims, but an innocent or even virginal victim is certainly what the prosecution could hope for if they were trying to design their most favorable case. One of the first questions that will be asked of the victim is “did you say no?” In other words “what did YOU do to prevent this from happening to you?” The burden is still often legally and almost always culturally on the victim to show that they did not consent.

There is an alternative approach that has been gaining traction on college campuses and elsewhere known as the concept of “affirmative consent.” Take a look at the video below, which elucidates the differences between the “no versus no” approach compared to affirmative consent, which is often described as “yes means yes.”

In this video, Susan Patton and Rush Limbaugh both represent examples of rape culture. The contrast between the views of Savannah Badlich, the advocate of affirmative consent, and Patton, who is against the idea, could not be starker. To Badlich, consent is an integral part of what makes sex, sex. If there isn’t consent then whatever happened to you, whether most people would have enjoyed it or indeed whether or not you orgasmed, was rape. It is your consent that is the foundation of a healthy sexual experience, not the types of physical actions involved. In contrast, Patton expressed the view that good sex is good sex and consent seems to not play a role in whether it was good sex, or even whether it should be defined as sex at all. The only thing that could indicate if something is an assault versus a sexual encounter is whatever physical evidence exists, because otherwise, the distinction is based only on the assertions of each individual. Again we are back to evidence of force.


What is “Rape Culture”?

Rape culture refers to a culture in which sexuality and violence are linked together and normalized. It perpetuates the idea that male sexuality is based on the use of violence against women to subdue them to take a sexual experience, as well as the idea that female sexuality is the effort to resist or invite male sexuality under certain circumstances. It overgeneralizes gender roles in sexuality, demeans men by promoting their only healthy sexuality as predatory, and also demeans women by considering them objects without any positive sexuality at all.

According to this school of thought, the “no means no” paradigm fits in perfectly with rape culture because it paints men as being predators who are constantly looking for a weak member of the herd to take advantage of sexually, while also teaching women that they need to be better than the rest of the herd at fending off attacks, by clearly saying no, to survive. If they can’t do that, because they were drinking or not wearing proper clothing, then the attack was their fault.


“Yes Means Yes”

Affirmative consent works differently. Instead of assuming that you can touch someone until they prove otherwise, an affirmative consent culture assumes that you may not touch someone until you are invited to do so. This would be a shocking idea to some who assume that gamesmanship and predation are the cornerstones of male sexuality and the perks of power, but it works out better for the majority of men and women, who would prefer and who should demand equality in sex.

This video gives a brief highlight of some of the issues that are brought up when affirmative consent is discussed and the difficulties that can still arise even with affirmative consent as a model.


Evaluating Criticism of Affirmative Consent

The arguments are important so let’s unpack some of the key ones in more detail. The first objection, expressed in both videos, is how exactly do you show consent? Whenever the affirmative consent approach comes up, one of the first arguments is that it is unenforceable because no one is going to stop sexual activity to get written consent, which is the only way to really prove that a person consented. We still end up in a “he said, she said” situation, which is exactly where we are now, or a world where the government is printing out sex contracts.

The idea that affirmative consent will by necessity lead to written contracts for sex is a logical fallacy that opponents to affirmative consent use to make the proposition seem ridiculous. Currently, we require the victim to prove non-consent. Often the victim is asked if they gave a verbal no or if they said they did not want the contact. The victim is never asked: did you put the fact that you didn’t want to be touched in writing and have your assailant read it? The idea that a written explanation of non-consent would be the only way we would take it seriously is absurd, so it would be equally absurd to assume that requiring proof of consent would necessitate written documentation. Advocates for affirmative consent don’t want sex contracts.

In addition, even under our current framework we accept a variety of pieces of evidence from the prosecution to show that the victim did not consent. A clear “no” is obviously the strongest kind of evidence, just as under an affirmative consent framework an enthusiastic verbal “yes” would be the best evidence, but that is just what the best evidence is. That is certainly not the only kind of evidence available. Courts already look at the entire context surrounding the incident to try to determine consent. The process would be virtually the same under an affirmative consent model. The only difference would be that the burden would be on the defendant to show that they believed they had obtained consent based on the context of the encounter instead of placing the burden on the victim to show that, although they didn’t say “no,” they had expressed non-verbally that they were unwilling to participate.

