Healthy Sexuality Conversations With Children - Interview With Sherie Christensen

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Ending 2017 With Betrayal Trauma Recovery

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Teaching Our Children About Healthy Sexuality, Before They Learn From Unhealthy Sources

Sherie Adams Christensen is with us today. We’re going to talk about how to protect our children. She has a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Brigham Young University and has worked with sex addicts and their families for more than 12 years, both clinically and as a volunteer. Her two passions are betrayal trauma recovery work and teaching parents how to have conversations about healthy sexuality with their children. She has presented her work across the United States and internationally. You can find her at sherieachristensen.com. Welcome, Sherie.

Sherie: Thanks, Anne. It’s good to be here.

Anne: You told me a little bit about your book and then you sent it to me. I have actually used it with my children. Can you tell our audience what the book is called, what it’s about, and what prompted you to write your book?

Sherie: The book is called, My Body is a Gift from God: Introducing Conversations to Safeguard Children. The book is about teaching your children about healthy sexuality from very young ages, to help protect them and preempt the barrage of unhealthy sexual messages they’re going to get throughout their lives.

Help For Parents To Start Conversations That Would Otherwise Be Difficult And Scary

As you’ve mentioned in the introduction, I have worked with sex addicts and, especially their spouses and loved ones for over a decade. I love that work so much, but it’s also really heartbreaking to see all the damage that’s caused by sexual addiction. Then you couple that with the alarming rise of sexual addiction in general, and the lowering age of exposure to sexual materials, and we have what is now being referred to as a public health crisis.

It’s my belief that schools and governments and other institutions can do really wonderful things to prevent this crisis, and to help children, but I see parents and families as the place where the rubber hits the road. Parents just have this really unique responsibility and opportunity to educate their children on what healthy sexuality is, and what it looks like.

When I started presenting 10 years ago, there was almost nothing available to really help parents. Everywhere I was presenting, parents were literally asking if they could record what I was saying because it sounded possible. Sometimes we get in these mindsets that healthy sexuality is a difficult topic, a scary topic to talk about.

We don’t know how to do it in age-appropriate ways. It just feels scary. They said, “I just want to record your voice, because I could do that.” I just thought, “Well, I think we need a book. We need to get information out there to people so that they can do it themselves.”

Anne: Yeah, it is a very big concern for our audience, because they know the effects of sexual addiction, and they really want to help their children avoid it. What makes your book different than the other books available?

Invite Continued Conversations About Pornography, Sexual Abuse, Body Image And More

Sherie: This book’s about teaching healthy sexuality in general. It is not about teaching your child about pornography or sexual abuse or body image. It covers all of that. Like the title says, it’s about introducing conversations to safeguard your children.

Each page is, literally, an invitation to further conversations, either initiated by the parent or the child, so you can have thousands of conversations, based off the contents of this book. That’s very intentional.

It’s written to be general, and to open the door for all these kinds of conversations, to get that process started, because that’s what we need to do. We just need to be talking all the time. This book is written to open that door to have conversations about what’s going on in a child’s life, what the parent is noticing.

Anne: The old-school way was like, “Okay, plan this special date. Take your child to a special place, and then tell them how beautiful sex is, and don’t really talk about pornography, because if they understand how beautiful sex is then they’ll just avoid it naturally.” I don't know, it was just this weird way of doing it, rather than being like, “We talk about sex anytime.” Right?

Sherie: Yes.

Anne: We talk about our bodies, or how we’re feeling at any time, while we’re going to school, while we are at dinner. There’s not this overriding feeling at our home that we can only talk about certain subjects at certain times.

Sherie: Absolutely, or not talk about them at all, right?

Anne: Right.

Overwhelming Access To Porn Requires Us To Talk, And Talk Often

Sherie: I think very few parents even got the “let’s go to a special place and only talk about it one time ever.” Yeah, it’s definitely a complete shift. The reason why is because we have a complete shift in the way that our society has access to, and views these kinds of things.

