Navigating the Landmines of Emerging Sexuality

by Zaeli Kane February 03, 2017

three boys posing at the camera

Part of health is sexual health. While there’s no one right way to express sexuality, it’s the seat of each person’s creative power, and creativity is what allows our species to problem-solve and thrive in a world of shifting circumstance.

It’s amazing so many parents fail to grasp this deep, obvious truth: our kids cannot grow to be their best selves (and certainly cannot have their best relationships) as long as we enable their sexual dysfunction.

What the hell am I talking about? In this case, by “sexual dysfunction” I’m not referring to the Viagra-type issue of certain organs failing to cooperate. I’m talking about when sexual drives translate into hurtful, manipulative, or predatory attitudes and actions, collectively perpetuating what’s called rape culture.

Rape culture commonly describes societies like ours where rape is prevalent, but it can also mean anywhere sexuality is weaponized as part of a quest for power. Rape is the obvious symptom, but not the only problem. People of any sex, gender or orientation perpetuate rape culture when they use sexuality to shame, control, or exploit others.

There is an organized effort to combat rape culture among students, but very little seems to change. Why do campus workshops on consent fail to solve the problem? Well, by the time kids raised in rape cultures reach college age, the violence has already been done. It may be subtle, accidental – but the damage is real: injury has been inflicted upon the young adult’s sense of value as an embodied being.

How does this happen? Well, modern American schools are phasing out recess, administering more tests, assigning more homework. The desire to move, play, and touch are treated as “inappropriate” signs of “restlessness.” Set schedules make it impossible for kids to honor (or even notice) their own bodily rhythms.

The constant message? Bodies are irrelevant. Ignore your body. Overpower your body. Shut down your senses and move inside your head.

You can imagine the damage of enforcing this message as a person’s body is changing, yet this is our cultural norm. Well-meaning parents, teachers, and coaches attempt to help kids growing into healthy, functional adults while also forcing them to halt or ignore involuntary physical developments and normal markers of maturation, like social and sexual curiosity. This generates shame, inner conflict, and teen angst.

When young sexual energy is stigmatized and repressed it can’t fully bloom – it comes out warped, politicized, embarrassed. Likewise, when intellectual reasoning is coerced prematurely, it’s not balanced with empathy and experience-based common sense. This combination turns adolescence into a landmine of mixed signals about how – and even whether – to grow up.

It’s no wonder that, upon graduating from an artificially dictated puberty, we get adults that aren’t very, well, mature.

Being out of sync with their own bodies interferes with their emotional intelligence. They become confused by their own urges and are compelled to rationalize them. Meanwhile, their empathy for other bodies and the emotions those bodies generate also becomes dulled. The concept of “other” remains an intellectual abstraction, something subject to mind games and rationalizations – the forerunners of physical violence.

These pseudo adults linger in a self-centered identity, never initiated into a collective one. Lacking the security to communicate honestly, they depend on alcohol and other gimmicks to navigate social risk.

This is a terrible backdrop for sexual awakening.

So how can we support kids in developing full health, including sexual and psycho-emotional health? Consider these three ways to tweak your influence on kids’ developing sense of embodiment:

Don’t shame discovery

It’s hard for adults to let kids take the lead on anything, but when it comes to their own bodies, we need to back off. You can still wipe boogers and tell them to take their hands out of their pants, but without humiliation or disgust. Teach them hygiene and manners without making them feel bad about asking questions or comparing parts.

Have “the talk” a lot

Don’t wait until your kid’s hormonal to have one big, awkward conversation. Take opportunities as they grow to explain consent, respect, privacy, and personal taste – topics that come up naturally through play and daily life. It’s important to present the concept of boundaries well before sexual development begins.

Don’t cut the cord

Mother Earth is our greater body, tying all bodies together. Don’t sever kids from nature. This goes for young adults, too. Let them get dirty, explore, and feel at home in their habitat, which will help them feel at home in their bodies. When physically grounded, they’re less likely to act out.

None of this will work without addressing your own hang-ups. Ask yourself how you belittle embodiment. By eating things that make you unwell? Bad-talking your figure? Hiding from cameras? Critiquing others for their weight, dating habits, or cosmetic choices?

Children notice these things, and consciously or not, they learn that physical selfhood is secondary at best, problematic at worst.

But it’s never too late to resolve to raise the whole child.

Zaeli Kane


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