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The Talk

Posted Oct 23 2008 11:56am

For better or worse, the role of the therapist is quite fluid. Within a matter of days, I can serve as consultant, Dating Coach, Doggie Psychiatrist and, more recently, Sex Educator. 14 year-old Jack returned to session not long ago, eager to begin his lessons on human sexuality. Prior to that, however, Mrs. Jack had faxed me a note, apparently in an effort to help me prepare my lesson plans:

Dear Dr. Dobrenski,

Please know how happy I am that you will assist Jack in learning about 'the birds and the bees.' I never did find out which I am, a bird or a bee! :o) Since his father and I divorced, I believe that Jack is lacking a strong role model, and his questions regarding sex are numerous. Please be sure to cover the following topics in your upcoming session:

Heterosexual intercourse
Homosexual intercourse
Light and Heavy Petting
Mainstream sexual positions
Orgasms (singular, multiple and faked)
Condoms and other forms of contraception
Sex Toys
Hard Swaps and Soft Swaps
Common terms Jack might find on (e.g., Dirty Sanchez)
The purpose of

Have a great day!
Mrs. Jack


With this new information, I can only assume that Mrs. Jack wants her son to not only be knowledgeable about sex, but highly skilled at it as well.

Making my task even easier is Jack's copy of the Kama Sutra, which he has tucked under his arm as he sits ever-so-properly on the therapy couch. "Mom got it from Amazon with FREE shipping!"

This entire scenario creates somewhat of a moral dilemma for me. I am not naïve. I know that there are children even younger than Jack who are having sex, many of them unsafely and without any real education on the matter. If Jack doesn't learn about sex and its ramifications from me, where will he learn it? In school? On the street? By trial and error? Mrs. Jack knows the score as well and because I have a good, albeit sometimes tenuous working relationship with him, she has asked me to give him correct information so that he is not left to his own devices. In many ways this makes her a great parent who clearly doesn't have her head in the sand regarding how the world really works. And yet do I want to promote, either directly or inadvertently, sexuality to someone who is in all likelihood not psychologically developed enough to fully understand all of its nuances?

Child Therapist Rule: When unsure how to proceed with social concerns such as sex, drugs, or alcohol, present the facts truthfully, while maintaining appropriate involvement with parental figures. This helps to prevent delivering your own specific agenda and allows the parents to weigh in on their belief systems.

"Jack, I know mom bought that book for you, but I'd like to talk about it with her before you and I take a look at it."

"Why is that, Robert?"

"Well, many people think that book is for adults only and I'd like us to talk about the basics of human sexuality before discussing ... more advanced matters."

"Hmmm," Jack says contemplatively.

"Let's talk about sexuality for a little while and then I'd like to sit down with mom and tell her about our discussion, if that's alright with you."

"That is acceptable," says Jack.

"Right. Good. Now, do you know what sex is for?"

"To perpetuate the species," he responds, confidently, as if he had just read a biology textbook. "And I'm told it's fun. Is it fun?," he asks, but much more shyly.

Child Therapist Rule: If you do not wish to answer a question, state so directly but do not lie. While children do not necessarily benefit from hearing every single detail of life, baldly lying destroys a relationship that is ideally built on trust and will ultimately undermine the therapist's credibility.

"That's right, it is to procreate. And yes, most people find sex to be fun."

" Most people? Not everyone?"

"Well, it is very important that sex occur between people who actually want to have sex with each other. Consensual. People are sometimes forced to have sex, which is not only not fun, but hurts them, both physically and psychologically. Does that make sense?" Explaining sex to a teenager whose vocabulary is at the Master's Degree level can be daunting.

"Like the whole 'you can't touch me there' thing?"


"But it can be fun, and that's why people are always doing it?" asks Jack.

"For many people, that is why they do it, yes."

"I see," he says, satisfied with my answers. "Now, moving on. I have read that this can be done orally, vaginally, and anally. Is that correct, Robert?"

I have worked with sexual abuse victims, sexual offenders, sexual offenders' spouses, and countless people on sexual idiosyncrasies without batting an eyelash, but seeing a 14 year-old in a blue blazer with a crest on it, speaking like Dr. Ruth, makes me feel the ever-so-slight beads of perspiration beginning to form on my forehead.

"Right," I stammer slightly. "That is correct."

"Why are some people gay and some straight?"

Are these questions increasing in difficulty?

"That's actually a question that no one truly knows the answer to. Some people think that people are born homosexual or heterosexual and some people think it's a choice that people make."

"And you, Robert? What do you think?"

Did I murder someone? Am I on trial here? Again, the rule: Do. Not. Lie.

"Let me put it to you this way: most of the people I help and the people I know in my life consider themselves straight. But I know people who are also gay, and most of them have told me that they always knew they were gay, that they felt it from a young age."

"Does that make me a freak because I don't know?"

"Absolutely not," I say, going into reassurance mode. "Like we discussed last time, it's not required that you know anything right now."

"Maybe I'm bisexual."

"Maybe you are. Would you be okay with that?"

"My gay friend said that I have to make a choice. He said it's like having a mullet: either let it grow out or cut it. I don't even understand what that means."

"Some people feel very strongly that everyone should have a specific sexual preference, whether it be male or female, but that doesn't make it a fact. It might be hard to understand this now, but sex is a very subjective concept, and there aren't really any right or wrong answers. You will decide what is best for you."

"Thank you, Robert. But if I'm going to make the choice myself, why is my mother paying you?"

"Because she and I think that I might be able to help guide you along to making decisions about sex. Do you agree?"

"I do, but I'm using 'concur' now. That's my Word of the Week."

"Well I'm glad you concur."

Jack takes out a sheet of paper, which turns out to be the original missive that Mrs. Jack had faxed over. "Oh, Robert!" he says, frustrated. "We've hardly covered any of these topics, you still need to meet with mom, and we're running out of time!"

"All in good time, buddy. We'll get to it all soon enough. Be patient and it will all work out fine."

"Okay," he says with a small smile, making me more at ease and letting me feel like a competent therapist. "I'm going to let you and mom have some adult time. You two have a nice chat. Next week we'll talk about masturbation, can we agree to that?"

"Um, sure, absolutely."

"Good, because I need to become more of an expert at it. That would be awesome!"

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