Mormons and Masturbation: A Hands-On Discussion

As a certified sex therapist who is also a Mormon, I get a lot of questions from parents. A huge number of them sound something like this:

“What should I do if my child is masturbating??”  

Here are some examples of questions I got just last week:

“I literally never had any conversations about [masturbation] with my parents or church leaders other than don’t touch yourself.  I didn’t even know if it was a thing girls could do until I was a teenager. I feel very-ill prepared to talk to my own children about it.  I do feel like the LDS standard (policy?) is contrary to what I want to teach my kids, so I feel paralyzed about what to do. Help?”

 

“I was always told it was a sexual sin but I also know that it is in other ways part of normal sexuality  and can help partners better understand and work together through sexual encounters to have a better experience together.”

 

“What is your take on children masturbating from an LDS perspective?  I have a 4 and 6-year-old and they both do it, almost daily. I know it’s not a good idea to freak out about it and that it’s not sexual for them right now, but I’m wondering when does it become sexual for them and how and I supposed to determine that?  When do I tell them it’s not okay anymore? How do I approach it?”

 

These concerns all come from a parent’s love for their kids, and a desire to teach them correct principles that align with their values. It can be complicated as a parent to know what to do when your kid starts to discover their body – especially if it makes you uncomfortable.

 

Your feelings around the topic of sex or masturbation can be so big that it can smother your ability to find the answers you so desperately want.  

 

People often bounce around from Bishop to Bishop, expert to expert, Facebook group to Facebook group, trying to nail down whether or not masturbation is ok.  Even when they find an answer, they never feel fully satisfied because it doesn’t fully match up with what they know, feel, believe, or understand. Many of these conversations around masturbation are focused on it as a behavior and a moral rightness or wrongness. They try to make the issue black and white rather than looking at masturbation in a larger context and considering its developmental role, how it intersects with a person’s own values, stage of life, medical circumstances, and age.  

 

As I read through the different questions sent to me by hundreds of parents, what became instantly clear is that they all had a uniquely personal story, experience, or major internal conflict with masturbation. I can’t help but wonder how many of these stories or experiences have been shared in a safe space where they could be understood without judgment.

 

My goal for this post is to create a way for you to understand your sexual story surrounding masturbation. As Albert Einstein said, “If you cannot explain something to a six-year-old, you do not understand it yourself.” In my professional experience I’ve seen that as you begin to understand yourself, you will have a greater capacity to support your kids.

 

As a therapist, it’s not my job or my goal to hand you the answers to your questions about masturbation. Instead, I will give you the questions you need to ask yourself in order to identify your own sexual values, how they intersect with your spiritual values, and how to figure out what makes the most sense for you and your family.

 

While it might feel uncomfortable to explore your own sexuality,  it’s very worthwhile. Developing insight will help you fine tune an internal compass around sexuality that will last longer and be more reliable than a quick answer given to you in a soundbite.

In order to get the answers we are wanting with our children, we have to start with ourselves.  

 

I’m willing to assume you grew up in a home where talking about sex was hugely taboo. (The majority of Americans did… especially religious Americans.) When you don’t talk about sex, you try to make sense of the different messages you receive via movies, magazines, religion, and other influential people in our lives on your own. As a kid, you probably didn’t feel comfortable talking with adults about things you didn’t understand, or things you were curious about. Most of us never got accurate sexual health information. You developed as a sexual being without even realizing it – doing the best you could with what you had.  

 

You soaked in messages around body image, sexual behavior, gender roles, orientation, self-esteem, healthy relationships, and…masturbation.  

For many of us, this word sounded as pungent as the strongest of four-letter words. You developed your own personal story surrounding masturbation. You may have strong emotional reactions about it or simply grew up feeling confused.  Maybe you did it and felt terrible about it but still liked it and weren’t sure what to do. Maybe you did it and told your Bishop and couldn’t take the sacrament. You vowed to never talk about it again. Maybe you never did it because you didn’t know how your body worked, or maybe you knew people who did do it, people who currently do, or people who enjoy the physical sensation but struggle with the emotional and spiritual aftermath.  

