I do the work that I do because I believe that people have too much fear and anxiety that prevents them from having more happiness and success in their lives. I specifically chose the area of sex and sexuality after finding that many of my colleagues were uncomfortable talking with their patients about sex or sexual issues. This made little sense to me since, as psychiatrists, we help patients explore the deepest issues of the unconscious mind, and one’s sexuality should be no exception.
My goal for patients, and society in general, is that we will be able to talk to each other about sex and sexuality without anxiety and fear. Because it not only affects us in our sex life, but this anxiety and fear is also passed down to our children in how they learn about sex and their own sexuality.
Such was the case with someone who was telling me that he and his wife were not really sure what to do about their 2 year old son. It seems that he was masturbating himself often, many times in public when out with his mom. This gentleman then told me (with a laugh) that they starting telling their son that if he kept touching it, it was going to fall off. It was clear that the reason why they chose to tell this to their son was because they themselves were quite anxious about talking to him regarding anything sexual, which came from their own anxiety with sex. I mentioned carefully that this was not a very healthy way to speak to his son about his behavior and could cause difficulties later with anxiety and shame related to sex. First of all, he is at that age where he still believes that everything his parents tell him is true. Now he has to worry that if he gives himself a little pleasure, he is going to unwillingly mutilate himself. Instead, the suggestion was made that his son be told that it is perfectly normal, but reminded that his behavior should be limited to those times when he is in private in his room, and that it is not appropriate when he is around other people, including Mommy and Daddy.
The real problem here is with the parents’ anxiety related to sex and sexual issues. When we are anxious or uncomfortable thinking and talking about sex, we unintentionally communicate this to our children. This is the reason why I encourage couples to start having more open communication with each other about sex – in order to increase their comfort level and decrease their anxiety. That should be a goal for all couples in general, but certainly before starting to have children. Because children (even infants and toddlers) can sense what we are feeling, even when we try to hide it from them. And they can sense when we are anxious about something. They learn to feel this way too, which could translate into them thinking that they are “bad” or “dirty” or should feel shame. None of these things are healthy when it comes to talking to them about their bodies or their age-appropriate sexual behavior. What they do need is some truthful, calm limit setting and answers (appropriate to their age) to any questions they may have.
One lengthy, but very informative post on this topic can be found at: http://randombabble.com/2009/09/02/talking-to-kids-about-sex/ . It speaks to the importance of giving clear and truthful information to your children (at any age) which is best achieved when we are comfortable with our own sexuality and the topic of sex in general. Decreasing our anxiety and fear will allow us to increase our knowledge, our comfort level, and eventually our happiness and satisfaction based on the decisions we will make.