Anne: That being said, I think, if people would’ve talked about sex more often, and in layered, and ongoing ways, we wouldn’t have a generation of porn addicts now. Even though people say, “We have to talk about it all the time now, because teenagers have porn in their pocket, on their cell phones,” I still think it would’ve been beneficial for people to be talking about sexuality in the ‘50s, healthy sexuality, or even in the 1800’s.

It would’ve been healthy from the beginning of time, for people to be able to talk about healthy sexuality. I bet in 4000 B.C. they didn’t even really know what healthy sexuality was. It was like, “You Jane, me horny.” Right, that was maybe about the healthy sexuality they got.

Sherie: Yeah.

Anne: It would’ve been good in any time period, is what I’m trying to say.

Sherie: Absolutely. It’s just one of those topics that has just sort of been ignored. You just push it under the rug. I think people were able to get away with it a little bit more, you just can’t do that now. You really, really, can’t or you’re just asking for issues with your children. They’re, most likely, going to have issues anyway.

Including God In The Conversation Adds Another Layer Of Truth To Create Healthy Sexual Views

Anne: Why did you choose to talk about God in your book, when talking about healthy sexuality?

Sherie: This book is mono-theistically non-denominational, which means, if you believe in God, in a God that loves you and wants you to be healthy and care for yourself, then this book is for you. I just want to point that out first. I feel like it’s really important for parents to talk about God, when they are talking about healthy sexuality, because every layer of truth that we put into a topic gives it more breadth and more depth.

Our children need as much truth around this as possible. You can make it very sterile and talk about body parts and how they fit together, and how they work, and that’s fine. That is one layer of truth, it’s your sex ed. There are so many other layers of truth that give really essential meaning and breadth and depth to an understanding of healthy sexuality.

That is going to be different for each parent and each family, but it’s needed. In the book, it’ll talk about how amazing our bodies are, and that each of us is made differently, and that is incredible. It makes us each unique.

When you say those things, you can feel that that’s another layer of truth that helps them in their view of healthy sexuality. When they come across pornography, or other unhealthy sexual messages, they’ve got that extra layer of truth, and there’s so many other layers of truth that you can talk about with God, based on your own specific belief systems.

Do Your Children Know Your Values And Beliefs?

That’s, actually, one of the other unique things about this book. It’s written for parents to put their own values in. The studies show that is what children want, they want to know what their parent’s values are.

A lot of books about healthy sexuality that are out there, are written from the author’s point of view, their own beliefs. I happen to think my beliefs are pretty awesome, but they’re not your beliefs, as a parent. Some of them might be, but they’re not yours.

Every page of the book is written so that you, as a parent, put your own belief systems into it. This is our family beliefs about these things. These are our values around this. You work together, which also gives that child ownership of those beliefs, of those value systems.

It’s a really unique thing about the book that you really don’t see a lot of other places, but it’s so important for parents to be giving their own values to their children.

Anne: I also think it’s important to talk about in the context of religion, because in the religious experience, you get the chastity talk, you get all of the stuff that everyone’s gotten for years, but they haven’t received the healthy sexuality portion of that.

Strengthen Chastity Discussions By Answering The 'Why' Questions And Connecting The Dots

Like why? Really, why do you not want to have sex before you’re married? Why do you not want to masturbate before your married—not masturbate before you’re married, masturbate ever. Why do you not want to masturbate?

The discussion of “chastity” can be so much deeper and more involved, and actually answer these why questions that the traditional chastity talk doesn’t answer. It’s just that it’s bad. Then you’re like, “Well, if it’s bad, then why do we do it when we’re married?”

You know, “blah, blah,” there’s just all that confusion going on. It really helps kids connect those two dots between healthy sexuality, and the things that they are learning in church.

Sherie: Absolutely.

Anne: Yeah. I’m really appreciative that you wrote this. I’ve been using it with my kids, and they love it. They think it’s great. My kids talk a lot about sex and porn. It’s just so fun for our neighbors, I’m sure.

Create A Safe Place For Children To Talk About Exposure

My son, who’s eight, came home and said, “Mom, one of my friends told me that he was able to search for naked women on YouTube, and then he told me not to tell anyone.” He said, “I know that that is a signal that I need to tell someone, so here I am telling you, and I feel really uncomfortable around him now.” 

