What is Sacred Sexuality?When we take away any reference to religion, the word sacred simply refers to something that is "regarded with great respect and reverence". Traveling in Bali recently I was struck by the grace and beauty with which the women swept the pathway to their homes and placed flowers at the gate. Their attitude of reverence pervaded even this most everyday event and the effect was tangible and as beautiful as the sweet fragrance of the frangipani’s in their offerings.
When we marry this definition of sacred with sexuality we have something just as beautiful. For people, young or old to regard their sexuality with great respect and reverence would be, in my humble opinion, a giant leap for the well-being of humanity. If we were to include with that attitude delight, gratitude and the willingness to learn and explore throughout life I suspect that many people would be living much richer, happier lives.
How Do Young People Learn About Sex?Whether it's due to issues of morality, religion or social values, our modern culture has yet to develop a meaningful model of formal sex education. The question of how and when to educate children about sexuality remains chronically vague. Unlike our ancestors and traditional people we no longer include rites of passage as a natural part of life nor indeed provide any community support to guide young people through the profound changes of puberty.
Teens often name their parents as the biggest influence in their decisions about sexual behaviour. Studies show that those who report having easy, open conversations about sex with mum and/or dad are more likely to delay sexual activity, have fewer partners, and use condoms and other contraceptives when they do have sex. However, when parents feel discomfort, shame or embarrassment on the topic young people are left to learn about sexuality from friends, television, music, books, advertisements and the internet. In a UK survey of over 400 school students, three in 10 said they learnt about sex from porn, a medium which presents a very skewed view of sexuality in which safer sex behaviours are rarely displayed let alone respect or reverence.
When Does their Education Need to Start?Dr Laura Berman offers a downloadable guide - the Sex Ed Handbook - to help parents initiate age-appropriate conversations with their children about sex. She starts from birth! “Children learn about love, touch, and relationships when we talk to them, dress them, show affection, and teach them the names of the parts of their bodies.” she says. “Using nicknames to refer to genitals teaches children that theses parts are something to be hidden or masked. Correct terminology helps them to understand and embrace their body without reservations or shame.”
Normalising the natural urge to explore their own genitals is another important part of a child’s early sex education. The bodies of human beings have a unique and very natural capacity for pleasure. In fact both male and female foetuses have been observed self-stimulating to orgasm in the womb.
The same skills of observation that the farmer uses when he scans the horizon, sniffs the air and predicts that a weather change is on the way, can be applied by a sensitive lover to connect with their partner and to sense their needs and desires. Supporting children to observe and connect with the natural world is another valuable step in their learning. Developing sensitivity to the cycles of the earth, moon and sun and respect for the plants and animals in our environment paves the way for increased capacity to tune into our own bodies and cycles as well as those of of future lovers. Nature is often regarded as feminine and women are considered in many traditions to be the gender closest to nature. For both boys and girls, understanding the parallels in a woman's body to the natural cycles of life and gaining appreciation of the powerful and unpredictable nature of the feminine are invaluable lessons.
One of the most important messages that we can offer to our children is that sex is natural. Watching animals mating or giving birth either on film or, if the opportunity arises, in real life, can be a wonderful opportunity develop and affirm a deep reverence for life and sense of awe at these powerful times.
Conversations with adolescentsHowever well the education has progressed with your younger child, talking about sex with teenagers can be full of challenges. Social and cultural taboos mean that, no matter how open-minded and sex-positive a family may be, the attitudes of your child's peers and the messages received from the media can be severely at odds with the values that your parenting espouses. Pre-teens and teenagers in particular, often go through a period where sex is "icky" and the idea of talking about it with parents is "awkward" to say the least! But as children grow into adolescence, the messages about sexual behaviours, attitudes, and values from their families are even more important. And this is when they need the details!
Opportunities to discuss sexuality can occur on a daily basis. Rather than try to fight against the sexual messaging in the media why not use it to your advantage by making it a teachable moment? For example, when a sexual scene or reference occurs or a news item relates to sexuality in some way you can use it as a conversation starter, either in the moment or later in the day. You might ask "Remember when we were watching that movie and the boy was teasing the girl to make her kiss him? Did that make you uncomfortable? How do you think she felt? What might you have done in that situation?"
Heather Corinna, founder of Scarleteen an online sex education resource for young people offers this advice to parents. “Don't get discouraged if you're doing your best to be open and informative, and your teen doesn't respond: it's normative for young adults to prefer to do most of their talking about sex with peers, extended family members, siblings or mentors. Even when that is the case, it doesn't make what you can offer, the door you keep holding open, any less valuable and important.”
Connecting sex with spiritA wise and effective introduction to sexuality will develop the skills of sensitive observation, emphasise discernment and encourage young people to explore safely. It will instil a strong sense of self worth, responsibility, and respect for self and others. But what about the more metaphysical, energetic aspects of sexual union? How can we speak to our children about the spiritual aspects of sex?
Jon Russell is a relationship counsellor who runs sexuality education programs both privately and within the Australian education system. I asked him how he addresses sacred sexuality with the youngsters that he teaches.
"In our programs I spend much of the time working just with the boys. I teach them about their own anatomy, about the power of their sexual drive and how to connect their genital response with the response of the heart. No matter what they may say I find that boys have a romantic heart and a deep longing for connection. I teach them that it is ok to be real, to talk about how they feel and to stay true to and follow their authentic desires regardless of media messages and peer pressures. We talk about the basics of how to make love, how to read the energies coming from a girl, how to approach them and how to appreciate the magic and wonder and the complexity of female anatomy. As we discuss the amazing power of female sexual response and it's role in creating life I also introduce them to the historical repression and fear of that power and the impact that has had on women in the world today. We also look at other cultures where sexuality & spirituality are more connected."
I was curious how the boys related to the concept of spirituality and surprised to hear his observation that they have an immense hunger for matters of spirit. By talking about phenomena such as UFO's, crop circles, astral travel and the ability of martial artists to direct energy outside their physical form, Jon opens the way for discussing the energetic merging that happens when lovers connect. By exploring some of the Eastern traditions of spiritual sexuality he introduces the possibility for transcendence to altered states of consciousness through love making.
In addition to working in the school system Jon also runs Sacred Union workshops for adults with his partner. His advice for parents is simple; get skillful in talking about sex and normalising it, don’t pretend that you know it all but acknowledge that we are all on a life-long path of learning, work on your own relating and to the best of your ability, model the values that you speak about.