“How can I teach my kids about sex?” I get this question all of the time. As we are learning and growing, we want to help our kids have a different experience with sex that we had. I get it. So when I heard about Crystal Bowman and her method of talking to kids about sex, I just knew I needed to have her on the podcast. She shares a better way to explain sex to our children than the way most of us were taught. I absolutely love this method of teaching our preteens, teens, and even young adults, and I know you will too.
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Amanda Louder: Hello everyone. Welcome back. So happy to have you here. I’m really excited for today’s podcast. A few months ago I was getting some feedback that a really great class happened at Education Week at BYU. And so when Crystal Bowman reached out to me and said that she was the teacher of that class and how well it went, I could not wait to get her on the podcast. So welcome, Crystal. Will you introduce yourself for everyone so they know who you are?
Crystal Bowman: Thank you, thank you, Amanda. I’m happy to be here. Yes, yes, for sure. So my name is Crystal Bowman. I’m a therapist. I work in Mesa, Arizona. I work at a clinic called Arizona Family Institute. We do a lot of work here. General mental health stuff. But there’s a specialty that we see kind of highly religious people, especially the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints members around some affairs and sexual compulsivity and so there’s more experience in that. Personally I’m a mom of 6 kiddos. I think I’ve been married 25 years. My husband rolls his eyes; I don’t keep track as well as him. It’s either 25 or 6 but I’m happy to be here and I want to throw out- Amanda probably doesn’t want me to but I’ve actually heard about her from a couple of my clients who have really found her work helpful and listening to the podcast. So I’m excited about your work as well. So happy to be here.
Amanda Louder: Oh thank you so much that means so much when people are listening and it really helps in their journey. Even if they never work with me. So I love hearing that.
Ok. So what we’re going to be talking about today is Crystal and one of her co-workers has developed this model around how to teach and talk to your kids about sex in a shame-free way and she has shared that with me and it is amazing. So I wanted to make sure and share that with you because I get so many questions about how can I teach my kids about sex in a shame free way and I know we’ve talked about it before but sometimes things resonate with some people more than others or different ways of talking about it and so this is just another way of talking about it that I think is really really great. So you want to introduce this to us, Crystal?
Crystal Bowman: Yeah, and I want to give credit where credit is due. The model is developed by Dan Oakes-he is the owner at the Arizona Family Institute and recently he took a leave of absence actually for the LDS Church. He’s a mission president and so we are continuing his mission of teaching. Teaching parents how to talk to their kids about sex and and the important part behind that is that we see the fallout of when people haven’t had these conversations so that’s why we get passionate about it and so.
Amanda Louder: Ok talk to me about the fallout because I think that’s an important piece.
Crystal Bowman: Yeah, yeah for sure. So I hear and we all do hear story after story of so first of all, go the extreme of some real sexual compulsive behaviors. Maybe people who are having multiple affairs and who are very faithful wanting to be in a relationship person but have this like compulsion and addictive nature to their sexual unwanted behaviors. That’s the bulk. That’s the extreme of a pendulum but I’m even talking in between where I might even have, I had one time a college age client who came in and says I’m addicted to pornography and as I ask more questions she just was looking at some anime trying to figure out how sex works and so.
Amanda Louder: Yeah.
Crystal Bowman: Yeah, she didn’t even have an addiction but was labeling herself that and so the fallout I think is, it comes down to three things. The challenge is if you don’t have an education and understanding and are able to hear sex from a shame-free voice then it complicates the relationship with others, of course, it complicates the relationship with yourself and it complicates the relationship with God If you’re a faith living person now.
Amanda Louder: Absolutely. So let’s dig into this model because I’m really excited about it when she shared it with me before we’re on the call. I just love how it’s laid out and I think it’s going to be really powerful for parents and kids to learn about sex in this way. So, Crystal, let’s lay out this model.
Crystal Bowman: Okay, so this is often done-Dan originally does it on a whiteboard when he’s teaching. We can teach it that way or there’s a powerpoint that shows these different elements. But really it comes down to even if it’s taught that way, we’re hoping parents will go home and get out a piece of paper and just talk and write out these ideas together and so I’ll just talk from that standpoint if we had a piece of paper I would suggest we divide it in 3 columns and we’re going to put things in those 3 columns and so at the top of his paper the 3 columns would be titled. On the left would be Needs, like your body needs. In the middle would be Urges- our body has urges or drives that pushes us towards doing things. And the last would be our Behaviors, our choices. And so that might just be overwhelming to say without you looking at a paper but I think it will become pretty clear as I talk through it.
