Family Therapy and Sexuality

Alaska and Kansas are the most recent states to pass laws that impact sex education in its schools.

Wyandotte and Johnson Counties, sizable suburban sections of Kansas City, recently lost government funding for the Personal Responsibilities Education Program. Although PREP was mainly an abstinence only program, it did provide information about consent, teen pregnancy, and sexually-transmitted infections.

On Thursday, Governor Bill Walker officially implemented a law requiring Alaskan schools to give sex education from specific sex educators, which sounds great, until you realize that AASECT (the national organization for sex educators, counselors, and therapists) has one certified sex educator/therapist in that entire gigantic state. Alaska had been relying on Planned Parenthood members to organize sex education programs; language in HB 156 seems to prevent that from happening in the future.

Our sister organization, South Shore Sexual Health Center, and SSFHC are dedicated to providing quality sex education to families of adolescents and young adults in the greater Boston area. There's a really good chance that should you send your adolescent or family to SSFHC, our therapists will be exploring the role of sexuality and relationships in your teenager's and family's development.

But what does that mean? What are our goals, and what does success look like?

We recognize that talking about sexuality with your teenagers may be challenging, but we hope to discuss some, if not all, of the following topics:

1) Sex positivity. Many families in our area have messages of anxiety, guilt, and shame attached to sexuality, and we have witnessed with numerous families how that anxiety transforms into negative messages about sexuality for teenagers. We want teenagers to explore physical pleasure and verbally identify what they do and don't like. We want teenagers to explore the choices they make regarding their expressions of sexuality--everything from wearing makeup to decisions about who to date. We want to provide families with a language that allows teenagers to explore their sexuality in safe, affirming ways.

2) Education of anatomy and physiology. For starters, we use anatomically-correct language when describing genitalia. We talk with teenagers and families about the functions of sexual organs, periods and ovulation cycles, and the sexual response cycle.

3) Consent. We mentioned that we want teenagers to verbally identify what they like and don't like; this increases the likelihood that they will be able to assertively communicate when and how sexual behaviors can and cannot happen. We want teenagers to know that they are able to say no and change their minds if they'd like. We want to discuss with them about activities that may affect the presentation of consent, such as alcohol use.

4) Contraception. A recent study suggests that teens who discussed condom use with their mothers before their initial sexual experience were three times as likely to use a condom than teens who hadn't discussed condom use. Even if you haven't discussed contraception use with your adolescent, there is a high probability that your teenager, male or female, will know how to put on a condom following visiting with one of our therapists. We are interested in discussing other forms of contraception, such as birth control pills and IUDs, with your teenager and family as well.

5) Involvement from both parents. We want you, the parents, to be the primary source of sex education for your teenagers. In fact, a recent study showed that 77% of mothers communicated with their children about their sexuality. However, only 37% of fathers did the same. Teenagers (particularly teenage girls) who communicated in a positive way about sexuality experience a number of positive effects: an increase in self-esteem, improved quality of dating relationships, a decrease in symptoms of anxiety (including symptoms of compulsive eating). We want to create ways for your teenager to connect with both parents, which often means foregrounding the role of the father.

Of course, any conversations about sexuality occur only with your consent; if you choose not to talk about sexuality in family therapy, we will respect your wishes. We do find, however, that families that invite conversations around sexuality into the therapy room often experience a decrease of familial anxiety, a closer connection between parent (specifically father) and teenager, and an increase in relational self-confidence.

While all of our therapists are trained in family therapy, Stephen Duclos and Paula Leech are Certified Sex Therapists who specialize in the connection of sexual development and family therapy with adolescents. Stephanie Wallace is also one of our family therapists who are clinically interested in the sexual development of adolescents. For more information, check out their bios, and feel free to schedule an appointment by clicking Book Now at the top of the page or calling us at 617-750-0183.