 

These experiences matter because they helped to shape and define your sexuality.

 

Now many of you are parents with kids ranging from babies to teens. You may be single adults, divorced adults, or emerging adults with your own sexual stories and experiences in tow.  Your own sexual stories around masturbation often get triggered as you raise your children and embrace them as sexual and spiritual beings.

Here’s your first opportunity to find answers for yourself:

 

  • What is my experience with masturbation?
  • As a boy, the messages I received around masturbation were…
  • As a girl, the messages I received around masturbation were…
  • What are the different hot spots in my history where masturbation came up?  When I was a kid? In the youth program? Before my mission? Before marriage?  During marriage? As a growing single adult? After divorce?
  • General messages I received about masturbation were…
  • What emotions do I feel when I think about my history and how do those emotions show up in my life, in my parenting, in my partnership?
  • What do I understand about sexual shame?
  • What do I hope to provide for my children that I didn’t get for myself…
  • What question do I wish I would be asked right now that would help me explore my sexual story more?

Working through this stuff can bring up a range of emotions including surprise, sadness, anger, shame, joy, relief, and more.  Be gentle with yourself as you answer these questions. Find a trusted friend or your partner to go through these questions with. Even just answering these questions will start to make things less taboo and more approachable.  

If you don’t have someone you can share your story with, but you’d like to share it, you can use my google form anonymously. I won’t be able to respond to you, but it can be a place for you to put your words and story.  

What’s next for part 2?

The conversation about masturbation is a big one. This post is only an introduction. In the following weeks, I’ll be responding more specifically to the common questions I get from parents:  Is it normal? What does the church say? What does the American Pediatric Association say?  But first, let’s start with you.  

Endometriosis and Sexuality

It’s endometriosis awareness month and it’s a topic I find there is very little discussion and education around.  Did you know that endometriosis will affect 1 in 10 women during their reproductive years (ages 15 – 49) yet won’t often be diagnosed until they are 27 years old?  AND 30% – 50% of women who experience endometriosis may experience infertility.

 (http://endometriosisworld.weebly.com/world-statistics)

So what exactly is endometriosis?

Endometriosis is when the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus.  Even though this tissue (endometrium) is outside the uterus, it still acts as it normally would which means it thickens, breaks down and bleeds with each menstrual cycle.  HOWEVER, because this tissue has no way to exit your body, it becomes trapped.  As you can imagine, this tissue becomes irritated and can eventually turn into scar tissue and adhesion that leads to abnormal fibrous tissue that can bind pelvic tissue and organs.    If endometriosis the ovaries, cysts may form as well.

(mayoclinic.org)

Painful right?

One reader said:

My endometriosis journey is going on year 15.  It’s definitely something that still needs more awareness and information.  If there had been this kind of openness and understanding when I was a teenager, I would have felt so much more in tune with my body instead of hating it so much.  (Graphic Caroline Ballard)

 

How can endometriosis impact your sex life?

Many people describe the pain they experience as a stabbing, jabbing, a deep ache, ranging from mild to severe.

Some women experience pain anytime they have intercourse, others experience it only when there is deep penetration.  Some women experience pain anytime they have sex and others experience pain just during particular times of their cycle.

Another reader described how it impacted her sex life like this:

Girl having period bellyache. Health.

My experience with endometriosis had an impact on my digestive tract, causing gas, constipation, and bloating.  It made me not want to be touched for a pretty good portion of the time.  I should say, wanting to, but feeling so uncomfortable and unsexy.  This is something that doesn’t get talked about but is definitely a factor.

While much is discussed about the physical pain that can occur during intercourse there is a lot of emotional pain and stress.  Many women feel anxious about any kind of physical touch that could lead to sex which can lead to pain.  Others might start to feel alone, discouraged, and broken or hopeless.  All of these emotions can take a toll on your day-to-day and impact a relationship.

So what can you do?

Get a correct diagnosis from a professional who knows about endometriosis and sexual health!  Believe it or not, many medical professionals and therapists have very little training around sexual health issues and endometriosis is unfortunately often misdiagnosed as something else.  If you are experiencing painful sex or physical symptoms on a regular basis, find a provider who can support you getting to the root of your symptoms.  If you’ve been to a provider but they didn’t answer things for you or how they are approaching your problem isn’t working for you, keep searching and don’t give up!