Amanda Louder: Yeah I think it will be. I think you know if you’re not quite understanding it once we talk more about it, you’ll see how this is all laid out.
Crystal Bowman: Totally. So I like to start with the first line under these 3 columns of something as simple as water- we need water. We know we need water and so in the first column it’s Need, so we need water. What’s the word in your body? I’m going to ask you Amanda, why do we need water? What does our body need water?
Amanda Louder: I think we need water to help flush out different things. I mean our body requires so much water in all of our cells and to function like there’s a lot of needs for water in our body.
Crystal Bowman: Yep, and that’s a great conversation to have with a kid or a teenager. What do you think? What do you think your body needs water and so then I usually put in that box or in that section is hydration. That would be the word I would choose to kind of explain all the reasons our body needs that water- we need to be hydrated so we have hydration then our body knowing our body needs hydration and I’m going to speak since your podcast is like Christian based I’m going to speak from that language. So if our body needs hydration and God created our body to need hydration to function properly, he also created it in this really cool thing of an urge that gives us sensations in our body that tells us we need a drink and what would you call that urge what would that be.
Amanda Louder: Like thirst.
Crystal Bowman: That’s right, That’s right, and then I usually say how does thirst show up for you and so how does it show up for you in your body?
Amanda Louder: I get like you know dry and my mouth and so I mean sometimes there’s like more saliva up when I’m thinking about it. But it’s usually just more of a dry mouth like oh I need water in my body and I guess a lot of us will satisfy those things with not water sometimes but what our body actually needs is water.
Crystal Bowman: And that’s exactly really a good point because that’s what we’re going through and that’s what we’re going to. We’re trying to get that established before we start talking about sex. So yes, so it’s thirst. We describe how it’s in the water. That’s the urge that’s in the middle column “thirst” and if we didn’t have thirst we could perhaps go days without drinking anything. We have to have this urge and so it’s almost a self-care system that God creates in our body. We have these sensations. It pushes it if you don’t drink anything. It’s only going to get stronger right? And so then we have to drink something. And that last column is the behaviors. So that’s where we have our choices so you could list with your kids some choices, you know water-put you their favorite drink down if it’s a soda pop.
Amanda Louder: Yeah I think for many years I chose Diet Coke every time I had an urge for thirst, right? Now it’s strictly water but I gave up soda a few years ago. We satisfy that urge in a lot of different ways even though what our body’s actually wanting is water.
Crystal Bowman: That’s right, That’s right and so we like to list those choices. I know that this is a hard sell to some of you Diet Coke girls right out there but we have to look at our choices and you could choose to drink Diet Coke and it would satisfy some of the hydration needs some but it wouldn’t really take care of the need that the body is creating this urge and so I’ll even put alcohol in that box underneath. It that some people would choose alcohol because that can create a conversation with your kids about that as well.
Amanda Louder: Oh so good.
Crystal Bowman: Yeah, so that’s our first line in these columns: hydration is the need on the left, in the middle is thirst, and on the right would be your choices or your behaviors-water, soda, alcohol. So then I move to the next line and there’s only 3 lines here. So the middle line is where we talk about hunger and this is usually people’s favorite one to talk about and so I might put hunger in that middle section first and say well we know hunger is an urge like there’s sensations in our body that pushes us to eat. Let’s just throw it out there. Pretend you’re the kid. What does your body do when you’re hungry, Amanda?
Amanda Louder: My stomach growls. I get like this hollow feeling. Yeah, it’s like that’s how I know I’m hungry as I wait for that hollow feeling in my stomach and my stomach growling.
Crystal Bowman: Yeah, and if we ignored it. It might go away for a little bit but then it comes back with a vengeance. Yeah and I’m well known in my home as being hangry, I get really cranky as well. So then I back up and we’re going to go in that left section again. What is the need in our body that God would create this hunger urge to make sure we eat? What do you think your body needs and there’s different answers here, but if we summed it up, what do you think are the main things that a body needs when they get food.
