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Sex Education and Sexual Empowerment in An Age of Sexual Obsession, Objectification and Sexual Ignorance. When Enough Is Enough

I (Leslie) often ponder what I think I really know and what I’ve accrued and learned as a relationship and sex therapy clinician of 25 years. Sometimes it seems so little and at other times feels like I have something to say. About things I need to communicate – to clients and others who will listen.

Over the years I’ve worked hard to learn about the human mind, with all its complexities and variegated nuances. The last several years, I’ve focused much of my time and research on the nature of sex in our lives, especially as it pertains to who we are, the way sexuality functions in relationships and what our children need to know to navigate the complex waters of dating and eventually marriage.

For sex, our grasp of its beauty in our identity and how it provides glue to ourselves, our lover and mate, needs to be a centerpiece of our own personal growth and what we pass on to our children. Our bodies, their bodies, are wonderfully made. We owe it to our children to find ways to teach what is good and healthy about our bodies and when and why we give them over to someone we care about. If we don’t, we leave them exposed, vulnerable, uneducated, ill equipped, unprotected and potentially open to relational and sexual harm.

I don’t believe I have all the answers given all there is to know about the wonder of sex in our lives, but I do know that so many have come into my office over 25 years hurt by the complications of sex in relationships and often profess general misunderstandings about what it means to be sexual, to love sexually and to teach their offspring the joy sex can bring, making it an enduring part of their lives in positive ways. Even just talking about sexuality can be very challenging for most.

It is this general lack of understanding, sometimes complete misunderstanding, of fully knowing how to think of themselves sexually and how to keep sex a vital, healthy part of life’s relationships, that I have focused much of my clinical practice. Men and women get hurt because they too often don’t have a comprehensive way to think about sex that allows it to blossom in their lives and romantic connections. Most often in marriage.

I’ve decided, over the past few decades, that it is time I stepped up with a louder and hopefully more powerful voice that encourages those I meet to grow in their understanding of all the ways sex enhances life, how it does this and what our children need to learn before they step into close relationships that can lead to sex.

But, more than anything, I’ve started to ask myself, “When is enough enough” regarding what I consider a kind of passive tolerance where we think we know enough about sex but deep inside know we really don’t? A question that impacted my clinical journey starting two plus decades ago. When is enough enough where we stop putting up with a non-informative culture that fails to guide and address the brilliance, richness and full meaning of being sexual beings? Where cultural images, which abound in all forms of media and technology, and messages imply we know everything, when we truly don’t.

I’m looking for others to join me, who also believe more can be said about sex, sexual identity and what makes sex great. Who want their children to learn about this also. These are often individuals who admit that they too need to reach higher ground in their wisdom about sex and ability to understand its richness and how to create words to talk about it to our mate and our children. People who want to be personally sexually empowered and able to be the educators of their children.

And so I’m wondering and asking you to wonder with me:

“When is enough enough?”

“When are we going to do something about an epidemic that has swept our country for generations and generations?”

It is an epidemic of ignorance that shouts for solutions but too often disappears like the echoes of a voice in a canyon – too faint to make out and alive for only seconds.

What is this epidemic?

It is an epidemic of misinformation that feeds our misunderstandings of what it means to be a sexual person. Where we learn about sex from friends and media hype and even pornography.
It is an epidemic of unpreparedness in answering questions about our bodies and what sexual intimacy means. These are often questions our children don’t even know how to ask – and we often leave them with nothing because we don’t know the right questions either.
It is an epidemic of where healthy sexual curiosity has devolved into sexual obsession and preoccupation because we are not learning and passing on to our children satisfying answers to our deepest questions about sex – the deepest questions need to know and not infrequently wonder about.
It is an epidemic of passivity and inactivity that leaves the growth of a healthy sexual identity up to chance, often fed by sparse information received from our parents, if any at all. Usually one sex talk is the best we ever get. So we stay silent when we need powerful voices about love, sex and the role sex plays in connecting with another.
And perhaps most importantly, it is the epidemic of unconsciousness – meaning most of us have never learned how to think and talk about sex and what it means to be fully educated and sexually empowered, individually and in relationships. Leaving us unable to communicate with each other and our children how sex works and how important it is to be a sexual person.
If I were to ask you whether you could articulate a very conscious, genuine, thorough explanation of what it means to possess sex as part of your identity and ways of connecting in love with another, how hard would that be? And how difficult would it be to pass on genuine, accurate and healthy information to your children. To give them a solid, thorough grasp of what goes into life as a sexual being, confident about sex information and boundaries of expression with others now and in the future?

