How to talk about sexually addictive behavior to your kids

Talking to kids about sex is challenging under any circumstances. For parents who have been struggling with compulsive sexual behavior themselves, it’s especially hard. Parents must face down their own shame and fear, and realize that in most cases, it’s not only in their child’s best interest, it’s also helpful for their own recovery.

Addiction thrives in secret. Families where compulsive sexual behavior has been going on in secret create an addictive system which is passed on from generation to generation. Unless something powerful is brought in to change things, a parent’s addictive behavior will affect their kids much more deeply than they would want to believe.

Thinking about disclosing to one’s children raises countless questions for a recovering parent. I suggest that the most important question for them to ask is this: “Would it have helped me, when I was my child’s age, had my parents talked to me about their sexual struggles?” Almost always, the answer is yes.

But it’s complicated. Addicts I work with have engaged in a wide range of behaviors, their kids range in age and gender, marital stability varies … I could go on. Each family situation has its own set of questions and challenges when it comes to disclosure. The easy – and dangerous – response is for parents to let themselves stay stuck in confusion, and do nothing.

Therapist and author Claudia Black writes this: 

“Disclosure to children regarding sexually addictive behavior is undoubtedly a situation that no parent wants to anticipate or face. Yet, for the health of the family, there needs to be a time and manner in which to discuss sexual behavior. In reality we live in a highly sexualized culture. Children are bombarded with sexual messages through the media, television, music, and the Internet. With so much cultural shame attached to sexuality, sex has become a major source of acting out behavior. When sexual addiction exists within a family, the need to dialogue about sexuality surfaces earlier than parents would have chosen, but the disclosure can be looked at as an opportunity for children to gain an awareness of what is healthy sexuality and intimacy.”

If you are thinking about talking to your kids about sex and/or disclosing some of your story to them, here are some resources for you:

  • My colleague Mark Laaser has written a helpful book on this topic called “Talking to your kids about sex.” It talks in specific terms about what kids are able to understand at the various stages of development, and suggests ways of talking with them.
  • I would also highly recommend this article from Claudia Black on the subject. She addresses a variety of questions, including when to disclose, good and bad reasons for disclosing, and how to disclose in age-appropriate ways. She includes feedback from kids who had their parents disclose to them, where the kids list things they wish had been different in the way the disclosure was handled.
  • Finally, I would also recommend that you talk to a counselor who is wise and experienced in working with compulsive sexual behavior. In the five coaching groups that I lead each week, I would guess that at least every week or two, someone in one of the groups will want input on this subject.

2 thoughts on “How to talk about sexually addictive behavior to your kids”

  1. I found your site on google blog search and read a few of your other posts. Keep up the good work. Just added your RSS feed to my feed reader. Look forward to reading more from you.

    Karen Halls

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