The shift in the burden of proof is sometimes cited as a reason not to adopt an affirmative consent model. Critics argue that this affects the presumption that the accused is innocent until proven guilty. Which is, rightly, a cornerstone of our judicial system. If this model did, in fact, change that presumption then it wouldn’t be an appropriate answer to this problem. But it does not.

Take another crime as an example. A woman’s car is stolen. The police issue a BOLO on the car, find it, and bring the suspect in and sit him down. They ask him “did you have permission to take that car?” and he replies “Yes, officer, she gave me the keys!”

He is still presumed innocent and, as far as this brief hypothetical tells us, hasn’t had his rights violated. It looks as though he is going to get a fair trial at this point. That trial may still devolve into another he said, she said situation. She may allege that she didn’t give him the keys but merely left them on the kitchen table. At that point, it will be up to the jury to decide who they believe, but that would have been the case in any event. He is presenting her giving the keys to him as one of the facts to show his innocence.

If a woman’s car is stolen we don’t question her about how many miles are on the odometer. We don’t ask if she wore a seatbelt the last time she drove it. We don’t care if she had been drinking because her alcohol consumption doesn’t negate the fact that she was a victim of a crime. We certainly wouldn’t force her to prove that she didn’t give the thief the keys. That burden would rightly be on him and we would be able to both place that burden on him and at the same time presume him to be innocent until he failed to meet that burden.

Adopting an affirmative consent model changes how consent is perceived. It is primarily a cultural change in understanding who is responsible for consent. Rather than making the non-initiating party responsible for communicating a lack of consent, affirmative consent requires that the initiating party obtains obvious consent.

That is how affirmative consent works. It wouldn’t require a written contract or even necessarily a verbal assertion. Context would always matter and the cases would still often become two competing stories about what the context meant. And it doesn’t mean that we are assuming that person is guilty before they have the chance to show that they did, in fact, get that consent. It just means that we are placing the burden of proving that consent was obtained on the party claiming that consent had been obtained.


Conclusion

There is no other category of crime where we ask the victim to show that they didn’t want to be the victim of that crime. A man who is stabbed in a bar fight, regardless of whether he was drunk or belligerent, isn’t asked to prove that he didn’t want a knife wound.

We need to change our cultural framework of rape and consent. When we are working under an affirmative consent framework what we are doing is changing the first question. Currently, our first question is for the victim: did you say no? Under an affirmative consent model our first question is for the suspect: did you get a yes?

Complete Article HERE!

What does YOUR sex fantasy say about you?

From threesomes to dreaming of sleeping with someone else, your raunchy dreams unravelled

By Tracey Cox

Good news if you enjoy having erotic daydreams. Research done by an Israeli psychologist has just found having sexual fantasies about people other than your partner doesn’t significantly harm your relationship.

So let’s skip to the second most popular question people ask about their fantasies: what do they mean?

Why does an image of your next door neighbor naked suddenly pop up in your head when you have zero attraction in real life?

sexual fantasies

Why do we fantasise about things we have no desire to do in reality?

Analysing fantasies is a bit like dream analysis: it’s more about individual interpretation than general concepts. Dreaming of performing on stage is a positive dream for some; for others it would qualify as an anxiety dream.

So let your instincts guide you on what rings true and what doesn’t but here are some common female fantasy themes and what therapists conclude from them.

Being irresistible

It’s a universal need to want people to find you attractive.

But what if you were so attractive, people really couldn’t help themselves and were literally falling at your feet, begging you to let them kiss you, touch you, have sex with you?

Being adored rather handily removes responsibility for what follows: you’re being seduced by people who are desperate to possess you, how could you possibly resist? Because society frowns on women who instigate sexual encounters, our subconscious tries to find ways to make it ‘acceptable’ and this is one of them.

Sometimes, recurring fantasies of being irresistible mean there’s an unconscious fear that in reality the opposite is true.

In this case, it can reflect low self-esteem and fears of sexual inadequacy.

In most, it’s simply a healthy outlet for the recurring dream of going to bed as ourselves and waking up as a supermodel.

Bondage fantasiesbondage2225

No prizes for guessing this one is about power.

One person has it, the other doesn’t and we’re attracted to both for different reasons.

