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Caught Having Oral Sex

QUESTION: My husband and I were "caught" having oral sex by our seven-year-old son. He was very upset and wanted to know "why we would do this." I tried my best to explain that this is something only adults do when they are in love and that sex is a natural part of life. He didn't want to talk. Now he won't let us be alone and always follows me around the house, "just in case you do that again." How can I help him understand?

ANSWER: Your explanation is a good one. Continue to reassure your son, but let him know, too, that there are some things he will not be able to understand until he is an adult himself. Do not pressure him or yourself with the expectation that he understand the nature of adult sexuality at this time.

Clearly, your son is associating sexual activity with wrong- doing, so much so, that he feels a need to monitor the two of you. Keep in mind that it is possible that your son is responding to an association of "oral sex" or "sex" with infidelity , which can break up a marriage. (It is difficult to imagine that anyone in this country over the age of five did not hear about the Clinton-Lewinsky affair in some manner over the past year!) He may have picked up just enough to identify "oral sex" as "wrong" and "hurtful," without any normal or healthy context for safe lovemaking. This could account for his continued worrying and attempts to "police" this activity, despite your reassuring explanation. He might link this activity with threatening your union and therefore his sense of his own family security.

If you discover that he has heard about sex in this light, it is likely he has confused the concept of infidelity (wrong-doing) with your lovemaking. If this is the case, tell him that it is all right for Mommy and Daddy to enjoy lovemaking with one another, but that neither of you would involve another person. Let him know your relationship is secure with each other. Reassure him with an explanation of monogamy in a child's words that he can understand. It is easy for children to confuse concepts of sexuality with unrelated outcomes of infidelity, when their cultural environment is inundated with it.

It is also possible that putting sex in context of animal life and procreation may help give your son a healthy and safe context for physical sex. For example, if he sees dogs or cats having sex, or a cat giving birth to kittens. Either of these could provide a natural context for normalizing physical sexuality by giving it a context that is more playful or purposeful. After all, it is not very long before your son will be asking (if he hasn't already)where babies come from.

Do not expect that your explanations will completely resolve his feelings. Accept that he will not be able to understand adult sexuality. Reassure him in no uncertain terms that you and Daddy are completely safe and able to handle your relationship without his help. His job is to play, rather than worry about adult matters. Refuse to accept his role as policeman. Continue to direct him towards play and other appropriate activities rather than worrying about what Mom and Dad are doing.

Continue to show appropriate warmth and physical caring to one another in his presence. Hugs and loving touch in your everyday life will reassure him more than words that your physical love is nothing for him to be frightened about.

Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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