How hard would it be to acknowledge and discuss:

The connection between sex and a healthy love relationship?
The role sex plays in romance and in finding a mate?
The role of self-worth and the impact of the choices we make in seeking out sex with another?
The challenges we face in allowing ourselves to feel sexual and bring that into the life of our lover?
How sex deepens the bond of love with our partner?
The role of sex in feeling alive, feeling sexy?
How to have safe sex? And healthy sexual boundaries?
How to teach your children about all aspects of sexuality and intimacy?
Your values, attitudes, and beliefs about sexuality and relationships?
So I’m wondering and asking you to wonder, really wonder, with me:

When are we going to say enough to the barn door that stands open regarding the meaning, value and experience of sex for ourselves and for our children?

It’s an old barn. Been around for a long time. Imagine that housed within resides everything sacred and true about sex and what it means to be a sexual person. In it is everything we know about creating wild, true passion with the person we love. And in it is everything about how to understand our deepest longing to hold another naked in our arms and to be held – knowing sex is good and drives us into ever widening connection with our lover.

In that barn, we see those very special things about good sex, how to create a solid sexual identity and what meaningful sex does in relationships where we hope for closeness and fidelity.

In that barn we see our children’s hopes for security and love. For a real chance to have a positive sexual relationship with someone they love that lasts.  And we see our own need for the same – to be able to create and possess an amazing sexual connection with our lover and mate.

If we know what’s in that barn, we have a chance to pass on a legacy of individual confidence, of personal responsibility and of worth that hasn’t been stolen by the latest social trends or philosophies of the day that too often govern how we feel about ourselves, what we think we need and what we end up pursuing.

What happens sexually in our lives encompasses so much:

It has much to do with our quest for love
It fuels passion in romance
Sex becomes a gift between two lovers
Sexual identity contributes to our sense of worth
It often gives us a measure of feeling alive
It can be the source of great personal empowerment – for it influences deeply the lover we connect with and our connection with ourselves
It deepens the bonds of love
Sex creates children
It informs us about desire and motivation
It enhances our spirituality
It is biological release
Sex gives us something to grow into in how we view ourselves and our maturity
It comes with a thousand choices from birth to death that either adds or takes away from the incredible human beings we are – you are – I am.
I’m not trying to shout out loud about my own cause or to scream because of a personal agenda that I’m hoping to draw you into.

But I am hoping to scream a little because much needs to be addressed – much needs to be discussed – and much needs to be given over to generations after us.

Over the years, I’ve listened to thousands of voices – of men and women who come into my office, oftentimes women – hurt over sexual infidelity, troubled over their bodies and how to appreciate their own sensuality, and confused about their worth and what it means to be alive sexually.

These are men and women who come in with questions that have never been answered – often because so many don’t even know the questions to ask. Most of the time I have to ask the questions because they do not even know where to begin. No one has informed them thoroughly about sexuality, or the information they have received has been scant or untrue – a piece of mythical information from an equally uneducated peer, one movie in elementary school about the anatomy of sexual organs, perhaps a vague Father-Son or Mother- Daughter talk, or from images of pornography in magazines and in the last decade from the internet. And so these men and women suffer. Suffer with personal hurt and damaged love relationships. They have questions about sex, how it works, how to talk out loud about it, how to understand themselves and their bodies, how to make sex more than a hidden act that they stumble into after a date or too much to drink. How to recover from hurt in their past or current sexual relationships, how to understand where passion has gone after a few years with their partner or why sex is not happening any more at all. Ultimately, How sex contributes to meaning in life and to deep connection with another.

