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AT HOME WITH MY EMOTIONS, PART 6
BEING AT HOME WITH S-E-X FEELINGS
Welcome to the series, AT HOME WITH MY EMOTIONS. This is number 6 in a series of probably seven blogs when complete. These blogs are part of a continuing education class for foster parents which I am presenting at San Bernardino Valley College on Tuesday and Friday mornings through September 24. If you live nearby and are interested in attending, email me.
You might want to check out the previous blogs, and here are the links
Today we zero in on being at home with sexual feelings. The actual title of the class is Being At Home with S-E-X Feelings. Some of us have a difficult time even saying the word sex or sexual, so we have to spell it out!
I kind of apologize ahead of time, but not really. There is a lot to say here, important stuff, and I don't know how to shorten it. This is a lengthy blog.
THIS BLOG IS ABOUT US, THE BIG PEOPLE
Now, remember, we are first and foremost talking about us, the BIG people, being at home with sexual feelings. It is only then that we can be at home with these same feelings in foster children and teens, and then support foster children learning everything they can learn about being a sexual human being. We are all sexual people. I know some of you don’t want to believe that even about yourself, but, hey, what can I say? That’s the scoop!.
We will talk later in this blog about reactive sexual behavior. This is the behavior you will see in children who have been sexualized in some way or another.
Every single cell in our entire body tells us whether we are a man or a woman. My dream for each of you is that you can become knowledgeable about this part of the developmental process.
I also hope that you can set aside any fears you have about children’s and teen’s sexuality, and even more particularly, not to be afraid of those children and teens who have been sexually abused.
NORMAL CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT
Let’s begin today by looking at normal childhood development with respect to the body and the experience of pleasure.
When we are an infant and then a toddler and then a preschooler, we are constantly learning about our bodies, and, in particular for our discussion here, what feels good to touch. Our early learning and awareness of our body’s capacity to give us pleasures is INNOCENT.
We don’t know about adult sexuality, unless someone introduces us. We know pleasures. We notice differences in private parts, but it is part of the overall experience of learning about ourselves and others. The same way we learn how to use our legs, our arms, our hands and feet, our eyes, ears, nose, lips, we begin to experiment and learn how our entire body works. So yes, we learn through experience that it feels good to touch or rub certain body parts, including our private parts.
I will never forget my sister calling me one day many years ago to tell me that, while her six month old son crawled, he kept his pelvis low to the ground (with diaper on) and essentially was rubbing his penis against the floor as he crawled.
"Should I stop this?" she asked.
I didn’t really know what to say, but what I did say was, "Well, I don’t imagine he will be twenty one, and still dragging his penis across the floor."
We both laughed. About three years later, she remembered our conversation and started laughing and called me to tell me that he had stopped the behavior a long time ago without her doing anything.
Sometimes children learn that straddling the arm of a sofa or "mounting" and riding a pillow like a horse brings pleasure. We can go berserk about it, or we can just observe and not respond. The old adage, whatever you give energy to persists.
So what we know is that children in their early years of development are both aware and sometimes excited about the pleasures they experience in various parts of their body and in particular their private parts.
We need to learn to leave this alone, so to speak, and allow them to discover their bodies in innocence.
And there is plenty of literature available, children’s books and children’s story to read to children, even very young children, to teach them to respect their bodies and the bodies of other people. So as we let them discover their bodies innocently, we can also educate them at their own level.
So NO, it is not useful or helpful to slap an infant’s hand because they have discovered that it feels good to fondle themselves while you are changing their diaper. It is not helpful to act horrified when you notice your three year old son with an erection in the bathtub or your daughter playing with herself while taking a bath. It is damaging to scold them, tell them Jesus is crying, or worse "it is dirty....nasty....down there.,,,Don’t touch yourself there." It is not dirty or nasty down there. Why would you say something like that? Yes, only because someone said it to you.
CHILDREN WHO ARE SEXUALLY ABUSED OR SEXUALIZED
It is a somewhat more complex discussion for children and sometimes unfortunately very young children, even infants, who are sexually abused or sexualized and then become sexually reactive .
When you see children acting out adult sexual behavior with other children, you know they have learned this adult sexual behavior from adults. It is not part of normal exploration and discovery.
