We have reached the point where we need to begin having discussions with our child about sex. Our child is 9. One of the major issues is what to teach them on this particular issue- masturbation.
I don’t want to condone the practice but I also don’t want them to feel completely terrible about themselves and their value as a person if they slip sometimes. My view of this practice is not as hard-line as the Church’s view.
How is the best way to go about opening up discussions with children about this issue?
I would not bring up teachings of not participating in masturbation until the child is at least 12 years of age. Usually any self stimulation or masturbation that occurs before this age is still innocent in nature since children do not possess the sexual maturity that starts taking place with the onset of puberty. And I share your concern that we not inadvertently contribute to any unnecessary shame in the sexual education of our children.
A Parent’s Guide
has a chapter on the appropriate things to be teaching Primary-age children. Restraining from masturbation is not brought up until the later chapter geared towards adolescents.
I wholeheartedly agree that having discussions regarding sex at this age is important, especially since our children are growing up in a world where sexual messages are commonplace and vary widely in their content and values. The best way to do this is to keep an open dialogue and look for regular teaching opportunities. Sex education should not be looked at as a one-time event. Usually children first approach their parents with sex/body questions (i.e. Where do babies come from? Why do I have a penis? What is that for?, etc.). How we respond to these innocent questions will greatly influence whether or not they come back to us or go elsewhere for further information. It is OK when taken aback or legitimately stumped to say things like “let me get back with you on that,” “I don’t know, but I’ll find out for you,” “that’s a great question – give me some time to think about how I want to explain that to you,” etc. But make sure you do get back to your child and give an open and truthful answer ASAP (ideally the same day). This is how you will gain credibility and trust with your child. It is also a great strategy to first ask a child, “well, what do you think the answer to that is?” This tactic will give you a better idea of where the child is coming from, how they formulated the question to begin with and where they are at developmentally as far as being able to understand the complexity the answer may involve. It is not beneficial to cop out and say, “I’ll tell you that when you’re older.” Any sexual question can be addressed in an age-appropriate way. And if they’re asking, they’re old enough for some response.
As far as how to talk about masturbation in particular, it is important to let our adolescents know at least the following concepts (please incorporate the following into your own personal parenting style and change as you see fit):
- Having sexual urges are normal.
- Sexuality is part of the plan of happiness.
- One of the main reasons why we are here on earth is to create a family. Sexuality is very much a part of this process.
- It is normal for our genital areas to feel good when touched.
- Because of this, people sometimes self-stimulate or masturbate. This means touching your genitals in a way that feels sexually good. You can do this to the point that you reach a climax, or orgasm. An orgasm feels very good and offers a physical release. There is nothing weird, wrong or bad that your body is able to do this. It is a natural body process.
- At the same time it is important to understand what the purpose of our sexuality is: to be able to have children and to have a deep emotional bond with our husband or wife. We are expected at times in our lives to put aside our own personal wants and desires for a bigger and better reward. It is not because God does not want us to be happy or sexually satisfied. In fact, it is exactly because God DOES want those things for us. This is why the church has guidelines for the youth and for single adults to not masturbate. However, masturbation is not anywhere as serious of a sin as premarital sex and it is not something we want you feeling overly guilty about. Many kids your age masturbate – it is not considered abnormal. We just aim for a higher expectation on things of a sexual nature as part of our religious commitment.
- At the right time, with the right person – the fact that your genitals feel good when touched should bring much pleasure and happiness. This is what I want for you as your parent and this is what God wants for all of us.
- It is important to know that we all make mistakes in life and that is why we have the wonderful gift of the atonement. I know it can be embarrassing to talk about these kinds of things with your parents but we are willing to listen or give advice on any concerns you may have about this issue. I want you to feel good and confident about your body.
It is refreshing to see you taking this precious role as sexual educator of your child seriously and with the righteous desire of doing it in a loving and respectful way.
A good article:
What advice do you have regarding when and what to teach your children re sexual education?
Where do you agree or disagree with the advice I have given?
What is your personal position on masturbation when it comes to teaching your children?
How do you feel about the For the Strength of Youth guidelines directing the youth to abstain from masturbation?
What were your own experiences around being taught about masturbation?
Natasha Helfer Parker is a Licensed Clinical Marriage and Family Therapist and a member of the Church with 13 years of experience working with LDS members. Here she shares with us representative cases from her practice and insights she has gained from her work as a therapist. She blogs at mormontherapist.blogspot.com.