The hurt due to sexual ignorance is one thing to imagine. But even more troubling is that the questions and information so many have gleaned over the years is informed by sources that potentially make no sense, have no validity in truth, messages that are frankly negative, uninformed and brilliantly off the mark, even damaging. The mark that represents the magnificence of the gift of sex we all possess and can share with another.

So many today learn about sex through pornography. The last thing we want is for our children, and ourselves for that matter, to learn about deep sexual connection and intimacy from the images and sex acts we see on the screen.

Don’t just take my word for it. Let’s review some challenging statistics on the prevalence of porn in the lives of adults and children:

“Sex” has for years been the most searched term on the Internet (Freeman-Longo & Blanchard, 1998), and the statistics are increasing. As of 2009, pornography comprised 12% of Internet traffic (Twohig, Crosby, & Cox, 2009), and with usage growing by 25% every 3 months (Cooper, Delmonico, & Burg, 2000), those figures have multiplied exponentially in the years since their reporting. High rates of usage are evidenced by the staggering amounts of revenue generated by Internet pornography. In 2005, Internet pornography annually generated $13 billion in revenue in the United States and $57 billion globally, a figure that exceeded the combined revenues of ABC, CBS, and NBC (Yoder, Virden, & Amin, 2005).

Research indicates that 67% of young men and 49% of young women (aged 18–26 years) agree that viewing pornography is acceptable, while 9 out of 10 young men and one-third of young women use pornography (Carroll et al., 2008). Cross-sectional national research indicates that 7.1% of Internet users aged 10–17 years reported receiving nude/nearly nude pictures of others (Mitchell et al., 2012), as “sexting” has become more common. Research illuminates the correlation between pornography acceptance and risky sexual behaviors (Carroll et all., 2008; Kraus & Russell, 2008) as well as relationship dissatisfaction (Morgan, 2011), suggesting that the “modern” generation is uniquely vulnerable to not only sexual addiction, but risky and dissatisfying sexual behavior in general. This is a generation so saturated with virtual sex and erotica that compulsive cybersex has perhaps replaced real relationships to become the “new normal.”

But it doesn’t stop there. Sexual messages and content are everywhere. In society. In the grocery line where we see sometimes provocative magazines. In the movies. On TV. On the Internet. We live in a culture that breathes sex from beginning to end. Sex and sexiness sell products and many young women wonder what will happen if they don’t look like photo shopped models seen plastered on most every magazine you see. Boys learn to objectify women based on looks and what they have to offer. Not on character or who they really are.

Ultimately, our obsession with sex comes from ignorance and the epidemic that has continued for centuries. But more than ignorance. Out of ignorance we don’t know ourselves sexually and don’t pass on life to our children. And when we are silent, there is a world out there willing to fill up the void. With so much misinformation and half-truths. We become obsessed with what it all means but don’t have weapons in our arsenal to fight back. We get educated by poor information and often lies that don’t profit the spirit and don’t lead to deep connections with one we love.

So I’ll ask again, “When is enough enough?”

When will we commit to finding real answers to the true value of sex and a solid sexual identity? For ourselves and for our children? When will we overcome our resistance to digging deeper to the spiritual and relational meaning of intimacy with one we love? And when will we decide we can no longer pass down ignorance to our children, ignorance that leaves them crippled and overly vulnerable to relational and sexual harm, having to find their own way with no guideposts and no path ahead? When will we fill the barns of our own mind and spirit with vital information and deep understandings of sexual identity so what we speak from a well that gives us wholeness and gives hope to those we raise in our homes?

My journey as a parent and therapist is to challenge myself and those who will listen. The challenge is hopefully clear and the urgency recognized – that we all need more, much more. We need more information about the truth that sex is a wonderful part of who we are. But we need to be dictators of what gets said to our children and to their children. It starts with our own enlightenment. The hope is that it then bleeds into the fabric of the next generation and the one following. And makes it clear to those who live and give out destructive messages about sex, that we refuse to take it lying down. We will stand up and say,

Enough is enough.

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Posted in Amazing Intimacy, Marriage & Sex

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