How to Address Masturbation
Many parents wonder how they should address masturbation with their children. It goes without saying that every parent understands masturbation is something that shouldn’t be done publicly. Beyond that, however, most parents clam up and aren’t sure where to go in the discussion.
Even though most therapists and educators will tell you that masturbation isn’t a big deal and parents shouldn’t worry if their kids do it, you, as parents, still get to make the decision on how you teach your children about their bodies. Even though the LDS Church has warned against masturbation, parents often do not know how to teach the “why” or how to address this with their children beyond a straightforward, “Stop it!”
Historically, there have been plenty of unhelpful (and humorous, I might add) scare tactics to keep kids from masturbating. Blindness, hairy palms, insanity, and other conditions were made-up reasons to scare kids from masturbating. These may seem dated and obviously flawed ways to handle the topic of masturbation, but parents should be aware that anxiety and fear can still hijack well-meaning attempts to deter this behavior.
Despite what you may have read in sexual education resources, your child won’t be harmed if they abstain from masturbation. Even though it is a completely normal part of childhood development and self-discovery, it’s a behavior that can quickly become problematic. But please make sure that in your efforts to educate your child about your concerns with masturbation that you don’t shame them. Using approaches that shame and guilt your child into abstinence are unhelpful and can create negative associations that can cause other emotional and relational problems.
Rising Above What Comes “Natural”
Sex educators seem to get caught in this false dilemma of believing that since virtually all kids are going to privately discover masturbation on their own, a parent will do more damage by trying to stop something natural and harmless. Please recognize that there are healthy ways to help children know how to avoid the pitfalls of masturbation. Shaming a child into submission or ignoring the issue completely aren’t your only two options.
While I am completely opposed to shaming children, I just as strongly disagree with the notion that we should just throw our hands up and let our children go with whatever feels good and natural to them. As a parent, I want to help my children rise above their physical impulses. I believe there are non-shaming and supportive ways to help us accomplish this lofty ideal.
King Benjamin and Alma both taught that we should overcome the natural man and bridle our God-given passions so we can be filled with love.[v] Having passions and appetites isn’t something we’re doing wrong. Our struggle to manage them is a weakness that was purposefully designed by our loving Heavenly Father to help us turn to Him in humility. Dr. Wendy Ulrich taught that God is the author of weakness and Satan is the author of sin. It’s critical we don’t confuse the two and either shame ourselves for the struggle or give into natural impulses that are placed in us for our own growth.[vi]
Begin with a Trusting Environment
Hopefully you’ve already created an environment in your home where your children know that they are worthy of love and belonging. This is an environment where mistakes are seen as opportunities for learning and growth instead of evidence that make your children feel broken and defective.
If you have contributed to a shame-based home environment where children are afraid to make mistakes or be human, then it’s essential you work on improving conditions before you begin a delicate discussion on sexuality. Your children need to know there is absolutely nothing wrong with them when they discover masturbation. Do not send them the message that they have done something disgusting or evil.
Your children are likely going to experiment with masturbation. You may catch them, they may admit it if you ask, or they may even tell you (less likely, by the way). Please don’t act shocked, disgusted, disappointed, or upset. In the same way you would never overcorrect a veering car on the Interstate, it’s just as dangerous to overreact and overcorrect a child who is discovering their body for the first time.
Children Can Be Taught Sexual Self-Mastery
Children can learn that their bodies have natural and powerful urges that serve important purposes in marriage. As they discover these feelings, they can be taught to accept them as normal and healthy. No child should ever feel ashamed of their sexuality or the desire to act on those feelings. However, children can learn that just because they feel something strong and natural doesn’t mean they have to act on it.
Children can learn God’s purposes for these feelings and direct them toward their intended purposes. Gaining discipline and mastery over their impulses will help them learn to cherish and respect their bodies without shame, which decreases the likelihood that they will develop unhealthy addictive patterns in their lives.
**Some of this content was originally published by the author on Protect Young Minds.
Lead image from iStock
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). Geoff is the 2017 conference chair for the Southern Utah conference for the Utah Coalition Against Pornography (www.utahcoalition.org). He is also the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.geoffsteurer.com. Geoff has authored workbooks and articles on the topics of healing marriages, sexual addiction recovery, betrayal trauma recovery, and disclosing secrets. He also writes a weekly relationship column for Meridian Magazine (http://ldsmag.com/author/geoff-steurer/). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
You can connect with him at:
[ii] See D&C 93:42
[v] See Mosiah 3:19 and Alma 38:12
[vi] Wendy Ulrich wrote about this concept in two of her books, “Forgiving Ourselves” and “Weakness is not Sin”. She also discussed this concept in this 2015 Ensign article https://www.lds.org/ensign/2015/04/it-isnt-a-sin-to-be-weak?lang=eng