It was just awesome for him to be able to have that conversation, he knew what words to use, because we’d talked about pornography. He knew that looking up naked pictures meant pornography.

The depth of his understanding, and the way that he could talk about it, was only due to the fact that we talk about it all the time. He wouldn’t have had all those words or that ability to express his feelings about what had happened, if it were not a layered, and ongoing conversation in our home.

Sherie: Yes, I love that. That is one of the other things that we talk about in this book, is it actually sets up, preemptively, this safe space for children to talk about exposure, which is so important.

It, literally, goes through, and says, “This is what you’re going to do when you get exposed to stuff, or you hear things. You’re going to talk to your parents. This is how your parents are going to respond to you.” It’s teaching parents and children together, how to create that safe environment, and sets it up, so that children know exactly what to expect, and parents know exactly how to respond.

Everybody Feels Shame But Don't Let It Stop You From Doing The Right Thing

Anne: We haven’t talked about this, but I’m kind of off the shame wagon and now I’m more like, “I don’t really care about the shame, you work through it.” Instead of trying to eliminate shame, now, with my kids, everybody feels shame. This is what it feels like, don’t let that stop you from doing the right thing.

Sherie: Right, I like that.

Anne: Because I think the shame-elimination thing that’s been happening lately, in the anti-pornography movement is kind of ridiculous. We can never eliminate all shame, so it’s more like, “Let’s normalize it, rather than eliminate it.”

Sherie: I totally agree, and this is one of the things that—there’s questions in the back of the book that help you to know where to go from here, and on the website, as well. That’s one of the things that they talk about. A feeling is an indicator, and if I’m feeling shame, then what does that mean, and what do I do with that that’s healthy, rather than being unhealthy?

Anne: Yeah, you might feel like you want to lie, and you can acknowledge that, but then do the right thing anyway.

Sherie: Yeah, I like that. I like that a lot.

Teach Children That Telling The Truth Will Make Them Feel Better And Hiding Will Make Them Feel Worse

Anne: One of my favorite lines from Dr. Laura Schlessinger, a long time ago, people would call in, and they’d be like, “But I don’t feel like doing it,” and she’d say, “Feelings? Feelings don’t matter.”

I know that they do matter, but, at the same time, we need to teach our kids that their feelings don’t have to dictate their actions, and they can make conscious choices about how they feel, that are healthy, and good choices, to help them resolve negative feelings, rather than make those feelings worse.

Sherie: Right, yeah, absolutely. I, absolutely, agree. Feelings do matter, but we, oftentimes, just have a feeling, and then react, instead of figuring out, “What does that mean for me,” and then how does that fit into this whole situation, and what is the right thing to do in this situation, and how does that feeling fit into that space?

Anne: Yeah, and then helping them with that. You might feel ashamed, and that’s okay, and that’s normal, and everybody feels that. Just because you feel that feeling, and the feeling might say, “Avoid telling someone. Avoid saying something,” doesn’t mean that that is what you do, right?

Anne: Exactly.

Sherie: You might feel that way because you’re embarrassed, and the way to get out of it is to tell the truth. That’s the only way out, there’s no other way out, because if you hide, you’re just going to feel it worse.

Stop Unhealthy Patterns By Processing Feelings, Which Come From Your Thoughts

The thing I worry about  with that one, and this—I’ll just leave you with this, and you can think about it, is because addicts have, I’ll call them mutant feelings, like they feel like they hate their wife, for example, or they feel like they’re being insulted, when they’re not actually being insulted.

Having an addict focus on their feelings usually only makes their narcissism worse, whereas, having them think about their thought processes helps them to realize how abusive their thought processes are.

That’s what I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, is that, if you have an addict focus on his erroneous feelings, he’ll never be able to get out of his erroneous thought processes that cause his erroneous feelings. Do you know what I’m saying?