Track your cycles to see if you have a pattern to your pain and symptoms.  You may find that there are times where you have more or less pain during the month and sexual activity can feel better or worse.  There are a lot of apps that you can track your cycle with such as Clue and Flo Period Tracker,.

Consider a holistic treatment approach.  Different approaches can help heal different symptoms.   According to Brigham and Women’s Hospital, “The most effective approach to chronic pain management associated with endometriosis combines traditional medical and surgical treatment(s) with complementary therapies provided by a multidisciplinary team. Part of the treatment involves breaking the pain cycle which often includes the use of the following approaches,”  Some of the alternate therapies they recommend are:

  • Acupuncture
  • Herbal medicine
  • Behavior modification with lifestyle changes
  • Biofeedback
  • Physical therapy

Use lubrication that contributes to your sexual health.  Many women with endometriosis experience sexual pain because of vaginal dryness and lack of lubrication. Lubrication can be one of the best ways to reduce pain and friction and increase pleasure.   Think of water-based lube as a lotion for your vagina.  You don’t need it only when you are having sex but can use it to hydrate vaginal tissues daily. Because lubrication is currently not regulated by the FDA here in the United States, most grocery store lubes contain ingredients that erode and irritate vaginal tissue.  A few lubrication favorites are:

  • Good Clean Love
  • Uber Lube
  • Coconu

Try different positions.  Adding a variety of sexual positions to your repertoire can help with reducing sexual pain.  Whether a certain position helps during a more painful time of the month or another position feels better majority of the time, discover the positions that support your body.   *Hint: missionary position can actually be one of the most painful positions for women who experience endometriosis.

Develop communication skills.  Learn how to talk about how endometriosis effects you!  This is an area of sexual health that so few people really know about and while learning about it generally is a great start, sharing how it impacts you specifically is critical.  Talk about your symptoms with your partner, share how penetration effects you and explore other ways to be sexual that ease your physical and emotional concerns.  This can be an area where a sex therapist can be helpful in your journey.

 

 

Why I Won’t Be Giving My Kids The “Talk”

Not long ago, I asked several people the age at which they give their kids “the talk.” I got a whole range of answers such as;  “When they turn eight,” “The age of accountability,” “When they are nearing puberty,” and some just shrugged their shoulders hoping to put it off as long as possible. It was after these conversations when my approach to the talk solidified.  I won’t be giving my kids the talk.

Call me crazy, naive, and/or potentially irresponsible for adopting this stance — especially in our seemingly sexually-saturated world — but I believe I’ve made the correct choice.  In fact, because my children are presented with sexual images, messages, and languages practically every time we drive down the street, go into the grocery store, or just hanging out with friends, I feel even more confident in the direction I’ve chosen.

The reality is this, we no longer get a choice of IF our kids learn about sex, we just get an opportunity to influence HOW our kids learn about sex.  So why would I forgo giving my kids “The Talk?”  Because I plan on and have been giving my kids “the talk” and creating opportunities for meaningful conversations about sex since they were born.  My goal as a parent is for them to never remember a time when they were given the talk but many talks and ongoing discussions about all topics including sex.

I love how Sandra Kim, from the EveryDay Feminism website says it: “Given the statistics, your child is much more likely to be molested than to be hit by a car when crossing the street.  So try thinking of these conversations as being just as important than teaching your kids how to cross the road safely. “ And if you think you have a 6 or year-old who isn’t interested in the topic, they may just not be interested in talking about the topic with you because you haven’t yet opened the door.

But it’s not just about preventing sex abuse and talking about the negatives of sex, it’s talking about its wonder, its beauty, its excitement and all of its potential.  It’s about guiding them to become sexual agents over their bodies and their lives from childhood to adulthood.  I will never forget when my toddler son gasped with excitement, “Mom! Look! My penis is getting big!” and I said, “Yep, your penis can get big and then it will get small.  It’s a pretty cool thing.”  There are so many topics to cover under the umbrella of healthy sexuality over the course of a lifespan that I can’t even imagine fitting it all in and having it retained in one conversation.  So here are some tips I have found to be helpful to start broaching these conversations with kids of all ages. Remember, it’s never too late to start having these conversations.

