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John W. Travis, M.D. & Regina Sara Ryan
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Sex Education

How would you rate the sex education you received? The role modeling you had for an integrated view of sex? Your level of comfort in speaking about sex? Your degree of self-awareness about your own body?

Young people today enter their adolescence in a world that is plagued with epidemics of sexually transmitted diseases, some of which are literally threatening the survival of certain nations, certain races of people. One in four new infections of HIV in the United States today occurs in people below the age of twenty-two, and HIV infection is increasing more rapidly among this age group than in any other. Kids are experimenting with sex much earlier, and often with multiple partners. By the time they reach age twenty, almost 77 percent of women and 86 percent of men have had sex. Because part of being a teenager is taking risks, many act as if they are invincible - testing limits and questioning authority. The need for preparation for and education about sex and its profound responsibilities is still bypassed by many parents, who assume that their kids know more than we do" because they are exposed to more. Many are afraid to speak about sex simply and clearly. Sex education is generally left up to school systems. But many schools lack properly educated personnel. Some refuse to mention homosexuality. Others fail to offer specific instruction in the use of condoms. In many schools, these factors add up to making sex education classes a joke for the adolescents in attendance.

Another painful but necessary side of increased openness about sex is that we are hearing about the abuses that used to go undisclosed and undiscussed. We are discovering how common sexual abuse has been and still is! Parents, teachers, priests, psychotherapists, gurus - taking advantage of their power over a child's or a client's life - have misused their positions of authority to gain personal sexual favors. We have learned that others, while not the sexual perpetrators, have been enablers. They stood by or denied the obvious signs that something was amiss. It is no wonder that many today despair at the state of the world, the state of the family, the state of the church. Without consciously facing the truth of what is, we will unconsciously repeat it, or encourage its repetition.

Abuses and epidemics aside, a quick glance at the newspaper, an overheard conversation, discussions with friends, perhaps an examination of your own thoughts, will reveal that problems, misconceptions, and fears about sex still abound. Here are a few typical statements:

"Before we got married we did it all the time. Now my partner just doesn't seem to have any interest in sex. What's wrong?"

"I must be abnormal. I've never had an orgasm at the same time as my partner."

"If only I _______, then I could please my partner sexually."

"He says he really loves me. So why do I feel like a sex object?"

The basic problem remains: rather than living sex as a total body-mind experience, we have learned to block off sexual energy or to confine it to our genital organs. It is here that we get "turned on" and here that we hold our guilt, our confusion, our fear. As noted in the article on touching, the needs for caring, and tenderness, and total body involvement are unmet when the focus of sex becomes intercourse alone. The result is disappointment, frustration, and damage to your self-concept.

Despite their education or their best intentions, many still consider sex dirty, part of the "lower" nature, something to be feared, earned, or supplied dutifully; they still consider the body secondary to the mind, a thing you attend to when necessary and keep carefully covered up. Few of us have escaped contamination from the fear, embarrassment, confusion, and anger that surrounded sex in the thoughts and words and behaviors of our parents, teachers, ministers, and friends. The relationship of sex with all of life is hard to discover when it isn't talked about in a balanced, commonsense, and respectful way in school, church, or polite company.

The result of all this confusion is the contamination or blockage of our sexual energy, leading to a range of problems that include the following:

  • Impotence or frigidity
  • Compulsiveness or sexual addiction
  • Dysfunctional relationships
  • Sexual abuse, including rape
  • Diseases, especially of the reproductive organs
  • Physical, emotional, and spiritual pain

Most of us need help - as couples or single people - to accept ourselves as sexual beings, to accept sex as a normal part of life, and to use our sexual expression in ways that enhance life, rather than promote disease, unhappiness, fear, and death.

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