Amanda Louder: Need nutrients. We need vitamins and minerals like that the nutrients that fuel our body.
Crystal Bowman: Right? right? So that’s the big one: nutrients, also energy that calories to get our energy to move our body and do what we need so we have this need that we all know that our body needs energy and nutrients. Our body creates this hunger urge to push us to eat something and some of us eat whether we have this urge or not but, and we could talk about that. But right now we’re just talking about that sensation. So what are some things we could eat? You could say to your kids. What are some choices or behaviors in that right column that we can make sure that we eat? What are your favorite things and here we get to like highlight that it can be chicken and a salad and vegetables. It also could be cinnamon rolls right? I have this famous story in my household. I finally learned how to make cinnamon rolls as an adult. I was so excited and I was also disappointed how many steps and how long it took that it is almost not worth it and then I made it. I made this whole pan. My husband was like yum, that’s smelling good. And Amanda, I ate the whole pan before he got home.
Amanda Louder: Ah, yummy. That’s but that can also totally make you sick. Yeah.
Crystal Bowman: Yes, I kept going back right? Kept going back to it and I’m sure anyone can imagine the sensations that I had. I crashed, I spiked, I crashed and do you think I was hungry again? Yeah, my body did not get what I was really needing so we put the energy nutrients in that need. Middle section is the hunger. And then we have a conversation about the different choices and here’s a really great time to have this conversation before we move to sex about how our body responds differently to the different choices we have and how the need of energy and nutrition is affected or even met, depending on your choices. Any thoughts about that?
Amanda Louder: Yeah, yeah I mean I think you know I can eat cheetos and it’s going to fulfill that pleasure center for me. But it’s not nutritious. It’s not going to really give me energy. It’s not going to give me the nutrients that I need so it’s just kind of empty and really unfulfilling.
Crystal Bowman: Right, and you are so not even realizing it or maybe you are but you’re so setting me up for this next conversation. So thank you, thank you.
Amanda Louder: Ah, oh good. Yeah.
Crystal Bowman: Okay, so let’s first talk about pleasure before we move on to sex. You mentioned that it’s pleasurable. Yeah, is it pleasurable for me to eat the cinnamon roll? Maybe even more than the chicken breast. Yes, yes, it’s yummy.
Amanda Louder: Of course it is. Yeah we get all that sugar which gives us the dopamine hit which feels so good to our bodies and our brains. Yes.
Crystal Bowman: And our mouth. It’s so overly intense compared to some other you know our taste buds are alive and so pleasure is a part of our urges. It’s not the reason for our urges. The reason is for energy and nutrition. The reason isn’t for the pleasure of eating but we get that which I’m kind of grateful for that blessing. We get that pleasure. The problem is if we over focus and this is important if we over focus on the pleasure, if we make our decisions just because of pleasure then we are not meeting the true need of what it was created for and we’d make poor choices for our own health and our well-being and a steward of our body and our lives. If we just focus on the pleasure.
Amanda Louder: For sure.
Crystal Bowman: So the pleasure isn’t bad. Pleasure isn’t bad, but if we just focus on the pleasure or over focus then we make poor choices.
Amanda Louder: Such a good point. Such a good point.
Crystal Bowman: Yeah, right before I move to the sex talk part, I do like to have this conversation, especially for like preteen to teen to adults, that what if somebody said hunger is bad. You should not eat, you should not be hungry. What do you think would happen to your eating? Would you try to restrict maybe?
Amanda Louder: Yeah, yeah right, right. Or you try not to eat right? Or if eating very minimal amounts so that you know you don’t have consequences of eating more, right?
Crystal Bowman: Right. Right? Yeah, it’s bad. So now I feel bad about myself because I have these urges and desires and I’m going to restrict and I’m going to restrict and restrict or minimize until I can’t white knuckle it anymore and then what do we do with eating?
Amanda Louder: Then we binge. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
Crystal Bowman: We binge and now I feel really bad about myself. So I start restricting again and I binge again and this is the formation of any addictive pattern around any of our behaviors. In other words, If you ever pair an urge in your body that’s natural with the idea that it’s bad and wrong, then we usually result with some sort of addictive compulsive behaviors around it plus a load of shame.