1 –   Fake it until you make it

Most of us grew up in homes and environments where sex wasn’t openly talked about, so for many of you this is a big jump straight out of your comfort zone. The deal is, when I am not in my office as a sex therapist but at home as a mom and parent, I still have moments that catch me off guard.  This is where I take a deep breath, manage my nerves and try with all my might to be present with my kids.  This doesn’t mean I have to know everything, it just means I need to curb anything that would send the message that any topic is off limits.  Of all the sources my kids could go to get their questions answered, it’s my home that I hope is their go-to.  I often respond with “that’s a great question” followed by a few deep breaths.  If I’m not quite sure how to answer it, I still say, “Great question!  Can we talk about this during our monthly chat?” (see number four)

2 – Meet them where they are

We often times project our experience of adult sexuality onto our children, forgetting their experience with their bodies and sexuality is very different from ours.  When they ask a question, such as, “Where do babies come from?” they may not be wanting the full, detailed, flow-chart answer but something as simple as, “When a mom and a dad love each other, a sperm from the dad and an egg from the mom come together and make a baby.” At this point, they may say, “Oh!” or “Cool.” or give you a nod then return to their Cheetos.  Or they may want more information and have more questions such as “Ok, then what?” or “How does that work?”  While they may be interested in getting more information, what they are really testing even is whether or not they can talk to you about this and many other topics. Simply saying, “You can talk to me about anything.” isn’t enough—actually talking to them about anything is how long- term communication and solid relationships happen.  If they ask, “what’s sex?” You can respond with, “What do you think sex is.”  This gives you a baseline of where they are at.

3 – Talk about their birth

I have found with my kids, talking about their birth and the happy memories associated with their pregnancy, birth and first years is a great way to crack the ice.  I’ve shared their birth stories countless  times and continue to get new questions as they’ve gotten older.  It’s a nice and natural way to get things going and can happen at bedtime.  My kids LOVE hearing me goo over how much I love them and the various things I remember about them.  I also love the questions I continue to get as a result such as “how does the baby come out?” “how does the baby eat?” “how did it get in your tummy?”

4 – Have monthly Talks

I have a good friend who introduced the idea of having a monthly talk with each individual child on the day of their birth.  For example, if your child was born on the 8th, you would have their monthly chat every month on the 8th after other kids are asleep for the night.  There are two simple rules for the monthly chats: anything can be asked and everyone has to tell the truth.  These conversations become consistent and a great place to talk one on one with your children.  It also creates a great container if any of your children ask question that either you don’t know the answer to, if it’s at a time that’s not convenient to go in depth of you need to get your bearings.  You can simply say, “That’s a great question, let’s talk about this during our monthly chat.”

5 – Get books about the body,  read with them and have them handy

This is a great way to channel curiosity in a healthy way.  There are so many great books out there for children of all ages including: The Amazing You, It’s So Amazing, It’s Perfectly Normal, It’s Not TheStork, The Period Book, and Changing You to name a few.  I have found most of these titles to be accessible both in the library and in popular book stores.  As parents you can pre-read these books to make sure they are in-line with your family values before bringing them home.

6 – Don’t let their reaction push you away

If these conversations are going to be new between you and your family, you can expect a wide range of reactions.  From embarrassment, to being grossed out, to closing down the conversation early, to changing the subject, most kids have a wide variety of strategies to getting out of something uncomfortable.  However, with consistency and time your children will come to understand that you are infact wanting to open the channels of communication,  and they eventually will come around.  Some kids may never be eager and still may roll their eyes or act embarrassed, but it’s our job as parents to not react to their reactions. I have talked to many adults who came from open homes and despite not reciprocating with enthusiasm, were grateful their parents talked with them.

Podcast Guest: Lube!

I have loved being the season 3 co-host for the Loveumentary Podcast with Nate Bagley.  Nate is one of those people who is both passionate and curious which make for an incredible podcast host.

