While these articles highlight the need to incorporate issues of consent, empathy, relationship skills and social media warnings into the ways we teach our kids and teens about the world of sex I think they are still partly missing the boat.
Brain science is showing us that, as my teacher Dr. Gordon Neufeld puts it, “sex is superglue.” Due to the dynamics of attachment and the neurotransmitters released in the brain with intimate contact, when people have sex they become attached– for better or, often, for worse.
When we fail to teach our teens about this they can approach sex casually and then find themselves unwittingly attached and therefore vulnerable to being deeply hurt. Wounding in the sexual arena can hurt to the quick and can lead to our teens becoming defended against their vulnerable feelings. A full range of feelings, especially those vulnerable ones, are what we developmentalists consider “gold” in terms of their value. Our teens needs access to their vulnerable feelings in order to to mature and individuate, which is, after all, the end-goal of adolescence.
Without knowing that sex binds people together teens can think that sex is “no big deal”; after all our culture has been bombarding them with sexual messages their whole life and “hook-up culture” is now the norm. “Super glue” is pretty much the opposite of “friends with benefits.” Callous and rejecting behavior from sexual partners is, sadly, incredibly common these days, with social media providing a quick and easy way to wound. When things hurt too deeply, or hurts happen too frequently, our teens begin to armor themselves. Instead of tears we see callousness; instead of hearing about heartbreak we hear “whatever.” Defendedness, in addition to halting maturation, can also lead to increased promiscuity, drug and alcohol use and a rise in adrenalin-seeking behaviors such as cutting and risk-taking.
As parents and teachers we need to begin to learn how to communicate with our teens about “sex that is safe for the heart” or, as one of my students recently put it “sex ed for the soul.” We have come a long way in making sure our teens understand how to keep their bodies safe during sexual encounters; now we need to make sure that their hearts are protected as well.
Want to explore this idea more? Adolescence and Sexuality starts on May 9th.