What's Love Got to Do With It: Talking With Your Kids About Sex

What's Love Got to Do With It: Talking With Your Kids About Sex

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by John T. Chirban Ph.D., Th.D.

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Having trouble talking to your kids about sex? Their friends at school don't...

Unfortunately, for many parents, the most important conversations are the hardest. Ninety-three percent of adults are dissatisfied with the sex education they received as children, which is precisely why they are so bad at teaching their kids-they have no frame of reference.

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Having trouble talking to your kids about sex? Their friends at school don't...

Unfortunately, for many parents, the most important conversations are the hardest. Ninety-three percent of adults are dissatisfied with the sex education they received as children, which is precisely why they are so bad at teaching their kids-they have no frame of reference. Renowned Harvard Medical School psychologist and frequent Dr. Phil guest John Chirban helps parents talk to their kids . . . about sex.

Kids are going to learn about sex, and it is up to parents to decide if their kids are going to learn from them or from MTV. How parents address sex—their openness, the context, and their attitudes—will impact how their children view their own sexuality and self worth.

Dr. Chirban helps parents know when, how, and how much. He uses humor, compassion, and real-life examples to prepare parents for a healthy and ongoing conversation that will equip their kids to own their own sexuality and an understanding of the larger issues of relationships, love, commitment, and intimacy.In addition, parents understand how helping their children understand these veiled yet critical keys of a fulfilling life deepens their own connection with their children.

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Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date:
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6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.20(d)

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Talking with Your Kids about Sex

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2007 John T. Chirban
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4016-0339-7

Chapter One

Cleaning Up the Dirty Little Secret

We do not even in the least know the final cause of sexuality. The whole subject is in darkness. -Charles Darwin

First-grader Johnny wanders into the living room, where his father intently reads a business magazine. "Daddy, where did I come from?" the boy asks. The anxious father-caught off guard, not expecting such a question for years-hastily answers, "Uhh ... Bloomingdale's." "Then where did you come from, Daddy?" The father, taken aback yet again, remembers a childhood fable. "From a stork!" he says. Johnny, still fixed on his inquiry, continues, "How about Grandpa? Where did he come from?" Johnny's father now desperately tries to think back to the stories he was told as a kid and, as if he has landed on the perfect answer, blurts out, "From under a cabbage patch!" Johnny's father breathes a sigh of relief as Johnny wanders off to the kitchen. The next day Johnny returns to school, armed with his completed homework assignment. "Well, Johnny, did you find out how your life began?" the teacher asks. "Not really, but I figured out why I've been so confused," he says. "I don't think my family's had sex in three generations!"

If you want to talk with your kids about sex, you'll need a sense of humor. When we're anxious about something, humor can help us through an uncomfortable silence. But be careful. Don't let humor become a way of avoiding some of the most complex and serious issues regarding sex. Dealing only or mainly in jokes can give our kids the impression that we've adequately addressed something when really we haven't.

Imagine a parent telling a funny joke about sex to his or her child-no harm done, right? But, just like with Johnny, questions will keep coming from your child. We need to consider who really answers our kids' questions. Did Johnny's dad feel he had answered his son's questions adequately-or was he just relieved to be done talking about it? More importantly, which path will you follow when your kid comes asking the tough questions?

Sometimes our kids know a lot more about sex than we think they do. With this in mind, we as parents need to prepare to answer questions like Johnny's both accurately and completely while avoiding turning them off with what kids often call "TMI"-too much information. So some joking is fine. It can help keep things comfortable and buy us some time to get our bearings. But in the end, we should take our children's questions seriously. Every exchange is important for building a trusting relationship with them. We'll get into how to strengthen the relationship with our kids in more detail later on in this book, but for now let's look at some basic pointers.

Answering Unexpected Questions

If you're reading this book, you're preparing yourself for good conversations with your kids about sex. But that doesn't mean they'll wait till you're ready; kids always have surprises in store, and maybe they've already sprung a sex talk on you. When you get hit with the unexpected from your kid, it's always best to put as many cards on the table as possible. A good starting place for a parent would be to reassure "Johnny" that you're interested and will help him find answers.