Stripped of it, we are completely at the mercy of someone else, absolving us of responsibility. This means we’re ‘forced’ to enjoy whatever the other person does to us.

If you’re a people-pleaser and usually the ‘giver’, this makes it impossible to reciprocate.

If we’re the ones in control, we’re given permission to be completely selfish.

Dominating men

This is particularly popular with women who are shy and undemanding in real life.

The desire to be the boss and be in control isn’t exclusive to men but being sexually aggressive is seen as male trait.

Lots of women are worried they won’t be seen as feminine if they act dominant during sex but our imagination (thank God) isn’t bound by the same rules which dictate society. We might choose to ‘behave’ during waking hours but in our dreams and our fantasies, our forceful, domineering sides are given freedom.

We don’t wait to be given ‘permission’ but take what we want, when we want it, without apology.

The goal isn’t to humiliate our lover, it’s to give us a total sense of control.

Forbidden people

Sometimes it’s a replay of what actually happened with a particularly desirable ex (we tend to marry for love not sex); if it’s someone new, the grass-is-greener philosophy is at play.

The more forbidden the person (our partner’s best friend, someone’s father, the boss), the more powerful the fantasy.

The ‘we want what we can’t have’ syndrome is especially potent in sex.

Him watching you have sex with another man

You’re insatiable – he alone can’t satisfy you

The person who craves sex more is seen as more sexually powerful, so this is a power fantasy as well.

It also hints at the urge to show off: we can only see so much when we’re having sex with someone because you’re necessarily physically close.

Watching from a distance, he gets to see how good you really look.

Romantic

No real surprises with this one: these fantasies are had by women who are more motivated by love than sex and tend to be sexually conservative.

Even if we can’t do it in reality, most of us can separate sex and love in our imaginations

Women who only have romantic fantasies tend not to be able to.

Seducing a virgin

Sign-Virginville-VillageOf
We always remember the first person we have sex with, so high achievers and those who enjoy being the centre of attention may enjoy this fantasy.

If someone’s never done something before, we not only get to teach them everything we know – putting us in a superior sexual position – they probably won’t criticise our technique

So it may mean you secretly feel sexually inadequate

Corrupting innocence is also a strong theme here: it’s forbidden, so highly appealing.

Sex in public or semi-public

This one’s about people admiring us – usually, onlookers are so impressed by our sexual skills, they’d cut off a limb to swap places with the person we’re having sex with.

It’s also illegal so can mean you’re quite rebellious.

Sex with a stranger

If you don’t know them and never will, you can let loose without fear of being judged. If they don’t know you, you can become someone else.

It’s sex stripped of all emotion, purely physical.

Often the stranger will be faceless.

Eye contact means intimacy, avoiding it is another way to ensure it satisfies the raw, primitive side of us we may mask in real life.

Sex with someone much younger or older

Having sex with someone much younger than us is an ego-boost: we’ve still ‘got it’ to be able to attract them.

Sex with someone older works on the same principle.

We see older people as wiser, richer, more intelligent, worldly and sophisticated.

Then there are Daddy issues.

Women who consistently fantasise about older men or date them in real life, can sometimes be working through issues with their own father.

We try to fix what’s happened in the past by recreating it, with a different ending, in the present.

Spanking fantasies

spank
Spanking is a common fantasy made even more so since Christian Grey came (ahem) into our lives.

But it also has biological undertones.

Aggression is common in the animal world: some female animals only ovulate if the male bites them and humans have also long linked pain and pleasure.

Wanting to be spanked can also originate from guilt: we need to be punished for liking something we shouldn’t (sex).

Stripping

This is all about ‘the looking glass effect’: seeing ourselves reflected in other people’s eyes. The more adoring they look at us, the more adorable we feel.

Strippers involve the audience in their own narcissism – they want to be looked at.

Most of the men who frequent strip clubs are voyeurs: all they want to do is look rather than touch.

Flaunting gives us a sense of power – and power is always sexy.

Exposing our naked body to cheers and applause in our fantasies also helps calm our fear of our body not being good enough in real life.

Threesomes, swinging, group sex

When women fantasise about group sex they tend to be the undisputed star of the session – and are nearly always on the receiving end.

For men, it’s more about being able to satisfy more than one woman.

