Entering adulthood is often a difficult and turbulent period in human life. Uncertainty, loneliness, and a negative body image are some of the problems faced by many adolescents and teens. Puberty is also a time of discovering one’s sexuality – entering first relationships and relationships, setting limits, learning a changing body. Who am I? Who do I want to be? Who is attracting me? How far do I want and can I go? What do I want from other people in my life? – these are just a few of the questions young people are looking for answers to. What can we adults do? In order to properly support the healthy psychosexual development of a young person, both empathy and patience as well as … knowledge and education are needed.
Education or sexualization?
In public discourse, it is not uncommon – absolutely wrongly (!) – to identify sexual education with sexualization. It is worth explaining that sexualization is the process by which someone is valued from the point of view of sexual attraction. It is bringing a person to a sexual object. Honest sex education has nothing to do with this approach. It also does not promote early sexual initiation or “teach children to masturbate.” Sexuality education is primarily an element of health education, prevention of risky behaviors and sexually transmitted diseases and infections, as well as a form of protection of children and adolescents against sexual violence. So why all this fuss? The problem is that people often hear “sex” instead of “sex education”.
Read more: Between sexual education and sexualization
What is sexuality?
At first, sexuality may be associated primarily with intercourse, with sexual activity and making relationships with other people. Meanwhile, sexuality is a natural and innate feature of every human being. It is an integral part of life that cannot be separated from the emotions, feelings, cultural context or life roles that are assigned to our gender. Sexuality manifests itself in many aspects completely unrelated to any sexual activity – it is also the way our sexuality manifests itself, our self-esteem and attitude towards our own body. Sexuality is a trait that allows us to establish relationships and feel all the emotions associated with them – not only desire or excitement, but also joy, longing, sadness, happiness and loneliness. Sexuality is expressed in biological, intellectual, emotional and social terms.
Read more: Sexuality
As they mature, the nature of the relationships established by young people changes. Parents are relegated to the background, and the peer group becomes the determinant of social position and acceptance. The child begins to need privacy, fights for autonomy, and confides secrets more quickly to friends and colleagues than to parents, for whom such a change often turns out to be not only difficult, but also simply painful and painful. However, this is a completely healthy and natural development phase. The role of a parent or other supportive adult is to remain within the reach of the adolescent young person, while interfering less and less directly with his or her life. It is difficult but necessary.
Zmieniające się w okresie dojrzewania ciało może powodować wiele trudnych emocji. Wstyd, lęk, złość, smutek, przygnębienie… Obecne kanony piękna dla większości społeczeństwa są po prostu nieosiągalne. Media społecznościowe, w których młodzież spędza dużo wolnego czasu, są w dużej mierze źródłem tych nierealistycznych przekazów. Wsparcie, podkreślanie wartości innych cech niż wygląd zewnętrzny, zwracanie uwagi na to, że zdjęcia są przerabiane czy skierowanie uwagi na bardziej wartościowe strony i profile, ukazujące różnorodność ludzkich ciał, może być w tym wypadku bardzo pomocne. Wraz zresztą ciała zmieniają się również miejsca intymne. Pojawia się owłosienie, zmienia zapach i zachodzą w nich także nowe procesy – miesiączka i polucje (niegdyś: zmazy nocne). Ze względu na budowę anatomiczną chłopcom łatwiej jest oswoić się ze swoim ciałem. Dziewczynki warto na tej drodze wspierać, zachęcać do poznawania swojego ciała np. czytając wspólnie książki o dojrzewaniu i omawiając anatomiczne ilustracje. To właśnie w tym okresie życia dochodzi do pierwszych zachowań masturbacyjnych w kontekście seksualnym i erotycznym, podejmowanych w pełni świadomie. I nie ma w tym niczego złego. To naturalny element procesu, w którym kształtuje się nie tylko podejście do seksu i seksualności, a także własne granice.