Amanda Louder: Yeah, yeah I think about diet culture. That has been so prevalent for so long that we don’t talk about food in a healthy way, that it’s there to fuel our bodies and give us energy and it’s a really good thing but we have to also be choosing the right kinds in order to really satisfy that need that our body has.
Crystal Bowman: Yeah. Yeah, spot on spot on.
So at that this point we’re ready to have the sex talk and so the next row I again start in the middle. It’s easier to break it out that way and I write the word sex in that column and row. And that is the urge and I talk a little bit about what sexual urges feel like in our body and this could be a huge talk. I think just for this kind of a conversation I’m talking about there’s a special kind of energy in your body that kind of compels you and pushes you towards another human being you want to be closer to. In fact, I have a dating teenager and that’s how I say it straight out to him. I’m like, of course you like her and your body is going to want to get closer and closer and that’s normal and natural. So, what do you think would help you live according to the values you’re trying to live with that strong urge? So that sex urge conversation is normalizing that it’s natural and normal for you to have that.
Amanda Louder: Yeah, and I just think so many of us didn’t get that conversation when we were younger that we’re like no this is bad this you know and so then we, like the food we avoid and we suppress. And then it just grows stronger and stronger or it goes away which I mean that’s so much of the work that I’m doing with women is they’re like, nope I just don’t even have that anymore because I suppressed it for so long.
Crystal Bowman: Totally totally. Yeah, like they were taught so young to put the brakes on so hard and that it’s not a good thing. That it’s really hard to tap into the brakes. I’m sure you have this. I have this with my clients that I work with that they’re surprised to find that their gas pedals actually have some drive. It’s just their brakes are on so so hard and it’s scary. It’s scary to think about letting brakes off anywhere in any way. But yeah, you’re so right.
Amanda Louder: Yes, so hard. Yes. Yeah, well and when we’ve been given language around you know to avoid these things at all costs because it’s going to take us to hell or like we’re a bad person because of this or labeling you know us as loose or promiscuous or you know slutty or anything like that, like we want to avoid those things because that doesn’t feel good. It’s all that shame, right? And so we’ve just pushed it down so hard and pushed those breaks so hard.
Crystal Bowman: Yeah, and specific to highly religious communities, I’m sure you talk about this a lot. It seems like there’s just two options to either be like what is considered good and pure with very strict and ability to regulate and make choices and keep everything tidy and you’re this virtuous woman that an LDS man would choose or you’re slutty, like there’s two options.
Amanda Louder: Yes, there’s only the two, right? You know what I talk about is indulgence. Are we indulging in our sexuality just like we indulge in food, right? Or are we completely repressing everything and where we, you know, avoid food at all costs or we avoid our sexuality at all costs and what we actually need is to find that happy medium where we can act within our integrity and our value systems.
Crystal Bowman: I love that. We could talk about that a long time. I mean I love it. So yes, so you’re right on that that when we think of sex as bad just like we talked about food, we can develop some kind of unhealthy or more importantly, unhelpful relationships with our sexuality. So when we’re talking to the kids, we just talk about these sexual urges. You don’t have to get into a huge conversation here. You can just talk about that drive as your body gets more hormones and you develop more into an adult. It’s going to get stronger. Some people, it’s very strong. Some people, it’s not very strong but you’re going to start noticing and people and what you’re attracted to and body types you’re attracted to, you might have some sexual thoughts. That’s all normal. It means you’re developing.
So this is the difficult switch. Here is the conversation of what is the need in the body that creates this urge of sexual feelings? And I want to be clear, needs can be argued. Is sex needed. We could get in the whole thing but in this framework we’re going to use it that way. What do you think our body’s trying to get when it has energy that pushes us towards other human beings in a special way? And when we present it to a group, we get a lot of similar answers. A common one is to make babies, to procreate. I think it really switched my thinking when one of our colleagues here was teaching a group of Church leaders and one of the Church leaders, when they asked this question, raise their hand and said to procreate and this therapist said, “Okay, so let me ask you, do you only have a desire to be with your wife in a sexual way when you’re wanting to have a baby?” Nope, and so it’s part of it and it’s a really cool part of it and it’s a big part of the functionality of sex-true intercourse. But it’s not the whole of what our body is needing. And we know that because sex is expansive of what you can do to create intimacy. So I’m guessing you’ll probably get the answer more correctly, a lot of people. So what would you guess-that puts you on the spot. What would you guess is our need as a human being that creates this drive?