These fantasies are a heady blend of exhibitionism, voyeurism, bi-curiosity (if there’s the same sex involved) and a human longing for excess (if one person feels good, more must feel better).

Watching others have sex vintage-voyeur

Countless surveys have shown women are as turned on by erotic images as men are so it makes sense that we’re also just as voyeuristic.

Watching people have sex in real life is even more fascinating than porn because it makes for more realistic comparisons.

We all love to think we’re great in bed and watching other people means we can see how we rate on the ‘best lover’ chart.

It also hints at sexual confidence: you could teach people a thing or two!

Women with women

It’s as common for women to have sexual fantasies about other women as it is rare for men to have fantasies about other men,’ says Nancy Friday, author of The Secret Garden, the infamous book about female fantasies.

Women are far less haunted by the social taboo of being gay, probably because society is far less homophobic about gay women than it is gay men

Most women who fantasise about other women, aren’t gay or bi-sexual: simply thinking about something does not mean you’re gay.

Be careful about sharing this one though: watching you with another woman happens to be one of the top male fantasies.

Especially if he’s been racking his brains about what special surprise he can organize for that upcoming birthday…

Complete Article HERE!

Sexual Health for Singles: Helpful Hints for Having the Sexual History Conversation

By Charles Burton

black-couple-smiling

Unless two people are absolute virgins when they meet, they should sit still for a few minutes and have “the conversation” prior to hopping into bed together. It’s not a pleasant thing to think about, but facts are facts, and STDs are commoner than you might think. If you’re going to engage in adult behavior, it’s imperative that you act with at least a modicum of maturity. Part of that maturity involves open communication with any and all sexual playmates you encounter.

What are STD and STI

According to Mayo Clinic, Sexually transmitted diseases (STD) and sexually transmitted infections (STI) are the same thing with different acronyms. Both terms refer to infections and diseases that are spread by way of sexual contact. Not all STDs are transmitted via sexual activity, however. A number of so-called sexually transmitted infections can be spread via blood transfusion, shared needles and the birth process.

Among the commonest STD are gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis and hepatitis. These are not the only diseases that can be transmitted by sexual contact, however. HIV is a dangerous disease that does not have a cure as yet. HPV and genital herpes are other STD infections for which there is currently no effective, long-lasting cure.

How to start the STD conversation

Relationship experts at Psychology Today recommend finding (or making) the time to talk when neither partner is busy or distracted. When there’s a football game on TV, it may not be the right time or place to broach the topic of sexual history. Keep the mood positive, and never express alarm or disgust at the number of previous sexual partners either of you has had. Accept the information offered by your potential sexual partner with grace, dignity and humor.

US News notes that the pre-sex talk doesn’t necessarily have to happen in person. In fact, it may be easier to start the conversation while chatting in a private message or texting on the phone. Starting the conversation and honestly communicating is far more important than the set and setting of “the talk.” Because the STD conversation is so imperative to good health for both partners, anonymous sexual encounters are not recommended.

Things to mention during The Talk

If you’re intimate enough to consider sexual relations with another person, you should feel comfortable enough to broach the subject of sexual history with them. Conversely, if you are too shy to mention condoms, request testing or to reveal a prior STD infection, you may wish to totally reconsider whether to begin a sexual relationship at all. Sex is, after all, a sophisticated form of human communication that works best when both partners are able to be completely open, candid and honest with one another.

Sexual history doesn’t need to divulge every detail, but it is crucial that you advise your partner of any hepatitis, gonorrhea, genital warts or other STD you have ever been exposed to.

How to prevent sexually transmitted infection

The most effective way to eliminate the risk of STD infection is to eschew sexual contact altogether. But, as you probably know, complete abstinence is not a realistic solution. Knowing one’s own body, recognizing symptoms and seeking medical help at the first sign of STD are far more effective methods of reducing sexually related infections.

Symptoms of STD may include sores on the genitals or around the mouth. Painful urination and penile discharge are also symptoms of STD, says Mayo Clinic. Foul-smelling vaginal leakage, abdominal aches, unusual bleeding between periods, and painful intercourse are other signs of sexually transmitted infection.

