Healthy sexual development: The basics

Planning for Sexual Assault Awareness Month has entered the second trimester, so to speak, as we are now counting down less than 6 months to April 2013. Whoa baby, the time is flying! On the backstage side of things, we are still in limbo with a number of deadlines leading up to the release of resource materials online and by mail in January. But there have been many planning milestones in recent weeks, and I’d like to provide a sneak peak on the topic of our upcoming campaign resources: Healthy childhood sexual development. 


Healthy development is key to healthy sexuality!

Healthy sexuality is having the knowledge and power to express sexuality in ways that enrich one’s life. Healthy sexuality is about understanding sexual development and how it impacts us on an emotional, social, cultural any physical level. In terms of preventing sexual violence, healthy sexuality is in many ways the ultimate vision. It represents attitudes and experiences that dismantle sexual violence. 

Healthy ain’t easy…

When we are talking about healthy sexual development, whether it’s in the context of children, adolescents or adults there’s one big piece we must keep in mind from the very start – individuals aren’t that familiar with their own sexuality. A social code of silence around sex and sexuality is the backdrop to the limited scripts we are offered as developing / developed individuals. These scripts are perpetuated by culture and media that profit from hypersexualization and messages that are downright unhealthy. 
There also isn’t a lot of safe space for conversation whether you are a young adult with questions about your changing body or if you are middle-aged and trying to understand your sexuality and identity. Most of us have heard more messages about sex and sexuality from commercials, magazines and TV than from trained educators or trusted family and friends. The silence is impactful and pervasive – the standard American experience of sexuality is seriously lacking in knowledge and empowerment and both are key to healthy sexuality. 

How do we assemble the pieces?

I’m a metaphorical thinker, so let’s picture this: A package is dropped off on the door step of every home in the United States. The contents are a little different for every person, and it’s difficult to know what to do with what’s inside because there are no assembly instructions, no customer service numbers and not even a return address. Now some of us might live in a home or community where we might be able to find help and support in assembling our package, but for other’s they’ll have to figure it out all on their own and some prefer to put the box in the closet than deal with such a difficult task. 
Yes, this package is a metaphor for one’s sexual development, a process that is a unique and built in part of our experience as human beings. Assembling any package under these conditions would be difficult, but there are many additional barriers when it comes to healthy sexual development. The way our questions and experiences are responded to as we develop can be a source of empowerment and information or punishment and shame.  It’s clear that information, support and empowerment can offer a lot to promote healthy development but a culture of silence makes it difficult to seek out or offer that support. That is why SAAM 2013 campaign tools focus on equipping adults with accurate information on supporting healthy childhood sexual development
Not only is fostering healthy childhood sexual development key to a lifetime’s experience of healthy sexuality, but if we are talking about the basics, this knowledge is truly a staple of involving all adults in child sexual abuse prevention. That’s why, we are once again saying: “It’s time… to talk about it!”