By Cassandra Rustvold, MSW, MEd, CSAT-C
Trauma Therapist, Gentle Path at The Meadows
Many people believe that exposure to sexual content in childhood or adolescence—whether it’s pornography or basic sexual education materials—leads to the development of addictive and inappropriate sexual behaviors. This is a big misconception.
Development of a sexual addiction is rarely linked to only one factor; and, research shows that children who are offered sexual education and are provided with a safe and supportive environment in which they can ask questions about sex are more likely to develop healthy sexual identities regardless of their level of early exposure to sexual content.
Underexposure Can Present As Many Problems as Overexposure
While parents may worry about overexposing their children to discussions of sexuality, underexposure can be equally concerning and can have a just as detrimental a long-term impact on sexual self-image and sexual expression.
Without age, appropriate and comprehensive sex education (inclusive of experiences and body parts of both sexes) individuals are liable to grow up with a sense of shame, secrecy, and overall ignorance surrounding topics of sexuality. These beliefs can often have a negative impact throughout the child’s lifespan.
Also, contrary to the idea that providing children and adolescents with sex education will lead them to prematurely engage in sexual behaviors, research actually shows that children given this education are more likely to delay the onset of sexual intercourse, reduce the frequency of intercourse and number of sexual partners, and increase contraceptive use when they do decide to become sexually active (SIECUS, 2016).
Learned Belief Systems and The Sex Addiction Cycle
Often the groundwork for sexual addiction is set early in life when a child is beginning to experience himself or herself as a sexual being. When parents are uncomfortable with sexual topics and avoid discussing them with their children, they can unknowingly foster a covert belief system that sexual responses or fantasies are inherently taboo rather than natural. These beliefs may take the form of “sex is dirty” or “masturbation is wrong,” which can lead to feelings of shame and self-disgust.
These learned belief systems are a foundational component of the addictive cycle that serves to perpetuate itself. Without early discussions of sexuality within a safe environment like the home, children are left to their own devices to determine their understanding of the role that sex will play in their life.
If sexuality education is left to develop in a vacuum, or by way of media images or other-non-informed peers, a lack of intimacy may become inherently attached to sexual concepts. When this ignorance is combined with something such as early exposure to pornography, the result can be the development of unrealistic performance expectations, distorted body image, and narrow gender role behaviors. The clashing of conflicting messages about sex—one of explicit imagery with that of restricted dialogue and knowledge—can create the perfect storm for a sexual life governed by impulsivity, secrecy, and shame – all cornerstones of sexual addiction in adulthood.
Sex Education as a Life-Long Process
The good news it that it is never too late to educate oneself about the broad realm of human sexuality which encompasses much more than simply reproductive functioning and sexually transmitted infections. The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) proposes that sex education is not isolated to children and adolescents but is a life-long process of acquiring information, restructuring, and forming of attitudes, beliefs, and personal values.
Sex Addiction in Young Adults
For many young men, engaging in a sexual exploration is an important part of their transition into fully functioning, independent adults. It helps them to learn about who they are and how to be good partners in their intimate relationships. For some, however, normal exploration can spiral into out-of-control and destructive behavior. At Gentle Path at The Meadows, we specialize in working with our young adult patients to identify which of their behaviors are problematic for them and which are part of normal development. If you or someone you love needs help with sex addiction, give us a call today at 855-333-6076. Reference SIECUS (2016). Comprehensive Sex Education. Retrieved from http://www.siecus.org/comprehensivesexeducation