Amanda Louder: I would say connection. We need to connect to other people.
Crystal Bowman: That is winner winner winner winner chicken dinner! No, that is it. That is connection and as human beings there’s all sorts of research here that you know, for example, babies when they are in the Russian orphanage, you know many many years back they were given food, they were given hydration, they they were given a warm place to sleep but they were not surviving because they weren’t given touch and connection. And that continues our whole life. We have to have connection with other human beings and so when it comes to this conversation, the suggestion is my need for connection, if I ignore that, my body’s going to create some energies in me that will draw me towards another human being and sexually we know true intimacy with sex is the closest human beings can get.
Now that doesn’t have to be all the answers to this urge but we know that that’s the ultimate. So that’s, you know, at a very primary level. That’s what’s being pushed, so if human beings need connection with other human beings, and again, like I said before, connection with our self, connection with a higher power, if human beings need connection and they notice this urge, like maybe I’m a teenage girl and I’m surprised that I’m having so many thoughts about a particular boy I can be confused by that I can think it’s bad. But if we normalize it, this is what I teach my kids, Oh! That’s been on my mind a lot. Maybe I’m lonely, like that’s huge. That’s huge. Maybe I’m not just looking for that particular void. Maybe I’m lonely.
So let’s move to behaviors then I’ll come back to here. So the last part of this chart is on the right is behavior so we have connection on the left, pushes that sex urge stronger. It pushes us to make choices to fill the need and here I just list the possible behaviors you might have to connect. It could be like reaching out to a loved one, having a phone call. It could be physical touch, a hug of a loved one. It could be holding a baby but it also could be sex. It also could be kissing, it also could be masturbation. It also could be watching pornography and masturbating. And these are choices just like I’m writing alcohol down in that top section with hydration. I’m not saying you should do this, I’m saying these are choices that people make because I as a parent want to have conversation around these choices. So then we get to the crux of the whole conversation just like we did in the previous lines. If you choose something with that sexual urge in this if you choose the behavior. Let’s say l’m looking at pornography and masturbating. Let’s say I’m struggling trying to stop that, how do I feel after I look at pornography and masturbate? Have I met that need of connection? I’ve actually done the opposite. I’m now feeling super lonely. I haven’t connected with anyone in person at all, even a conversation.
There are some arguments. There’s some different stuff online. We won’t go into that but I’m even lonelier and I think a good example to give a teenager is if they have kissed or dated someone or a young adult, or you share yourself. You know Mom, I kissed some boys sometimes and it felt really good to my body but I felt so empty afterwards because there was no relationship. I didn’t care about that guy. I just felt so empty and I wrote this down.
You specifically said with the food if you choose certain choices that don’t fill the need of the hunger urge, you’re left feeling empty and unfulfilled. That’s the marker. If you make choices with your sexual urges that don’t bring connection then you can be left feeling empty and unfulfilled. And there’s a whole different conversation that you’re doing great work on of plenty of couples are having sex and are left without that intimate connection and are left feeling empty and unfulfilled.
Amanda Louder: Absolutely absolutely.
Crystal Bowman: Okay, so then I’ll just get this in quick, then that pleasure piece is also applicable here if pleasure is part of sex. It really is, our kids should hear us say those words. It feels good even if it’s not with the right person, those urges, it feels good to experience our sexuality in any way: a hug, a handhold, and so pleasure is a part of it. It’s a reinforcer of it. But if we overemphasize and we make our choices around that energy just to satisfy pleasure then we end up making poorer choices and feel disconnected and not fulfilled.
Amanda Louder: Yes, which I think is the key here. I think so many times, even in the marriage relationship, we’re seeking pleasure rather than intimacy. We’re seeking to relieve sexual tension rather than connect and and that always leaves us feeling like something is missing that we’re not actually getting what we wanted out of the experience because we’re missing that connection and that intimacy and that’s really where you know what we work on in my program and we’re not just having sex for pleasure. Although that’s a great piece of it. We’re not having sex you know to fulfill a need per se. We’re having sex to connect and create intimacy between married couples which is the ultimate form of connection which is what we actually need.