If you think that you or your partner may be infected with any sort of STD or STI, please make an appointment with a doctor or visit an STD testing center without delay. The sooner you are diagnosed, the sooner you can receive treatments to alleviate symptoms and treat the infection. The worst thing you can do, as far as your own health is concerned, is to feel too embarrassed to visit a clinic to be tested and treated for possible infection.

Lovemaking, sexual intimacy, or hooking up as “friends with benefits” can be a beautiful thing, but sex is fraught with danger, too. Do your best to reveal your truth with humor and grace, and you may be well on the way to forming a blissful interpersonal relationship that can last a lifetime. If not, you’ll at least reduce your risk of becoming infected while enjoying a hot weekend with a special someone.

Complete Article HERE!

UA Report: Few Studies Look at Well-Being of LGB Youth of Color

Studies that do look at gay, lesbian and bisexual youth of color tend to focus on negative outcomes, a UA-led report finds.

By Alexis Blue

hands

While research on lesbian, gay and bisexual youth has increased in recent years, these studies often fail to look at the experiences of young people of color, according to a new report in the Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health.

This omission may lead to wide gaps in understanding the experience of sexual minority youth who also are part of a racial or ethnic minority, says University of Arizona researcher Russell Toomey, lead author of the report.

Russell Toomey

Russell Toomey

Studies that do look at gay, lesbian and bisexual youth — also known as sexual minority youth — of color tend to focus on negative outcomes, such as sexual risk-taking behavior and alcohol and tobacco use, rather than normal developmental experiences. This is according to researchers’ review and analysis of 125 reports on sexual minority youth of color, age 25 and younger, published since 1990.

“Adolescence is a time of identity development — when we figure out who we are — and most of the research really hasn’t paid attention to the fact that the youth have multiple identities that they’re juggling at the same time,” said Toomey, assistant professor in the John & Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences in the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“Studies focus on young people’s sexual identity but they totally ignore racial or ethnic identity, which is also becoming very salient and important during adolescence,” Toomey said. “Very few studies have merged those two and examined how an LGB-identified person might have to navigate sexual identity in the context of their culture or vice versa.”

Toomey conducted the literature review with collaborators Virginia Huynh, professor at California State University, Northridge; Samantha K. Jones, researcher at the University of Missouri; Sophia Lee, a graduate student at San Diego State University; and Michelle Revels-Macalinao, a graduate student at California State University, Northridge.

Given that lesbian, gay and bisexual teens are coming out at younger ages and given that the nation’s demographics are changing, with the U.S. Census Bureau projecting that the nation’s Hispanic population will nearly double by 2050, it’s critically important to consider the intersection between sexual orientation and race-ethnicity, Toomey said.

Also important, Toomey said, is looking at the normal, everyday experiences of teens with multiple oppressed identities.

“The literature’s focus has really been on understanding negative outcomes among LGB youth of color, and we’re not focused on any of their normative experiences as people,” he said. “This particular adolescent population has really been framed as a ‘risk population,’ and we need to start to understand their experiences with family and school contexts to really understand how to prevent or reduce some of those negative outcomes.”

Toomey and his collaborators also found that the experiences of women and transgender individuals were largely invisible in the reports they analyzed, with the majority of studies looking solely at men. This signals another area where more research is needed.

“It will help us to understand the complexities of young people growing up in the U.S. today if instead of ‘siloing’ their experiences we try to examine their holistic experience,” Toomey said. “Paying attention to the multiple layers of youths’ lives will help us to better understand how to reduce disparities in health and well-being by targeting intervention and prevention in more culturally appropriate ways.”

Complete Article HERE!

The Sex Talk You Can’t Skip

These conversations with children are far more critical than parents think

by Deirdre Reilly

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Moms and dads typically grit their teeth, square their shoulders, and take a deep breath when it’s time for “the birds and the bees” talk with their kids. For many parents, by the time they gather the courage to have “the talk” — it’s way too late.

One father of two from Charlottesville, Virginia, joked to LifeZette, “I had the sex talk with my kids, and it was not bad at all. Sure, they were asleep — but I have to say it really went pretty well!”

There is no reason to avoid or fear the talk with the kids.

“Talking to kids about sexuality does not encourage them to be sexual,” Dr. Rita Eichenstein, a pediatric neuropsychologist in Los Angeles, told LifeZette. “We give our kids all types of information to protect them — why wouldn’t we talk to them about sex? There are a lot of bad things in this world, but sex isn’t one of them. The facts of life aren’t scary — they’re beautiful.”