Sherie: Yeah, and that’s why, I think, we teach our children about feelings. Again, it’s the same issue as teaching them healthy sexuality. If you teach them, then they’re going to be able to process those feelings, and use them—



Anne: In healthy ways.

Sherie: —instead of getting stuck in these patterns.

Anne: I think this whole feeling thing’s really interesting. I’m still navigating it, but you accidentally triggered my soapbox. I need you to know that.

Sherie: That’s fine.

Anne: Very sorry. That’s funny. Well, especially as I talk with more and more professionals in this field, I’m forming all these opinions all the time. Then, my poor podcast listeners, they get to sort through it all as I just think out loud half the time. Anyway, you are awesome. Tell me about the other project’s you’re working on right now.

Discuss Masturbation With Your Child So It Will No Longer Be An Uncomfortable Subject To Avoid

Sherie: I’m working on a sequel to the book, My Body is a Gift from God. It’s, I guess, a sequel of sorts, because the second book is just for parents. It goes into a lot more detail of all the different aspects of healthy sexuality for older children, because this book covers all the aspects of healthy sexuality for children that are very young, like two to six or seven.

This other book will cover a lot of the other details, like when you start talking about how sex works, and masturbation, and all these different issues that come up, and things that you will want to talk to your children about.

It’s written just to parents, and has a lot of role-play like, “This is how I would say this,” so that parents can have that going in. They can read it ahead of time, and know how they want to approach situations with their children.

Anne: When you said masturbation, and other things parents will want to talk to their children about, parents don’t want to talk to their children about masturbation, right? They’re like, “Umm, do I have to do that? How would I even do that?”

That’s awesome, because we need to. Here’s another one of those feelings, like, “Uh, I don’t want to do that, but it’s the right thing to do,” unless we feel comfortable talking about something, it’s going to be really hard to help our kids feel comfortable about it. If we’re super awkward when we’re talking about it, right?

Sherie: Mm-hmm.

Bodies Were Meant To Be Sexual, To Make Babies And To Have Amazing Relationships With Spouses

Anne: The masturbation word was really hard for me to say for a long time. Now, it’s very easy, and sometimes I just yell it out in crowds, just to—

Sherie: Just to mix it up a little.

Anne: Yeah, just to be like, “You know, nobody says this word, so ‘Masturbation’.”

Sherie: Well, here’s the thing, when you do it in a healthy sexuality way, it’s not scary, because what are our bodies meant to do? This is a process, and again, you put it within that value system, so this is what this is for. Our bodies are meant to have children, and to have really amazing relationships with our spouse. This is something that your body is doing, and, like when you have wet dreams, it’s just your body preparing to be a good father. That’s all it is.

When you put it in that context—of periods, and wet dreams, and everything, but when you put it in that context, “This is why we don’t do that outside of that context. This is what it’s for, and this is what the world is going to tell you it’s for. It’s for feeling good, and it’s for doing whatever you want, and that your body’s your own, and you don’t have to—“ like all of those things. When you understand it in the context of the whole picture, then it becomes a whole lot easier to talk about it.

Boys Have A Penis, Girls Have A...

Anne: I agree. I do that with my kids. It has worked well, so far. They’re eight, five, and three, and my daughter says clitoris. She had a little stuffed seal—stuffed animal that had this little part on it, it was just like a little piece of—

Sherie: A seam hole?

Anne: Yeah, and she’s like, “Mom, this is the seal’s clitoris.” I was like, “The seal has a clitoris.” I just think it’s so cool to have kids who I feel comfortable talking about these things with.

Sherie: Yeah, and comfortable talking with you about it.

Anne: Yeah, we all feel comfortable. They know the word “masturbation”. They know the word “clitoris”. They know these words. I don’t always use them in the perfect sense. Like my daughter doesn’t know what a clitoris is for, for example, she just knows that’s where she pees out of, because I couldn’t figure out what the girl name for where you pee out of was, so I told her that it was that. Is there a different word for it?

Sherie: The whole outside of the sexual organ, for a female, is a vulvas, because most people are like, “Oh, the vagina.” I’m like, “Nope, you can’t see that.”