To help you move forward, you may want to ask your child a few questions. Start by asking what led him to the question. Ask him if he has any ideas about the answer. You want to avoid answering a question that's not actually being asked, thereby overwhelming or misleading your child as Johnny's dad did. Even if it means having to explain your initial reaction to the questions-maybe surprise or discomfort-your child will benefit from the message that even if you seem taken aback at first, deep down you're ready to help and really glad he asked.

Now, on to the most basic question: what is sex?

Ask kids, and you'll hear everything!

"It's about privates!" (a 5-year-old girl)

"It has to do with making babies and grown-up stuff." (a 7-year-old boy)

"It's wild." (a 16-year-old boy)

So how about you? What is sex to you?

Sex means so many things to different people that it can be hard to nail it down, especially for someone a fifth your age. You may recall President Clinton telling the press, "I did not have sex with that woman," then admitting to having had oral sex with her. People have become insistent about defining sex in their own ways. This book presents the broadest definition of sex: all that concerns sexual health and activity and their wider implications for well-being.

What Is Sex?

The World Health Organization defines sexual health as involving the integration of "physical, emotional, mental, and social well-being." Sexual health is not just the absence of disease or sexual problems but also requires "a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination, and violence."

That's a valuable and meaningful definition for parents because it can help us talk about a whole range of factors that bear on sexual health-not just the sex act itself. Sex, then, is far more than body parts and raging hormones-it is also an emotional act that requires proper understanding in order to become part of a healthy expression of love and intimacy.

In other words, sexuality is an outgrowth of our whole being and encompasses many spheres of our life. This is what I mean by taking a "holistic" approach to talking about sex. You may find it helpful to consider these aspects of life when you address your child's questions. She may be asking what part goes where, but your job is to help her integrate her sexuality into a healthy understanding of her life, as far as she's able. Let's look at those different pieces of the puzzle: the five aspects of our sexuality.

Physical. These are our physical drives, needs, and actions-the physical part of the sexual act that we can visualize and feel when we hear or see the word sex.

Emotional. This encompasses our inner feelings and their connections to intimacy and love. For example, powerful feelings such as tenderness, vulnerability, excitement, and love as well as hurt, shame, and fear can be stirred when we talk about sexuality.

Relational. Sex never takes place in a vacuum. Relationships with specific people, especially the person with whom you're having a sexually active relationship, are crucial. All relationships, including sexual ones, are characterized by a variety of factors, such as power, control, communication, and dependency. When these and other factors are in good balance, a healthy, respectful, and loving sexual relationship becomes possible.

Social. Culture influences our attitudes about sex as well as our behaviors. Culture gives to us, for example, our definitions of masculinity, femininity, and gender roles, through everything from our family upbringing and education to movies, music, TV, and the Internet.

Spiritual. Our faith and spirituality can have both positive and negative effects on how we view sexuality: on the one hand, religious teachings can create guilt, fear, and even the denial of sexuality; on the other hand, spirituality and religion can direct us to values that support a healthy understanding of how to relate sex and love. Sex can also take on spiritual aspects that are very personal and not tied to particular religious traditions.

Talking about sex requires sensitivity to all these aspects because sexuality comes from and affects our whole being. So talking about sex shouldn't stop at discussing pleasure and reproduction; we need to take into account all our attitudes, feelings, and behaviors.

What makes us different from the rest of the animal kingdom? In sex, it's our unique ability to integrate these five aspects or spheres into one grand experience of sexual health. But that's easier said than done-we humans sometimes let one or more of those spheres fall by the wayside. You can help your kids move toward overall sexual health by always thinking of their questions and your advice in this broad context. The key is to not let the questions get disconnected from the big picture. And remember, also: sex is different for each person. Each of us makes these connections in unique ways.

