CEDAT CITY —The Iron County Sexual and Domestic Violence Coalition hosted Chelom Leavitt at Canyon View High School Friday to discuss “Teaching Kids About Healthy Sexuality.”
After briefly introducing herself, Leavitt commented on the coalition’s desire to prevent violence.
“It’s interesting that the coalition that brought me down here is trying to prevent sexual abuse and violence,” she said. “We know from research the best way to do that is to start right here, in talking about ‘What is healthy sex?’ ‘What does a good relationship look like?’ If we’re teaching our children that, then when or if they get exposed to violence or pornography or other negative influences, they’ll say ‘well that’s not what mom and dad showed me, that’s not what I’m familiar with,’ and they’re far more likely to reject it.”
Leavitt said the first thing she teaches is that sexuality has meaning and that it’s important to talk to children about sex in terms of a relationship. If both parents can be present during the conversations with children, they can discuss how sex is important to their relationship.
“We can talk about how sex is meaningful in our relationship. It’s really a beautiful part of how we express love to others, of how we reunite, we create unity, we kind of get over the bumps of everyday life, it draws us back in together,” Leavitt said. “It’s beautiful, it’s healing, it’s nurturing. So already kids get an idea that it’s a good thing. That’s the environment we want to create.”
The next step is for children to understand that they are the embodiment of that relationship, she said, and that people are drawn to be in relationships for that reason.
“You are a relationship,” Leavitt said. “You are the embodiment of a relationship, conception really is this metaphor for life. Life is embodiment of the love of two beings into a new organism. … We know that we’re drawn to be in relationship. This is something that fulfills us, chemically, biologically, we’re driven to be in a relationship.”
Additionally, Leavitt said a committed relationship is the safest place for sexual relationships to occur.
“A committed relationship is the safest place to engage in sex,” she said. “Right there we’ve established for our children it’s a loving act between people who are committed to each other and, that’s what helps us have the best results, have the best outcomes, when you engage in sex. It’s really important for our kids to know that. Because we are relationship, because that’s what we come from, that’s where we will find kind of this sense of completeness, this home.”
Leavitt addressed the importance of also understanding two elements of a relationship: belonging and becoming. She said people search for belonging within relationships — starting at a family level and moving into friendships and then romantic relationships. But belonging can become distorted into clinginess, a lack of individuality and an inability to separate when necessary for survival. Leavitt explained the becoming is the foundation of individual growth, and it’s necessary to balance the need to belong with the need to become within a relationship.
She also pointed out four principles of sexual decision-making: marital unity, couples consensus, positive attitudes and sexual potential.
“What we really hope to see is this need to belong and become is also represented in our sexual relationship,” Leavitt said. “As adults go through all of these decisions, they can see whether or not their relationship with their spouse is creating an environment where they both feel a part, but they also feel like an independent, growing, developing individual.”
Leavitt also talked specifically about age-appropriate ways of creating an open and safe environment for discussing sex, the human body and sexuality with children, starting with using correct terminology for genitalia from the time a child is born. Until age three, parents can also discuss how impressive bodies are using healing and physical actions as examples, as well as the fact that while children’s bodies go through many changes, they will soon be able to master their actions.
For children aged 4-7, Leavitt suggested being available and happy to talk about a child’s thoughts or concerns and answering questions very simply. She added this time is usually a good opportunity to start identifying feelings and working through them, as well as the importance of understanding children are still figuring out how their bodies work at this age and curiosity is natural.
As children approach 10 years old, Leavitt encouraged parents to be straightforward; express confidence in how their children think through problems; and be clear about anatomy. As they approach becoming teenagers, Leavitt said discussing the ways that boys and girls are both similar and different can be helpful to their understanding.
When discussing these topics with teenagers, Leavitt advocated for weekly conversations in order to provide an opportunity for teens to ask questions and encouraging them to reserve sexual expression for marriage. She explained that research shows doing so allows time for individuals to develop emotionally and maintain safe and appropriate boundaries, in addition to developing deeper and healthier levels of intimacy with a partner.
Throughout her discussion, Leavitt answered questions from parents and stressed the importance of openness and honesty between parents and children in order to have healthy, productive conversations about sex.
“They’ve heard a comfortable conversation about sexuality where their parents were open and honest and they could ask questions,” she said. “That sort of dialogue, that sort of environment, we know is like this armor for children, is like this protective factor for them. So when things that are unhealthy enter their lives, they just reject it.”
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