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Children Look to Parents as Sexual Role Models

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Children Look to Parents as Sexual Role Models

In spite of what we might think, according to this study, 45% of teenagers consider their parents to be their sexuality role models. Only 32% looked to their friends and just 15% took inspiration from celebrities.

So what does that mean for us as parents? It’s our job to portray healthy sexuality if we want to make sure our children don’t grow up with the hang-ups and hold-backs that many of us did. So many of us seem to think that sex is something we just shouldn’t discuss with our children outside of “the talk.” We fear that we’re going to embarrass them or ourselves, stimulate them to be hypersexual if we talk about it too much, give them a complex, and land them in therapy.

But the truth is that, unless we model healthy sexuality for our children, we’re going to land them in therapy one way or another. Or put them at risk for problems later on, which can lead to divorce, depression, the inability to orgasm, decreased libido, unsafe sexual behaviors, and other outcomes we surely want to help our children avoid.

My Role Models

My parents modeled a strange hybrid sort of sexuality. I was raised in a very religious home, so it was made very clear to me early on that sex was reserved for marriage, and until then, it was a sin to even think about it. (In fact, I was taught that thinking about it was just as bad as having it, so I figured, what the hell? Might as well go all the way…)  So on one level, I grew up very repressed. I remember the first time a boy touched my boob, and it felt so good, but I also felt so guilty and shamed, and I definitely could never tell my mother.  And the first time I had sex? Forget it. We weren’t married, so I had to hide it and felt guilty for years, even though I was in college and definitely old enough to make my own choices by then.

On another level, my parents were great role models for healthy sexuality within the confines of marriage.  They were virgins when they got married, but after that, they apparently went at it like bunnies and weren’t shy about letting us know this fact.  They made out in the kitchen, we found their sexy hiding spot for fun accoutrements, and I’ll spare you the details of how my brother and I would know when they had had sex- but we did. And we kept track. Thinking back, it was impressive.

So I grew up with a mixed bag. Have great sex and have it often because married people are supposed to be sexual, but don’t even think about it until then. Personally, I found it hard to flip the switch.

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Lissa Rankin

Lissa Rankin, MD is a mind-body medicine physician, founder of the Whole Health Medicine Institute training program for physicians and other health care providers, and the New York Times bestselling author of Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself.  She is on a grassroots mission to heal health care, while empowering you to heal yourself.  Lissa blogs at and also created two online communities - and She is also the author of two other books, a professional artist, an amateur ski bum, and an avid hiker. Lissa lives in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and daughter.


+ add your own
1:12AM PST on Nov 9, 2011

Great article Lissa. It's such a difficult subject. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

3:00AM PDT on Oct 13, 2011

These are amazing themes found here... Very interesting. Thanks a lot for the share.and very beautiful....
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1:14AM PDT on Oct 8, 2011

Well, we've already done phase one of "the talk" a little over a year ago, and we're getting ready to do phase two.

The subject of rape came up, and my son asked. So I was honest, that it's a power thing, to make the victim feel shame. I explained that sex is supposed to be fun, and while we should never force it upon people, nor should we rush into it, the enjoyment is what is the important part, to help bond humanity... But to be very careful.

Anyway, we'll talk more on that soon enough, and I'm trying to be a good example, and to be open about communication. So, the 32% who rely on friends? I want my son to be able to give them the same wise advice I give him... It's not just for my child, but to spread throughout.

2:51PM PDT on Oct 2, 2011

Well written article--- I was never as deliberate as this article says. then again I only had boys so I never had the chance to educate a girl.

3:17AM PDT on Oct 1, 2011


10:22AM PDT on Sep 30, 2011

I don't have kids yet, but I'm a bit conflicted on this. I certainly don't want to be like my parents. Dad said nothing about it until I was 18-19 and then he was drunk and said way too much. My mother...oh boy. Started my period at 10, prior to that (think 6 mths when I was getting cramps and my body was preparing), all I got was a "you'll start your period and then you'll be able to have a baby". Nothing about sex until I was 16 and she was chewing my ass out for flirting with a guy, who I subsequently lost my virginity to because of the fact that she sat there and lectured me for 2 hrs and I just wanted to rebel. Had she been more cool and open about our harmless teenage flirting I can guarantee I wouldn't have had sex with him. Needless to say, I don't want to be anything like my parents were, but have no idea exactly what I'll do as I don't have anything to go by. It will certainly be interesting. All I know is I'd like for them to wait longer than I did, but be able to come to me and talk openly regardless of when they start having sex so I can help them take the necessary precautions.

10:58PM PDT on Sep 29, 2011

great article! I would rather have my future kids know about sex from me rather than their friends.

10:52PM PDT on Sep 29, 2011

I wish I had seen my parents cuddle more. I have come out of the closet as a cuddler.Making up for lost time.

1:01PM PDT on Sep 29, 2011


10:18AM PDT on Sep 29, 2011


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