Intimacy Education Vs Sex Education
By Julia Bernards
I was disgusted. Sitting in that plastic chair at a group desk with several boys, I’d just been subjected to a lesson on the mechanics of sex in our Home Ec class. I was assiduously avoiding eye contact with the snickering boys, and wondering if the teacher would notice if I plugged my ears. Yuck. One thing was clear in my 8th grade mind. I was NEVER doing that.
Reproductive anatomy, physiology and the mechanics of sexuality are taught out of context in school courses; the emotional, psychological and social context in which intimacy occurs is absent. As we are not purely physical beings, a purely physical take on sexuality doesn’t cut it—it leaves kids unprepared for the realities of life experience.
The need for a more holistic approach toward Sex Ed. has not gone unnoted by educators, but the additional context is difficult for most schools to provide. Effective intimacy education includes philosophical and moral understandings about the self, interpersonal relationships and society that schools can’t provide. It also requires a lot of practice, beginning with non-sexual relationships from a young age. The art of intimacy is a life-long pursuit.
The preparation parents can provide for intimacy has three components:
- Self Image. The concept we hold of “self” is foundational in shaping our perceptions and experiences. How we view ourselves, in all aspects of our being, is reflected for better or worse in our intimate relationships. Intimacy education can start by articulating beliefs about who we are and where our value lies. Informal discussions beginning in preschool years and continuing, with further clarification and personalization, throughout adolescence can be added to daily conversations. A powerful, purposeful sense of self is an essential preparation for intimacy. If you aren’t sure about your own beliefs about your nature and worth, make the effort to figure it out. You need this, and your kids do, too.
- Interpersonal Awareness. With a growing understanding of self underway, focus can expand to an awareness of others. We experience a multitude of relationships in our lives; those within the family will be most influential in laying a groundwork for successful intimate relationships. The ability to initiate relationships, be present in a relationship, gain closure (resolve things), be vulnerable, be honest, nurture others, establish boundaries, and play–all essential aspects of intimacy–are best learned at home. Navigating the field of interpersonal interaction, especially when differences arise can be stressful. How do you choose whose game to play, much less when or how to have sex? Learning to balance one’s desires and self-respect with the desires of another takes practice. Help kids start early.
- Social Environment. Our intimate relationships will be influenced by societal mores but they don’t have to be dictated by them. Informing children about the (in)validity and (un)acceptability of the opinions of society will allow them to form their own understanding rather than assuming the prevailing attitudes must be right. Pornography, particularly, is a pernicious provider of attitudes on intimacy. Articulating what is wrong with the perspective provided by pornography and other faulty sources kids typically come into contact with (ie., objectification, lack of self-control or self-respect, and unrealistic expectations) is essential in educating and empowering kids for their own intimate relationships.
Intimate relationships are challenging as well as wonderful, and kids need to be well prepared in order to navigate them effectively. Intimacy education is so much more than sex-ed, and it can start now, at home, with simple conversations in the midst of your daily activities. Prepare your kids for successful intimate relationships, starting today!
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!
Julia Bernards is a dedicated family advocate, learner and writer. She is preparing for a PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy, and is a wife and mother of four.
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