It can be helpful to imagine the aspects of sexuality as spheres in our life (see Figure 1.1). Each of us integrates the physical, emotional, relational, social, and spiritual spheres in our own ways. They may be overlapping or disconnected, and some spheres may be larger than others or totally absent.

The interplay among these five spheres affects how we think about our sexuality. For example, if our spiritual sphere is small or neglected, spiritual concerns will not weigh into our sexual thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Or if the social sphere is largest, social expectations and attitudes will largely direct our sexuality while other spheres won't weigh in as much. Understanding our own big picture-the size and connections of our spheres-is important if we are to guide our children in putting their own pictures together.

Purposes of Sex

If your child asks what sex is, the question "what's it for?" will probably not be far behind. You should be thinking of how to explain the various functions of sex in addition to explaining what it is. Sex serves several purposes: pleasure, stress relief, formation of our identity, intimate connection, and (of course) procreation.

But the goal of sex can be defined in one word: fulfillment (finally, you might be thinking, one word and not a list!). Certainly, orgasm is one of life's most pleasurable experiences, but true fulfillment in sex comes when such physical pleasure occurs within the context of an intimate and loving relationship. Fulfilling sex transforms what could be a pleasurable but merely mechanical event into an expression of intimacy and love that engages us emotionally, relationally, socially, spiritually, and also physically. It feels good because it connects with our core values and character.

Helping your kids understand sex will be infinitely easier when you are clearer in your own mind about what you expect from sex and what you're getting from it-in the terms of these five connected spheres. Complete Exercise 1.1 to see how you're doing.

Figure 1.2 presents a model of how a 29-year-old man might draw and describe the spheres of sexuality for Exercise 1.1. Note that the relative size of your spheres should reflect the significance of these aspects (physical, emotional, relational, social, and spiritual) as they factor in your sexuality. The spheres may be connected (if they connect in your life), disconnected, or absent. Identifying actual behaviors and activities will ground your responses.

How does your sexual wholeness look to you, now that you look at the big picture you've drawn? Is one area limited? Does another command all of your energy? This honest self-assessment is the first step in presenting to your kids your thoughts about something you've considered deeply, in all its aspects.

If you found that for you, one or two spheres is all that sex is, you're not alone-many of us experience sex this way. But this never does justice to the holistic nature of sex. A lack of balance in our approach to sex can destroy the fibers that connect sex with intimacy and love. So much of how we view sex is implicit in our language. Consider the expression, "I got a piece." This expression reveals a lot. When a partner is just an object for sexual pleasure, we have treated that person not only as a "piece" or object but also have experienced only a piece of what sex can be. In this kind of sex, the wholeness of both partners' sexuality has been shattered because the emotional, relational, social, and spiritual dimensions of sexuality have been diminished or even eliminated.

We may choose to approach sex by compartmentalizing it rather than appreciating its whole reality because we can (and often do) learn about sex in physical terms, either for pleasure or procreation, disconnected from the other spheres. Ironically, when some religious authorities insist that the purpose of sex is procreation alone, they further fragment the character of sexuality. By implying that pleasure in sex is bad, they may overemphasize their understanding of the spiritual sphere. Though such faith-based positions are intended to preserve the sanctity of sex, they actually create a disjunction between body and spirit, blurring the importance of healthy emotions and relationships-all equally important to sexual health.

As you explore and explain what sexual fulfillment means to you personally, you will be helping your kids understand the connections between sex, intimacy, and love. Then you can impart to them your family's values, rather than letting them accept what society hands them. Understanding how you want to define the sentence "Sex is fulfilling" is the key to making the ongoing talk with your kids about sex totally rewarding, and helps them to start building the bridge between sex and intimacy and love.

The A-B-Cs of Sex: Knowing What You're Talking About

It's amazing that we spend so much time thinking, dreaming, and fantasizing about (and even sometimes having!) sex. Yet when it comes to talking about it, we get tongue-tied. Getting the facts straight is a big step toward feeling confident about opening up that box of tightly guarded secrets with your child. So let's take an inventory to see where we're coming from. What do we know? How did we learn about sex? What values do we hold about it? And what kind of messages do we broadcast about sex?