Sexual stimulation by an adult is a way over the top experience for children. The brain does not know how to process the pleasure or make sense out of it. And depending upon what the sexual abuse consists of, there may also be pain, and a lot of pain involved in the experience. Children who are repeatedly sexually stimulated may lose the ability to have FUN doing the normal things that children do to have fun. Playing a board game, jacks, jumping rope, running, climbing, dancing, singing, may all be pale in comparison to the excitement of premature sexual stimulation.
Again, it is important to recognize that the child has been sexualized by another adult. They are acting out reactively, in reaction to the abuse. So there is no reason to become horrified, punitive, disgusted, or to tell them that they are dirty or nasty or what they are doing is dirty or nasty. It is rather a time to comfort them, hold them, and begin helping them learn all the ways to have FUN, and all the wonderful ways to receive affection from adults, It maybe a long journey and require baby steps. But with support from other experienced foster parents and professionals, you can take on the task without being terrified of the child.
In terms of intervening behaviorally, the challenge is a little more complex when the children are older at the time the abuse occurs. And is even more complex when the abuse occurs during teen years. Again, there is no reason to imply that they are dirty, or worse a "whore" or a pervert. They deserve the utmost respect from us so that they can regain a sense of self respect for themselves and for others.
NOW, here is an important piece in this particular part of our discussion. Were you sexually abuse, molested, sexualized in any way, when you were growing up? And don’t minimize what happened. Just because Uncle Fred only put his tongue in your mouth and did not have intercourse with you, it was still invasive and abusive and you have never forgotten it and it is not a pleasant memory.
So, those of us, who have been sexually abused growing up, we deserve and further, we really need to mandate ourselves, to go through some kind of extensive healing process. Otherwise, we will not be of any use to the children in our care who have been sexually abused.
Okay, so it’s time to do some exploring for ourselves. You can share or not share what you discover. It would be helpful to others to share what you discover, but it is up to you. And if you share and get a purple face in the process, well, for some reason we get purple faces when we talk about sex, sexual feelings, and sexual experiences. I don’t know if that is just a normal reaction or if we were shamed into those purple faces. I tend to think the latter.
That’s not to deny that some people have a greater sense of privacy than others. That is not a good or bad thing. It is just who they are, and those of us, who, on the other hand, tend to lack good boundaries, we could take a lesson or two!
So take some time now, to think back. What do you remember about discovering your private parts and the pleasure associated with them? Do you remember getting messages that it was dirty down there or nasty or sinful? What do you remember about your awareness of your developing sexuality over the years? We can have a host of experiences prior to puberty around "sexual" pleasure and "sexual" discoveries.
Then what do you remember of puberty and what were your discoveries during that time of your life? Do you remember feeling really "horny" and were there adults in your life with whom you felt free to ask about these feelings and what you were to do with them? Were you ever caught masturbating and what did the person tell you about it?
Now let’s move the clock forward, so to speak. When, if ever, did you begin to feel totally at home with your sexual feelings? To what do you attribute either feeling at home or not feeling at home?
Where are you now, in your self awareness? What part does sexual pleasure play in your life? Do you feel good, really good, about yourself as a sexual being? I use the term sexual being, because it is not possible to separate out our sexuality from the rest of who we are. Sexuality is not a part of us. It is who we are. As we noted earlier, every cell, not just some cells or half the cells, but every cell in our body tells us that we are a sexual being.
Hopefully this exercise has given you some helpful awarenesses of yourself and what you might have to do to begin your own journey of sexual healing, so that you can be at home with your sexual feelings.
WHY IS IT SO DIFFICULT?
Why is it so difficult to talk to our own birth children, let alone our foster children about any matters around sex? Why do we get so uptight?
It is easy to point to things like, "the children may misinterpret what I am telling them....the children may tell the social worker that all I talk to them about is sex.....a child who has been sexually abused may misinterpret my conversation as an invitation....."
These fears may be very legitimate, and it is true that children who have been sexually abused could actually accuse you of sexually abusing them when you did nothing even remotely close. Yes, scary, but there are simple ways to protect yourself with ALL CHILDREN in your care. A simple spiral bound notebook for each child and jotting down a few notes about the child’s behavior on a regular basis can go a long way if such an unfortunate event ever occurs.
But it seems to me these very real fears can sometimes be camouflage to a more generalized discomfort in dealing with sexual matters of any kind, even in our own personal life. So if you have such a generalized discomfort, and you are intent on working with foster children, then do yourself and them a favor, and pick out some safe adults with whom you can talk about your discomfort, with the goal of becoming more at home with your sexuality, your sexual feelings, and your sexual needs.