Anne: Because she was saying, “Boys pee out of their penis, and girls pee out of their penis, but girl’s penis is very tiny.” This is what she was telling me, and I said, “No, no, no. Girls don’t have a penis. Girls pee out of their—“ and then the word that came out was clitoris, because I didn’t know where girls peed out of, so that’s what I said. You think vulva would be better?

Sherie: You could say urethra, because that’s the actual tube. Your clitoris is actually underneath, and up inside a little bit more, so it’s not actually visible. You could say the urethra, or the labia, or the outside, or the vulva. My kids use vulva, because that just covers everything. Whereas—

Anne: You pee out of your vulva?

Sherie: I would say, probably, urethra. Your urethra is part of your vulva. Like we say you pee out of your penis, but it’s more than a penis. There’s testicles, and there’s the whole sexual organ, so yeah.

Making Mistakes Is Part Of Parenting

Anne: To my three year old, I’ll be like, “You know what, I made a mistake. I said the wrong word, you really pee out of your urethra.”

Sherie: Boys pee out of their urethra too. Their urethra’s in their penis, and your urethra’s in your vulva.

Anne: Okay. I’m glad we had this discussion to clear this up, because here’s my little three year old going around talking about her clitoris, which I thought was quite cute, but—

Sherie: Yeah, and tell her that, “I made a mistake,” I love that so much. Because how many times, as parents, are we like, “I have to do it all perfect the first time, and I can’t ever make any mistakes,” and then—

Anne: What a cool mistake to make, because, frankly, girl’s parts are really tough for me. I didn’t know what a cervix was until I was eight months pregnant. They’re all up in there, and we can’t see them. I’ve never really known that much about my own parts.

"I Made A Mistake" Are Beneficial Words To Say To Your Children

Sherie: Nobody does, because a lot of women don’t even ever touch it. Like they’re taught, “You got to wash yourself with a rag,” and whatever, so you never actually touch yourself, but then guys are constantly coming in contact with their sexual organs. They know exactly how it works, because it’s right there, and they’re getting feedback.

Yeah, that’s always such a huge issue for women. I know for me, when I became sexually active, it was a big deal, because I didn’t know how all of that worked, because I never saw it. I don't know what happens inside me when I get sexually aroused. I had to go and learn that, and figure it out. For guys, they know exactly what happens when they get aroused. Everybody knows what happens when they get sexually—

Anne: Yeah. That’ll be a cool conversation I have with my three year old daughter, to be like, “You know what, I made a mistake. I didn’t know, dut-du-dut-du-du.” I think that’s cool.

Sherie: It’s so cool.

Anne: Because I never talk to anyone about my parts, maybe my friends, and they gave me the wrong information, and, here I am, a 40 year old woman, giving my 3 year old daughter the wrong information. That’s awesome, but at least it’s me, right?

Sherie: Yeah. You’re going to fix it. You know, it’s like it’s no big deal.

Gift Yourself With Betrayal Trauma Recovery Books From BTR, Or Join The Club

Anne: Sherie, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. Again, you can find Sherie at sherieachristensen.com. If you go to our btr.org/books page, you can find her book, My Body is a Gift from God. If you’re thinking about last-minute gifts for yourself, or for your she-ro friends, it’s btr.org/books, or you can scroll down to the very bottom to the footer menu, and find the books there.

Quite a few books there that are really good gifts, like My Body is a Gift from God, and Good Pictures, Bad Pictures, and several books for parents that are really good for their children. Also, great gifts for you and your she-ro friends. I tried to make sure that all of the books that I picked were Prime, so that you could get ‘em in two days, so it’s not too late to get some gifts for women in need.

Just one more reminder to join Betrayal Trauma Recovery Club, to get support that you need through Christmas and New Years, and we will be back on the air January 9th. If this podcast is helpful to you, please rate it on iTunes. Every single one of your ratings increases our visibility on search engines, and helps women all over the world find us. Scroll down and let us know whay you thought of this episode as well to help others find the information they're looking for.  If we don’t see you in Betrayal Trauma Recovery Club, until January 9th, stay safe out there.

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