In this episode, we delve deep into the land of lube.  No not your car lube, but your sexual health lube.  At first glance, Nate had no idea why I was pushing this topic so hard for one of our podcasts.  He wondered how we could do 30 minutes on a topic so basic.  I mean, you use lube, it reduced friction, the end.  Actually no. Beyond the types of lube, in this episode we are going to look at how lubrication can actually contribute to or erode your sexual health.  For example, lubrication can make sperm explode and sluff off the first layer of skin in the vagina.

And that’s just the beginning.  There is SO much to lube that I am going to guarantee this episode might just blow your world.

My motto?  Friends don’t let friends use KY Jelly.

Enjoy!

Kristin

PS–This episode was a result of the incredible work Sarah Mueller and Smitten Kitten have done to make this world a safer, sexier and more inclusive world. 

 

Media Segment: Best Books to Talk To Your Kids About Sex

best books to talk about sex

I had the chance to team up with Brooke Walker and the Studio 5 crew to talk about my 5 favorite books to talk to your kids about the birds and bees and sexual health.   While we often think that talking to our kids about sex is merely the “birds and bees” there is SO much more we can be empowering our kids with such as healthy, hygiene, healthy relationships, boundaries, and more.  Taking the natural teaching opportunities that present as well as initiating proactive conversations is one of the best things we can give to our children.

After this particular segment was filmed, a few of us hung out after in the green room talking all about our victories and challenges when it comes to raising kids in an empowered way.  I know as parents leaning into this opportunity is one of the BEST things we can do as parents for our children.  What are your victories and challenges when it comes to talking to your kids about sex?

Puberty: A Journey, Not a Destination

puberty is a journey

 

I recently received a text from a concerned mother that said this.

“Hey Kristin! Maybe you can help with this.  I hope you can. My daughter is only 8-years-old and is already starting to hit puberty.  She’s getting B.O., has some pubic hair, and is really moody.  I’m nervous at the prospect that she may be developing early and I’m not sure what is normal.  Do you have recommendations of where to turn for help for assistance and answers?”

I love getting questions like this because we all have them.  Is this normal? Am I normal?  Are we normal?  Most of us are wondering if some part of our sexual health is normal and many of us don’t know where to turn to get information to find out.

Doing what I do when it comes to matters of sexual health, I spent the next few days going down a rabbit hole looking at various studies, information from the American Pediatric Association, and other reliable sources to see what I could offer this mother.

Here is what I found:

  • The range of “normal” for puberty is between the ages of 8-14.  
  • Markers of puberty prior to age 8 could potentially be something called, “precocious puberty.”
  • Markers of puberty are developing breast buds, pubic hair, body odor, acne, moodiness, changes in voice, menarche (getting your period)
  • What is causing it looks to be largely unknown but discussiond and studies seemed to point to environmental stress, weight, race, chemicals/hormones in food, and other factors.

But here is what I also found:

While physically her daughter is “normal”, girls who develop earlier are at greater risk for lower self-esteem, depression, and eating disorders because they feel different from their peers and THEY feel like they aren’t normal.  Remember wanting to be unique but exactly the same as your friends?!? I know I did.

Let me put it in more skimmable terms so it’s not missed.

Girls who develop earlier are at greater risk for:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Depression
  • Eating Disorders

So what can we do from a proactive empowered place and not a fear-based place?

I loved what I found in this New York Times article,”Puberty Before Age 10: A New Normal?” that said this:

Doctors urge parents to focus on their daughters’ emotional and physical health rather than on stopping or slowing development. In this way, the concept of a new normal is not just a brushoff but an encouragement to support a girl who is vulnerable.

“I know they can’t change the fact that their daughter started developing early, but they can change what happens downstream,” Louise Greenspan, the pediatric endocrinologist at Kaiser Permanente, told me. Parents can keep their daughters active and at healthy body weights. They can treat them the age they are, not the age they look. They can defend against a culture that sells push-up bikinis for 7-year-olds and otherwise sexualizes young girls. “Most of the psychological issues associated with early puberty are related to risk-taking behaviors,” Greenspan continued, and parents can mitigate those.