There are wonderful books for both adults and children to read together that will help even you, as an adult, to become more comfortable being a sexual being I will post them in the Amazon capsule at the end of this blog.
So now make a list of various situations that have come up or that you have walked into where some kind of sexual behavior or sexual acting out is occurring. Here is the most important point here. When you walk into a situation where a child is behaving sexually or two children are acting out sexually, notice how you do not look to actually see what is going on. And then later on, when the social worker asks you to describe what you saw, you start making up the story, start making assumptions about what must have been going on, because you realize you saw very little, too much for your own comfort perhaps, and so you stopped recording, so to speak. So any time, you run into sexual behavior or sexual acting out, take a very very GOOD look. At this point, you are an investigative reporter. That way, you can be helpful in talking to the child or children about what it was that you saw. If you do not look, they will tell you what happened, and it won’t be what really happened.
Now the next step is what do you do? Again, sit down with the child or children with another adult and talk about what happened. Give them good information about what is acceptable and not acceptable in your house, what is appropriate and not appropriate in terms of their age and development. Obviously, you want to consult with the social worker because maybe there is a history here. It is also important to assess whether the situation is just two children engaging in sexual behavior or if one of the children is perpetrating on the other. In some cases, you may have to consult with law enforcement. Remember the child's acting out may be the only way the child can scream out to the world about what was done to him or her. So involving law enforcement often times allows law enforcement to stop an adult perpetrator from abusing more children.
WE SAVE THE MOST DIFFICULT FOR LAST
Okay, so far, we have covered a lot of ground. We save the most difficult stuff to talk about for the end. Of course.
WHAT IF A TEENAGE FOSTER CHILD FEELS SEXUALLY ATTRACTED TO YOU
So what happens if your teenage foster children are sexually attracted to you? Don’t panic. But for heaven’s sake, pay attention and notice if that occurs. It can occur. It’s kind of normal. They are raging with hormones and you are someone who is taking good care of them. They will fall in love with you and because of the hormones, that love can become sexualized for them. There is nothing for you to do about this, but notice, and be aware that there is a new variable in the mix in your relationship. If you ever think it necessary to talk to the child about their attraction to you, have the conversation with the social worker or another professional person present to support both you and the foster child.
IT’S NOT A BAD THING
It is not a bad thing, after all. Yes, complicated and something you would prefer not to have to deal with, but you could also look at it as a compliment! And it is an opportunity for this teenager to learn about his or her sexual attraction and how to weave this attraction into his or her life, instead of it being something he or she has to split off from or consider dirty or nasty. Sometimes it’s sweet to have a crush on a teacher, or in this case, your foster parent. It is not about you, so you just go on living your normal day to day life and continue to provide care the same as if the sexual attraction was not in the equation. And as long as you are being appropriate, the teen will follow suit. If the teen becomes aggressive with you, then obviously, a conversation is required, again with someone else with you.
What do I mean by aggressive. Let’s say the teen always wants a hug and you can tell the hug is not just a hug. You can do very simple things like redirecting the hug to a side by side hug. You can even say, "I don’t feel comfortable when you hug me like this, but I feel very comfortable hugging you this way."
IS THERE ANYTHING AT ALL WE CAN DO DIFFERENTLY?
What Foster Moms CAN also do is be aware of your style of clothing. If you wear tops where your boobs are always hanging out or you are showing a lot of cleavage, you may be stylish, but you may also be unnecessarily driving a teenage foster child nuts. The same if you wear the tightest jeans on the rack. I’m not suggesting you have to stop wearing attractive clothing, but be aware and be smart. The same with foster dads. It is easy for us to forget the impact of walking around without a shirt, especially if we like to show off our six pack Abs. Again, it is a matter of sensitivity, boundaries, and modesty.
SUDDEN AGGRESSION OR SUDDEN COMPLIANCE
A phenomenon that could also occur when a teenage foster child is attracted to you, is they will suddenly become very aggressive and hostile with you and totally non compliant. It is a pretty effective way of getting some distance from you. Unfortunately, it can also results in removal and replacement. Imagine how crazy that must feel to the teen? I’m not saying that that is the explanation every time, but sometimes it can be. And it’s the last explanation that any of us want to look at.