Parents have several reasons for feeling uncomfortable talking with their kids about sex, but the biggest fear of all is being unsure of what is true. Exercise 1.2 will help you assess how much you need to get up to speed about the facts of sex.

If the results of Exercise 1.2 show that you need to catch up on a few details, don't worry! The most important ingredients for helping your child develop a positive understanding of sex are your motivation and care. These will lead you not to just talk about sex with your kids but to want to get the facts straight. Your natural desire to help your child will motivate you to do the research you need.

Your Sexual History

To help you get comfortable talking about sex, one additional important step is reconnecting with your own sexual history. The situations in your life that you found useful, as well as those that could have gone better, can all help you talk with your child about sex. It's good to bring our experiences to the forefront of our minds so they don't distract us from being present when we talk with our kids.

Discussing your sexual history with your spouse, partner, or a friend may help you recall struggles, uncertainties, and the sources of your underlying attitudes and values regarding sex. As you understand how your history guided the development of your sexuality, you will appreciate the significance of effective guidance regarding sex, intimacy, and love and "flesh out" (excuse the pun) issues and approaches for talking about them.

Hypocrisy and Being Judgmental

Because of how loaded the subject of "values" can get, it's no wonder that parents often shy away from talking about sex. The fact is that very little sex conforms perfectly with specific ideologies, whether conservative, liberal, or other. While some people talk about sex as something that should always and only reflect a connection of self, others, and God (a good description of the sex act in marriage), that position falls short when you consider something like masturbation. Where do we draw the line? How do we manage the gray areas?

Because parents know their own sexual activity doesn't always conform to their beliefs about sex, it's natural to feel like a hypocrite if you impose strict standards on your children. The unease about hypocrisy may be one of the main reasons we don't want to talk about sex. It's the old "Do as I say, don't do as I do." However, you can work it out if you see your role as someone who must weigh in with your children on all the various purposes of sex, not just lay down the law about behaviors they may not even be ready to learn about yet. Helping your children understand the various spheres of fulfilling sex takes time and care. Time and care are critical elements of love that this topic and your child require. You'll need many opportunities to get it right-which is why you have to start early with the ongoing discussion, not a one-time "talk."