Crystal Bowman: Yeah, and the irony is, you have to have some awareness and connection with your own desires and yourself to be able to connect with a human being that way and that’s your work too.
Amanda Louder: Yes, absolutely.
Crystal Bowman: I never thought of this before you but my brain just clicked. So pleasure is an obvious conversation for someone with a high libido but a lower drive partner pleasure might be like a hard sell you know, like maybe not. I don’t even know what you’re talking about. I’ve shut that down a long time ago.
So I think something that just clicked for me what you were saying is some people use sex relationships to decrease the anxiety or the tension between the couple and I mean a lot of women do this, and so it might not be a pleasurable Disneyland-ride feeling but it might be like relief and so that’s not that different, this is going to be a pretty strong statement. That’s not that different as far as patterns. It could be perhaps different morally. But that’s not that different concerning patterns than someone else who does look at porn and masturbates to relieve the anxiety in their life.
Amanda Louder: Well and I think so many times women use sex as a way to regulate their husband’s anxiety right? And relationship anxiety so it becomes about relieving the anxiety rather than connection and intimacy right?
Crystal Bowman: So powerful, so powerful. Yeah, totally.
Amanda Louder: Like why didn’t we get these lessons when we were kids? You’re going to do your kids so much more service by having these kinds of conversations and setting it up this way. Because really we want to model a good sexual relationship for our kids. Hopefully they know we’re learning so that we can do better so that they can have a better relationship from the get-go than we did. That we’re not going to continue this generational pattern where it just is bad as we pass it on generation after generation after generation.
Crystal Bowman: Yeah, yeah, so true. There’s one point that I want to add is the part about if we completely restrict and then binge that there are patterns that we see in our offices here. That’s the sexual addiction piece or sexual compulsivity piece or even the shutdown compulsivity piece where I won’t get into it but that same thing applies that if we just come restricted like, no I’m not going to lean into relationships. Boom we binge and then we make poor choices and so there’s a key here that a lot of people think of sex, especially highly religious people, of just resisting and avoiding anything sexual and especially with our kids, we teach them just to resist looking at pornography or even thinking anything sexual, and there’s merit. I can appreciate the goal here is to help them with what we’re trying to help in a different way but I like to challenge parents to switch it to anticipating. These are normal. They’re normal, normal things in our body and how do we want to respond? I think the parenting piece of that, this is a big big platform that I want to get on and yell, is we want our kids to anticipate the different things they might encounter with like, if your friend has a vape pen, what are you gonna do? How are you going to respond? I used to get that when I was a teenager, like if you’re on a date, how are you going to respond if he puts the moves on you and we want them to think ahead. So I challenge parents, that’s great, But how about you anticipate what your kids might be going through and how you want to respond as an adult.
Amanda Louder: Hundred percent hundred percent
Crystal Bowman: So I walk in and I see my son looking at pornography. How do I want to respond because that’s going to send so many messages, so many messages and if I could add the last piece because and I can’t say that without this, the biggest words in parenting is connection of course like we talked about, it’s also repair. We’re going to get it wrong. Yay for repair. We just keep trying, you just keep trying and that models for them that they will get things wrong in their life and they can repair it too.
Amanda Louder: Right? Which always takes it back to the Atonement which is where we want to point our kids to anyway. So such a good reminder.
Well, this is fantastic, Crystal. We talked about how you’re going to make a pdf available to any of the parents who want to download it that kind of goes through this model and shows what we’ve talked about today but then also a blank one that they can fill in with their kids right?
Crystal Bowman: That’s right, that’s right.
Amanda Louder: So we’ll have a link for that in the show notes so that you can go and download this and be able to have these conversations in an empowered way with your children about sexuality and that’s also shame free because that’s what we really want and need.
Crystal Bowman: Yeah, thank you Amanda thanks for your work.
Amanda Louder: Yes, thank you so much for being here and for this awesome conversation and model. I think it’s going to be so so helpful for people for their own sexuality but also teaching it to their kids.
Crystal Bowman: Yeah, and parents you’ve got this. You’ve got this.
Amanda Louder: Everyone thanks so much for being here with me today and we’ll see you next week. Bye bye