Doubts or uncertainty of adolescents may also focus on who they are, who they feel and who they would like to be. Gender identity or identification is a personal sense of one’s gender. Not biological, but socio-cultural. It is the inner concept of oneself as a man, a woman, a combination of both or neither of these genders. It may happen that the biological gender incompatibility with the perceived one appears in early childhood. However, it is also possible that the physical changes occurring during puberty (i.e. breast enlargement and menstruation or facial hair, first erections and bleeding) will start to cause great suffering in the young person, fill them with disgust towards themselves / themselves. Is there a gender mismatch then? Contrary to appearances – not necessarily. The words “I’d rather be a boy” or “I want to be a girl” will not always prove it. So, instead of jumping to conclusions, it’s best to consult a psychologist or sexologist on this matter. Only a specialized, in-depth diagnosis will allow the problem to be identified and the direction of further actions determined. The main task of specialists is to understand the cause of the difficulties and discomfort experienced and to provide help.
Sexual orientation is not “imputed” once in a lifetime. It’s a broad spectrum. Who is attractive to us and with whom we want to have a romantic or sexual relationship can change throughout our lives. Sexual orientation should not be what defines us as human beings. Apart from it, we have many other, much more constant and much more telling features about us. Adolescence can be a time of experimentation for a young person in this respect. He may declare that, for example, he feels homosexual or asexual and at a given moment in his life, and it may be a truth that does not want to be denied in any way, but should be heard with understanding. Parents worried about the health and safety of their children often panic after hearing such a declaration. How to help a child? Since the young man dared to take up the topic of his sexual orientation with close adults, he showed great courage and gave them a credit of trust. It is not worth wasting it. What he needs at such a moment is support and a safe, accepting space for both conversation and further self-discovery. Sometimes parents are not able to cope with this task – be it due to their own prejudices and difficulties, the inability to take up such sensitive and intimate topics or simply fear. Here there is a field for the activities of specialists and specialists (psychologists, sexologists, psychotherapists) who can create such a safe space for a young person. Sometimes even one meeting can help organize your thoughts and feel better about yourself. A psychologist or sexologist is also a person who will take care of parents in this situation and help them understand what is actually going on with their child.
Read more: Sexual Orientation in Children
Safe and unsafe behaviors
Discovering themselves and the outside world, young people often experiment, check their own and others’ limits whether they bend or break the rules. Instead of getting angry with your child and classifying them as “naughty” or “rebellious”, you should look for the reason. Is it fear, insecurity, willingness to position in the group or maybe just curiosity? In some respects, it is worth respecting the child’s autonomy – the selection of clothes, hairstyles, makeup and experiments in this field certainly fall within the spectrum of safe behaviors. Similarly, frequent changes of interests or hobbies do not indicate a straw of enthusiasm, but a search for your own path and do not require intervention. What about the change of company? Here, the most important thing is contact with a young person, talking about who the new friends are, what he likes about them, what he can learn from them, how they spend their time. Also, frequent changes of sympathy can be completely natural. The situation is different when it comes to having sex before the age of 15, using drugs or pornography. While masturbation (both in childhood and adolescence) is a developmental norm that should not be interfered with, contact with pornographic materials, especially in the case of a school-age child, requires an adult’s attention, explanation and comment.
When to seek help?
The need to contact a specialist or specialist often becomes apparent only when things change a turn that is disturbing from the perspective of parents or teachers. However, it is worth investing primarily in education and prevention, and not only in “crisis intervention”. Meetings with a psychologist or sexologist can be helpful not only to young people, but also to parents who would like to prepare for a conversation with their daughter or son. The emotional load that will accompany the conversation about sexuality at home is actually as important and important as the content conveyed. Uncertainty, anxiety, stress, anxiety … All these emotions will resound in the conversation, making the child feel that it is a difficult and embarrassing topic. At such moments, a psychologist or sexologist helps parents by supporting, explaining and educating.
Author: Marta Zielińska