Excerpted from WHAT'S LOVE GOT TO DO WITH IT by JOHN T. CHIRBAN Copyright © 2007 by John T. Chirban. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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What's Love Got to Do With It: Talking With Your Kids About Sex 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Jill Stirre More than 1 year ago
This is a great guide to talking with your kids about sex. I know that for many parents this is a difficult issue, and in this book Dr. Chirban provides warm encouragement and practical ways to open up a continuing dialogue with your kids. I really like that Dr. Chirban stresses the importance of seeing sex as an integral part of what it means to be a complete person. The importance of a family's values is stressed and the reader is urged to see the vital connections among sex, intimacy, and love. This point will appeal to many other readers too, I think, because parents are looking for a way to talk about sex that is open and candid but that also respects values and beliefs. I recommend this book to ANY parent, as there is a lot real information in this book you "thought" you knew!
GeorgiaGreen More than 1 year ago
I never knew that my kids were involved is so many levels of communications about sex--much less the vocabulary that this book brought to my attention. I'm glad that my library has this book on the shelf--and now I have a copy of my own with scrupulous notes reflecting about my (poor) sex education. I am learning how to keep my issues seperate from my kids as I help them address this really important topic. Kudos to Dr. Chirban for what he brings to all of us parents! Lisle, Illinois
amotherof2 More than 1 year ago
Very thoughtful and warm book... "What's Love Got to do With It" shows parents that sex is not something they need to avoid with their kids but an incredible opportunity for deepening their relationship--something I never understood. With warm personal reflections and a down to earth styles this writer not only gets the task but, more important, can explain in a clear manner what parents need to do to be there for their kids.
Emmanuel-Karavousanos More than 1 year ago
The difficulty of parent-child discussion on sex was something past generaions and our generaion as well have always struggled with. Dr. Chirban's book has taken a seemingly impenetrable subject that most parents simply could never discuss with their children and removed embarrassment, shame and guilt which were always so much a part of sexuality. This book offers the much sought-after help a parent has needed to handle what has been, for the most part, taboo. It teaches how to communicate openly about sex with one's children in a wholesome, healthy way. -Emmanuel Karavousanos - New York, New York.
MomsChoiceAwards More than 1 year ago
What's Love Got to Do With It is a recipient of the prestigious Mom's Choice Award. The Mom’s Choice Awards honors excellence in family-friendly media, products and services. An esteemed panel of judges includes education, media and other experts as well as parents, children, librarians, performing artists, producers, medical and business professionals, authors, scientists and others. A sampling of the panel members includes: Dr. Twila C. Liggett, ten-time Emmy-winner, professor and founder of PBS’s Reading Rainbow; Julie Aigner-Clark, Creator of Baby Einstein and The Safe Side Project; Jodee Blanco, New York Times best-selling Author and; LeAnn Thieman, motivational speaker and coauthor of seven Chicken Soup For The Soul books. Parents and educators look for the Mom’s Choice Awards seal in selecting quality materials and products for children and families.
Anthony Rodriguez More than 1 year ago
Dr. Chirban is true genius! He has brought forth so many new ideas and truly reawakened my relationship with my children.
dr-sweeney More than 1 year ago
Great Book! When I was first confronted with talking to my kids about sex, i had no idea where to start. I started google(ing) some answers. I came up with nothing. I went through about 10 books, and then I found this! Dr. Chirban put his instruction in a way that I could really apply it to my life. Great Guide!
Mary-Lisiski More than 1 year ago
I have recommended this to parents. Finally a common sense approach to talking openly with your kids about all aspects of sex. I certainly have my own ideas and values on this subject but this book was an excellent aid in helping me get over even my own issues. I truly wish that there was something like this for my parents to read.
VirginiaR More than 1 year ago
What an excellent book for parents to guide their children on such a very important subject. It is such a healthy, honest and compassionate read for parents. This book is such a great tool in a world gone wild in sex without wisdom and understanding. It provides balance and direction for parents who really care.
fr-timothy More than 1 year ago
Awesome Guide! Hello All, I am a Priest from Seattle, Washington. As a priest I am expected to address issues with teens regarding sex, whether its questions from parents, writing sermons, or even when running youth groups. This book was the perfect guide for me, as it walked me through all the steps needed to teach any child about sex or furthermore give advice to other parents on how to instruct there kids. I loved this Dr. Chirban's book, because he was not enforcing HIS ideas and values on your life, but rather he was giving you the backbone and structure to incorporate your own morals and values. Fr. Tim Seattle, Washington
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
GREAT BOOK! This book tought me how to talk to my daughter (12) and son (15) about sex. I really thought I knew what I was doing, yet when my physician recommended this book to me, I realized how much I was truly mistaken on many levels! Unless you're an expert, you NEEEED this book, I don't know if I can stress this enough about how important this book was to building the healthy relationship I have with my kids today!
Frances-M-Altman More than 1 year ago
Dr. Chirban's book is a "must read" for parents wanting to successfully and comfortably navigate the many aspects of giving children the sexual information and guidance they need in today's world. This book helps parents to effectively communicate values and information that their children need for positive healthy sexual growth. It addresses issues and problems in ways that predict successful outcomes for both parents and children. Dr. Chirban's credentials as a psychologist and father of three children of his own, together with his ability to effectively communicate in writing the necessary ingredients for talking to children in a real way about what they want and need to know about sex and sexual issues make this book a valuable resource for parents, grandparents, and indeed all friends and family of our nation's children. Frances M. Altman, MA Middle School Educator, Emeritus Bay Side, New York
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