AND, what if a teen suddenly becomes overly compliant. They are always standing next to you, touching you, helping you, jumping up from the table to get something for you? There are LOTS of explanations for this behavior. But one could be sexual attraction on the part of the child. Again, there is no reason to make a big deal about it, but it is important to notice and to perhaps think differently about what ordinarily you might consider behavioral improvement. You do not want to discount the changes, but simply be aware of the context in which they are occurring. Again, have a good consultant to talk to about this situation. Again, you do not want the teen to split off from any sexual feelings he or she is having about you, but you want to support them weaving those feelings into the totality of their life and to learn that they can shift those feelings from you to someone their own age, and that they are good enough to have a romantic relationship with someone their own age. That last point is really critical.
Again, when you are working with teenagers in particular, always have someone always available with whom you can run things by and ask if you or your consultant sees any sexual ingredients in the mix and then come up with a plan for addressing the sexual ingredients in a way that will foster the child’s psychosexual development.
WHAT IF YOU HAVE SEXUAL FEELINGS?
NOW, the final difficult issue to address. What happens if you feel sexual feelings for a foster child? Remember, we are talking feelings here, We’re not talking about anyone acting out or planning to act out.
We are all human beings and can find ourselves having sexual feelings toward just about anyone. I’m not saying that you can expect it to happen. I am not saying it does happen. I am not saying it shouldn’t happen and you are perverted if it does. I’m not saying it happens all the time or rarely. I am just asking the question, what if this happens?
Simply find someone very safe with whom you can share your feelings, someone who will not shame you, someone who will help you make sense of the feelings. They are telling you something, and it is important to find out precisely what they are telling you.
If you can sort out what the feelings are about, then you will not withdraw your love, attention, and energy from the child. You will not become unexpectedly angry toward the child, nor secretly blaming the child as if there is something the child did to trigger these emotions. It may simply be that a child is particularly needy, and sometimes when we take care of someone, and we become attached to that person, the attachment could trigger all kinds of emotions. Again, do not be afraid of the emotions. And no, do not share your feelings with the child, obviously.
AND ONE LAST WHAT IF?
What if a foster child seems to be attempting to "romantically" come between you and your partner and what if you suspect that your partner intentionally or unintentionally is feeding it?
Well, first of all, be prepared and be open enough to realize you might be dead wrong and over reacting because of whatever is going on already between you and your partner. That is number one. Number second is to check out your concern or hypothesis and to check it out with your partner with the help of another experienced foster parent or professional.
More than likely there is something going on in both the foster child and in your relationship. If you can work out and heal whatever your relationship issues are, then you may be able to provide a most wonderful experience for the foster child, because you will teach him or her that he or she does not have to triangulate in ANY relationship to feel important or to feel special or to get his or her needs met. This could be the most important learning experience of this child’s life.
So I think we have covered the entire gamut. I appreciate you following me all the way to this point. I know this can be a harrowing topic for many of us.
I WANT TO LEAVE WITH SOME SAMPLE SCRIPTS
TO A THREE OR FOUR YEAR OLD in private. "I can tell it feels good to rub your penis while watching cartoons, but there are other children in the room. Rubbing your penis is something you do in private, while you are by yourself.
TO A TEEN "So tell me about your boyfriend (girlfriend). Do you think you are in love? I remember my boyfriend (girlfriend) when I was in seventh grade."
TO A CHILD WHO EXPOSES HIM OR HERSELF TO YOU
Kindly "Your private parts are private. Put your clothes back on.
LATER. So tell me what was that all about? Why did you want to show me your private parts? You know, we call them private parts for a reason. You know, someday, when you are much older, you will show your private parts to someone very special. You don’t just show them to anyone. It’s not cool.
If it’s a teen: "You know, it’s really against the law to expose yourself. You can get yourself into a lot of trouble with the police. Not cool. So tell me what’s going on?
TO A CHILD WHO INAPPROPRIATELY TOUCHES YOU WHILE SITTING OR STANDING NEXT TO YOU.
Take child’s hand. Speak Kindly "You cannot touch me there. If you want to touch me, you can hold my hand or I can sit next to you, but we respect other people’s private parts and do not touch them. Some day, when you are with someone very special, someone you love, you may want to allow each other to touch these parts of your body. But not with me."
YOU CATCH TWO CHILDREN ENGAGING SEXUALLY.
Speak kindly. "I want to talk about two things with both of you. First of all, there is a rule that children in this house are not sexual with each other. I want this to be an extra safe home for everyone. Secondly, I am not sure if what I saw between the two of you was something you both wanted to do or if one of you talked the other into it. So let’s talk about that......."
