The teen years place the topic of sexuality front and center. There is no more difficult and complicated topic than human sexuality. Volumes have been written about it. Sexuality is everywhere, blatantly displayed in commercials and in the media. Yet in the family setting, it is nowhere, a secret that is rarely or never discussed. If parents resist sex education in the schools, they must be able to supplement this lack with teaching in the home. Yet few are able to do so. Children cobble together information from peers during sleepovers and in locker rooms or through scattered conversations with tongue-tied parents. Then as teenagers they are suddenly expected to handle situations for which they have little preparation. They make decisions based on immature judgment, raging hormones, and a desire to please others. As parents we stand by, watching them fumble through these challenging years, much as we struggled a generation before. Even parents who are relatively comfortable with their own sexuality often remain clueless when it comes to talking about it with their children.
It is as if this vital force is on a different track than the rest of our lives. Virtually inaccessible in regular conversation, the topic of sexuality remains beyond the pale of ordinary living. It may be a steam engine going full speed ahead or a broken-down sidecar that can barely make it from one stop to the next, or all variations in between. It may provide pleasure or frustration, but it is too frequently unaffected by reason, judgment, concern for others, commitment, or even profound joy—those qualities that give meaning and purpose to life. On one hand, it may control us in ways that subvert wise decision making or cause important relationships to founder. On the other hand, we may almost lose the capacity to express it at all or benefit from its joyful expression. In either case it takes on a life of its own, uninformed with those values that we respect and struggle to communicate to our children.
Sexuality lights the fire in all of us. It is a vital part of the energy of life. Yet if it burns out of control, it can destroy everything in its path. Maintaining it as a warm and steady blaze, a force that invigorates every endeavor is a tricky challenge. As with any powerful force, it must be managed and disciplined if it is to serve us well. As parents it is our responsibility to help our children manage and integrate their sexuality so that it becomes a joyful expression of their essence and ultimately a connecting link with a committed partner.
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Last reviewed: 17 Feb 2014