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Sexuality and Your Family of Origin

When I work with individuals and couples in the area of sexuality, there is no question that the experiences they had as a child and as an adolescent (as well as experiences in their adult years) influence the way they feel about sex as an adult.
"Yeah, we had a sex talk. My dad basically said, 'so you know how it all works, right, the whole sex thing? Great.' And that was about it. Both my parents were too embarrassed to talk about sex."
"My mom used to say, 'where did you get those thighs?' and continually tell me not to eat this or that or I'd get fat."
"I could hear my parents arguing about sex. My dad would beg my mom, and my mom would just ignore him, and he'd get angry or she would hit his hand away if he touched her."
"My mom would tug my brother's hands out when they were down his pants and swat his hands, and say 'that's dirty down there; only bad boys do that.'"
"My dad had playboy and penthouse hidden in his closet. We went to church every week, and heard a lot about how Satan tempts us to have sex and we need to never think about it 'til we were married. So I got this double message."
"My mom used to say, 'All men are pigs,' and she married 4 different men, and had many boyfriends. In different ways, many of them violated me; they made comments or touched me in really inappropriate ways."
"My mom would tell me to stay away from boys, and that sex was nasty."
"I heard at church.....they taught at school.....my friends always said......I once saw....."
This is very like many of the stories I have heard in my office. This is not a parent bashing entry. The messages may have come from parents, or from society, or from peers, or from a religious upbringing. However, it is a reality that most of us have experiences, during childhood and adolescence, that gave us a skewed view of sexuality. There is a quite a bit of research out there on the sexual self-schema, that internal map one has of oneself as a sexual person. This idea can include the way someone thinks about sex, how they view themselves when they have sex, how they feel and respond to their own sexual arousal or to their spouse's arousal and desire, what they think when they see their own body and their own genitals, and the internal dialogue they have about sex or while having sex (sexual scripts).
In my work with married couples, one of the things I have focused on is the development of that sexual self-schema (or sexual self-concept). I look at whether sexuality was a taboo subject in the family, or whether it was spoken about in ways that felt demeaning or crude. I ask if they may have experienced molestation or rape. I also look at comments or lack of comments someone received about their body, especially during puberty. I ask how families discussed puberty, if at all, and how family members responded when, as a child, the individual began to explore sexual sensations and feelings (i.e., genital touching of self or others).
Learning where our beliefs about sexuality come from is not the fix-all to problems in our marital sexual relationship, but it can definitely shed some light on patterns and responses. It can bring understanding and compassion into such a potentially explosive, sensitive area. Exploring like this also helps broaden the picture of what someone needs in order to experience sexuality as God intended.