By Debra W Haffner, with Dr Robert Needlman
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Here are some suggestions for raising children to be sexually healthy adults – adults who feel good about their bodies, make responsible decisions about their sexuality, and have satisfying emotional, spiritual, and physical relationships with their life partners.

Parents want their children to grow up to be healthy, happy and financially secure adults. Part of this challenge includes raising a sexually healthy child, a responsibility that often isn’t openly discussed and for which parents receive little, if any, expert guidance.

Sexuality and family life

Sexually healthy adults begin as children who are raised in sexually healthy families. In such a family, parents understand that teaching their children about sexuality – in the broadest sense – is just about as important as teaching them about safety, religion, and healthy decision-making. Each member of a sexually healthy family is treated with dignity and respect, and family members can discuss sexual issues in a comfortable and frank manner.

Become an ‘askable’ parent

Sexually healthy parents are askable parents – that is, their children know that they can ask them anything, even about such intimate topics as sexuality. Askable parents reward their children’s questions by giving them honest answers, and they let their children know that they want to help with difficult issues.

Askable parents also seek opportunities to talk with their children about sexuality rather than always waiting for questions. They are always on the lookout for teaching opportunities when they can offer a little bit of sexual information or impart some of their morals and values. Askable parents are knowledgeable about sexuality, but they also seek out additional information to better guide their children.

Sexually healthy parents remember that learning about sexuality is an ongoing process. They provide age-appropriate information, beginning with basic information about body parts, privacy and decision-making in the preschool years and continuing through discussions about contraception and HIV/AIDS in adolescence. In this way, sexuality is discussed little by little throughout a child’s life.

The importance of family communication

Many characteristics of sexually healthy families are not explicitly about sex or sexuality, but are about how each member of the family interacts with each other. Sexually healthy parents demonstrate that they value, respect, accept and trust their children – and that they expect to be treated that way in return. They listen to their children and seriously try to understand their points of view. They regularly share their values, stay actively involved in their children’s lives, and aren’t afraid to set age-appropriate limits for behavior.

Model sexually healthy attitudes

Sexually healthy parents also remember that actions speak louder than words. They model sexually healthy attitudes in their own relationships, and they are appropriately affectionate in front of their children. Their children learn that men and women can treat each other with respect because they see the important adults in their lives treating each other with respect. They learn that people can disagree and still love each other.

One of the best things parents can do for their children’s future sexual health is to nurture their own relationship as a couple. That means trying to keep the romance alive, as well as building a solid friendship and partnership. This not only provides children with a sense of security in their family, but also gives them a model for their own adult relationships.
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