Beyond the Sex Talks: Teaching Teens Emotional Intimacy
By Caron C. Andrews
We want our children to be emotionally healthy, and a large part of that is developing healthy sexuality. We need to teach our kids more than the basic functions of the body and avoiding disease and unwanted pregnancy. Any two people can have sex. But what makes for a great, emotionally bonded, appropriate sexual relationship is much harder to develop. Teaching our kids about the emotional intimacy side of sex is just as important as teaching them about the facts and statistics.
SEX IS AMAZING AND SPECIAL
There’s a lot of fear and anxiety and misinformation in the world about sex. Many attach a sense of shame to it for a variety of reasons. There are definitely dark aspects to sex: like so many other things, it’s a powerful force that can be beautiful and unifying or ugly and destructive, and all ranges in between.
There’s a whole lot more to sex than the obvious physical aspects. Emotional intimacy and love, for example, are awesome aspects of sex. If two people take the time to truly know and care for each other, it adds an amazing bonding dimension to sex that is unparalleled. When people “hook up” for casual, un-relational sex, it obviously doesn’t have this dimension. “Casual sex” can leave people feeling empty and alone, at a loss as to understanding what the big deal is about sex. But if we can teach our children that sex is special, and is so much better when enjoyed in a committed relationship we will get the message across that emotions and relationships are meant to be part of the experience.
YOU’RE WORTH WAITING FOR—VALUING YOURSELF
Whatever our values about sex, it’s imperative that we teach our children to value themselves as people, as sexual beings, and as individuals. Teach your kids that they are worth waiting for, meaning they are worth being loved, cherished, and valued as people before a sexual relationship will happen.
How do we teach this?
The first people to love children are their parents, so you are a powerful influence and model. Consistently loving your children, respecting them, listening to them—these are the elements that will help them develop their sense of self-worth and value. Modeling good, healthy relationships in your home and relationships is a good start. Show them that conflict is a natural part of human interaction, but that conflicts can be resolved in a way that is respectful to all involved (Jones, pg. 215-216). All of this will also give them a solid, emotionally healthy foundation that will help further their social development as they grow up (University of Alabama, 2014).
Teenagers are not fully developed emotionally. When they lack experience, they may make faulty assumptions about sex, like it will make their partner fall in love with them, be faithful to them, or value them more. When things don’t turn out like they imagine, the emotional consequences can be devastating and long-lasting, frustrating their ability to have future healthy relationships. That’s why it’s so important to teach your kids that sex is about a lot more than momentary pleasure or gratification.
VALUE AND TRUST YOUR DESIRE FOR INTIMACY
Pop culture teaches living for the moment and that “if it feels good, do it”. It tends to neglect the inherent and natural desire that people—females and males—have for close, emotionally intimate bonds with other people. Parents can counteract this trend by emphasizing and modeling how important close relationships are, whether they are sexual or not. Kids need to know that relationships are worth working at and that it is important to know how to love and support one another’s dreams and goals (Boykin, 2010).
SUBSTITUTING OR CONFUSING SEX FOR INTIMACY
Many, many people of all ages grapple with this. They may think that having sex with someone will bring them close together emotionally as well as physically. Sadly, it’s not uncommon to go into a sexual encounter with this idea and come out of it disillusioned and confused, still hungry for true closeness. The fact is, there is no shortcut to real intimacy. Real intimacy takes time, patience, understanding, selflessness, and courage. It takes valuing yourself and valuing the other person. It takes self-control and mutual respect. It definitely takes longer than a hookup with someone you barely know. This is what our children need to know.
You, as a parent, can be enormously helpful and influential in their healthy development, both emotionally and sexually. Don’t be afraid to talk with your kids about these issues, telling them your thoughts and encouraging them to talk about theirs. Tell your child what you want for them! The benefits of starting this conversation are boundless and, if you’re lucky, will continue into adulthood.
See our book 30 Days of Sex Talks for ages 3-7, 8-11 and 12+ to find ways to start conversations about topics like this; including lessons and activities to empower your child with knowledge of sexual intimacy!
Boykin, E. (2010, January) Teaching Teens about the Emotional Aspect of Intimate Relationships, Loveandlifetoolbox.com. Retrieved from http://loveandlifetoolbox.com/whats-love-got-to-do-with-it-teaching-children-about-the-emotional-aspect-of-intimate-relationships-by-esther-boykin-mft/
Jones, F. A. (2013). TALK: teaching adults to lead their kids. Admont Publishing.
University of Alabama Parenting Assistance Line (2014) Nurturing Your Child’s Emotional Development: Preschool through Adolescence, pal.ua.edu. Retrieved from http://www.pal.ua.edu/children-mental-health/nurturing_children.php
Caron C. Andrews has been a contributing writer for Educate and Empower Kids from its beginnings. She has a BA in English, with a concentration in creative writing, from the University of New Mexico. In addition to her articles on healthy relationships, healthy sexuality, and combatting pornography addiction, she is a copyeditor. She is currently working on starting a blog and writing a novel. She is the mother of a teenage son and daughter and lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
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