YOU HAVE A TEENAGE GIRL GOING OUT THE WINDOW AT NIGHT TO HAVE SEX WITH.......
"So what is it like for you to have sex with .....? You know there are a lot of different issues here that we need to address. And between you, your social worker, and I, we will address them all. But what is really important to me is you having a safe place where you can come and talk to someone about what is going on inside of you and why it is so important to you to have sex with...... And if you like, I can be that person for you. You know, I am just imagining that having sex with.....leaves you feeling really special and loved. Am I right?"
OR "You know sometimes when we have been sexually abused, we like to have sex with people as an odd way of getting even with the people who abused us. Is there anything like that going on for you?"
OR "Sometimes when we have been sexually abused, we like to have sex with other people almost out of habit, as crazy as that sounds."
OR "Sometimes when we have been sexually abused, we like to have sex with other people in hopes that this time it will be special."
OR "You know it seems to be the craze, you know, you’re no body unless you’re having sex swith someone. Is it like that for you? You feel pressured to have sex, but down deep you really don’t want to?"
YOU HAVE A TEENAGE BOY GOING OUT THE WINDOW OR JUST NOT COMING HOME BECAUSE HE IS HAVING SEX WITH......
I think the scripts above can have some relevancy, changing them a tad, but there may be some other information you want to share with a teenage boy about his developing sexuality and his sexual activity.
"You know there are some interesting ideas that guys have about sex and what it means to have sex with a girlfriend....an older woman."
"How do you know your girlfriend really enjoys having sex with you or does it even matter to you? I know that sounds a little harsh, but I want you to think about it."
"What do you mean you’re not using protection. What is that all about? Talk to me about that. There’s something important there."
"So you think this older woman really loves you? Wow, I bet it is making you feel really really special. Yea, I don’t know what to tell you, really. I don’t want to be mean or cruel, but we need to talk about that a lot more. You know, besides it being against the law, well, we just got to talk some more about it. You deserve to grow up knowing what sex is really all about and having sex with an older woman probably isn’t going to give you that information or it may really mar every other sexual experience you have in the future because of the fantasy that you create with this older woman."
"So I notice, most of your girlfriends are several years younger than you. What do you think that is about? What would it be like for you to go out with a girl who is in your class or your same age? Tell me about it."
"So I am wondering if you are wondering if you are gay. I am quite comfortable talking to you about this. It’s not a weird thing to be gay. I understand that many people in society think that gay people are awful, sinful, and all of that stuff. But if you are gay, you are gay, and you are most welcomed in this house."
I know this last comment may be next to impossible for many of you to ever say to a child, but maybe you can do some praying about it and ask God to open your heart and find a way to be loving and accepting of a child or teenager in your home who is in fact gay. You might think or come up with a hundred ways to convince yourself that it is by choice, but think about it really. There is really nothing fashionable about being gay. It can be a very painful lifestyle with respect to the isolation from the people you love, the people who raised you, your friends, your church, your world. It would have to be a pretty insane choice if it was a choice. There seems to be some pretty good evidence that about ten percent of the population is gay, and if you cannot figure out how God could do such a thing, then just figure that God chose not to consult with you about it. Just remember for a very long time, the "Church" could not figure out why God did not consult with the Pope about the world being round.
WHEN TO GO TO THERAPY
Any time there are any issues, for you, for the foster children or teens, that you see deserve healing, then by all means, find the therapist who is skilled in working with both children and adults in the area of human sexuality. Not all therapist are comfortable in working with sexual issues. Also find a therapist who will be willing to work with both you and the child together at least at some point. Otherwise, the healing occurs in the context of the relationship with the therapist who is not available to the child twenty four seven, the way you are. Some therapist seem not to get this point.
I think this may be the longest blog ever. Do you think we covered it all? Heck no. We only just begun!.
Thank you for hanging in there till the end. Please leave comments and questions and feel free to email me whenever if I can be of any assistance to you in these matters. If you live nearby, I would be happy to consult with you in person, and don’t forget there are an ABUNDANCE of classes at Valley College to support you on your journey as a foster parent.
NAMASTE! (God in me acknowledges God in you )
One of the best books ever!
ANOTHER IMPORTANT BOOK
This book is listed on Amazon, but apparently you have to order it through another publisher.
Healing Your Sexual Self (Paperback)
by Janet Geringer Woititz
IT IS A VERY HELPFUL AND HEALING EXPERIENCE READING THIS BOOK.