Normalizing these changes is a major support and step for a child,  (and let’s be honest, a parent), however, it’s not the only steps we can take. We can also take proactive steps to guide our children through their unique journey and experience with puberty.  We can initiate conversations as well as see and take advantage of the natural teaching opportunities that regularly arise.

Rather than waiting for bigger moments such as a daughter getting a period, cracks in the voice, or waiting until a specific age for a one-and-done “talk”, we have the opportunity to serve as the guides and mentors we always wished we had growing up every step of the way.

I know as a parent these changes can feel really overwhelming especially when many of us made our own journeys through puberty largely alone without guidance and models to draw from.   However, being proactive prior, during and through our kid’s emergence of puberty can be one of the best gifts we can give to our children.

If we think about puberty as a becoming instead of an arriving, we will find there are many steps we can take along the way to make this a smoother part of life.

If you missed my prior blog post on my favorite books in talking to your kids about sex(ual health), you can find it here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top 5 Books For Talking To Your Kids About Sex

Most of my generation joke about their experiences (or lack thereof) with having “the talk.” It was usually filled with awkward attempts at explaining “the birds and the bees”, what was happening “down there”,  and being talked TO instead of talked WITH.

However, there seems to be a cultural shift happening in our approach to talking to our kids about sex. Rather than seeing it as one daunting and awkward talk, parents are seeing it as an opportunity to create an ongoing open topic of conversation. As Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers says, “It’s having 1000 one minute conversations over a child’s life.”

Because of this shift, one of the most frequent questions I get asked is, “what books do you recommend to teach kids about sex?” Great question right? So I’ve compiled my top 5 books that are my go-to when talking to kids about sex.

PRO TIP!
Just like you aren’t going to cover everything your kids need to know about sex and relationships in one talk, you aren’t going to cover everything your kids need to know in one book. Think of these books as your core curriculum and build your library from there based on your individual child’s needs and questions.

1 – Who Has What?  (0-99 years old)

Kids (and adults) are never too young to learn the parts of their body including head, shoulders, knees, toes, and vulva! Teaching kids the anatomically correct names for their “private parts” not only helps them communicate problems, it helps them accurately report in cases of sexual abuse.  Here’s more about that. 

2 – It’s Not The Stork (4-Adult)

When it comes to talking about how babies are made, this book offers cute illustrations and straightforward explanations about how the birds and the bees actually work.  You can read it straight through or simply read the parts that your child is ready for.

3 – Care and Keeping of You 1 & 2 (Tweens)

The American Girl Doll body books are a family favorite. They are relatable and written in a way that kids can understand.  These books go into periods, peer pressure, body changes and more.

4 – Guy Stuff: The Body Book For Boys (Tweens)

In the American Girl Doll body books family, Guy Stuff approaches puberty and the changes in the body in an accurate and tasteful way.  It talks about changes in the voice, body hair, hygiene, erections and more in a way that tweens and young teens can relate with.

5 – The Naked People In Your iPod (Tweens, Teens, and Parents and Adults)

Ok, this isn’t a book but it is by far my most recommended resource when it comes to parents talking to their kids about porn.  Paul Malan, writer and Dad, shares his approach to talking to his boy about pornography.  Written in a non-fear based way, this article empowers kids and parents to have the language, skills, and know how to navigate sexually explicit material.

 

 

 

 

6 – For Goodness Sex (Teens and Parents)

Every parent needs to read world-renowned sex educator, Al Vernachio’s, value-based approach to sexual health.  It’s written with the parents in mind but teens could get a lot out of it as well (if they’re both readers and into non-fiction).  Even if you have little kids, it’s never too early to start getting a vision for your kids developing sexual health.

I know I know.  Your eyes aren’t seeing things there are actually 6 books that I recommend in your basic sexual health arsenal.  There’s nothing interesting about a top 6 list AND I just couldn’t leave any one of these out.  So bonus books for you!

What are your favorites? Join in on the conversation and share your go-to books for sexual health and relationships.  In your parenting library.  And remember…YOU are the sex expert in your home.