The best way to discuss a healthy sexual identity with children is to make the topic as normal as possible for both parent and child.

Bobbi Wegman, a Brookline, Massachusetts, clinical psychologist, advocates using the world around you to begin teaching age-appropriate sexual information.

“I’m a mother of three kids, and it is absolutely vital to talk about sex with your children in a direct and 002honest manner that is appropriate for their age,” she told LifeZette. “Personally, the first time this came up in our home, my son was four — he asked where babies came from. We had just finished the summer and he had planted and raised the vegetables in our garden, and I used that as a metaphor for where children come from. ‘Dad planted a seed in Mommy and it grew into a baby, just like the tomato plant you planted,’ I told him. It is best to model that sex and our bodies aren’t shameful, and that sex is completely natural,” she added.

One Boston-area mom recounts how her third pregnancy opened the door for discussion with her first child, a fifth grader.

“He asked me how I first knew I was pregnant, and I said I had missed my period,” this mom of three told LifeZette. “He said, quite casually, ‘Yeah, so what is that?’ We were able to move on from there to a great discussion, which I had been longing to have with him.”

Waiting until your child is a teenager is to late to begin, the experts say.

“Teens, by virtue of their developmental stage, believe they are invincible and thus may not consider the risks associated with their actions,” Laguna Beach, California, psychiatrist Gayani DeSilva told LifeZette. “However, health risks can have lasting implications. For example, teens should be aware that contracting herpes is a lifelong condition that will impact sexual activity for life — and will need to be disclosed to all future sexual partners.”

Other health risks include mental health problems. “Sex in the context of a respectful, loving relationship will not be mentally damaging,” said DeSilva. “But sex in the context of a power struggle, assault, incest, rape, or molestation can have devastating effects on a person’s self-esteem and mental well-being. It may even be the trigger for suicide.”

Adults can hold the view that sexual activity is to be enjoyed only through marriage and still talk to their kids about sex — and the risks associated with it.

“Be consistent in your beliefs — if you are conservative, act conservative,” said Eichenstein. “Be modest, attend church and give them exposure to this topic in a way that is consistent with your morals and values. No closet Puritans allowed — you have to talk the talk and walk the walk of your own family’s moral code.”

Eichenstein understands a parent’s discomfort over “the talk.”

“The media and the culture have made sex really sleazy, and that’s what parents are embarrassed about,” she said. “All the ‘Fifty Shades of Gray’ stuff mangles the reality of normal, healthy sex, and that’s why it is critical that lines of communication are open from very early on. Body parts should be correctly named with young children, and parents should work hard to stay natural about sex.”

Chunking sexual information is good, said Eichenstein, beginning with a series of little talks starting very young. “Remember, the older children get, the less likely they are to listen to the information you have to share. Use books or other helpful materials — don’t fly on your own if it’s not working. Leave a book on your child’s night table and they will read it, guaranteed.”

003“Before sexual activity is the time for the talk — after is too late,” Eichenstein emphasized, adding that 4th, 5th and 6th grade is the window in which to share more in-depth information about sex. “It is good to say, ‘I don’t endorse that you become sexually active. But I hope that if and when you are ready down the road, I hope you’ll be open to talking to me — I’m here to help you.’”

Pornography now seems normative, said Eichenstein, which makes “the talk” an uphill battle for parents.

“Pornography desensitizes kids to sexuality, and cheapens it, too,” she said. “They no longer know how to have a healthy relationship, or how to trust their instincts. My guess is that girls actually want the type of relationships people had in the 1950s — a very romantic relationship.”

It is important to help girls have a sense of self when it comes to sexuality, and to always refuse to do what they don’t want to do — and how to say no to overtures from boys that are not welcome. “That’s the most important part of sex education for girls, in my view — knowing how to get out of a bad situation.”

Eichenstein said parents talk to boys a lot less about sex than they talk to girls, and this is dangerous. “Boys can turn into aggressors and they need to be taught by responsible parents,” she noted.

“Simple empathy between the sexes is a huge part of good sexual education for children,” noted Eichenstein. “For boys, it’s the ability to put themselves in a girl’s shoes — and act accordingly.”

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