Puberty and adolescence is not an easy stage, neither for boys and girls nor for their parents. This is not due to the stage itself, since it is a natural evolutionary phase in human growth with its own characteristics just like any other stage. It becomes complicated when the previous stages have not been fully experienced in the way that was explained in the previous article. The characteristics of adolescence, caused by hormonal changes, would not be a major problem if the adolescent had been properly educated and felt accompanied by parents and teachers who are capable of seeing and speaking of the body and of sexuality in a clear and natural way. With such parents and teachers, adolescents are able to talk confidently to adults without shame or fear of being misunderstood or judged.
It’s worth noting that a sexual education described in the previous article would contribute to considerably improving the health of human beings in all aspects: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
When children reach adolescence, parents must continue to take care of communication, as in childhood, with the same attitude of trust and respect that children should have in their relationship towards their parents. At this stage, the dialogue must take on an aspect of adult to adult, of friend to friend. Adolescent children should feel heard, supported and understood by their parents and educators.
They should never be judged, let alone condemned. This does not mean that parents and teachers have to approve of all the attitudes, behaviours and ways of thinking of their children or students, but it is especially necessary that adolescents feel supported and accepted as people. This experience will facilitate their openness and tendency to reflect and to rethink their attitudes, behaviours and ways of thinking. Feeling supported and accepted relaxes the body, opens the heart and pacifies the mind, predisposing one to a serene reflection and deeper thought based on dialogue and the consideration of other points of view.
Obviously, at this stage we must also emphasize sexuality understood as life potential and creative energy full of potential, comparing it to a water reservoir or the energy accumulated in a power plant. Sexuality is an energy that needs to be transformed, since this is the capacity -and necessity- of energy. According to the first law of thermodynamics, energy is not created or destroyed, it is only transformed. Like any other energy, the transformation of sexual energy requires structures. For example, to bring water from a reservoir to homes where it can be used for drinking, cooking, watering the plants, etc, you have to build pipes to drive it and taps to regulate the flow. Something similar happens with the accumulated energy in a power plant. The structures that cooperate in the transformation of human vital energy are physical, emotional, mental and the openness to spirituality. The body becomes a good structure to receive and transform energy if it has a good muscle tone, and the muscles can flow between relaxation and effort. The body also needs to feel accepted, valued, loved, and recognized by the mind, as a partner with whom to collaborate, and not as an object to possess and use. The heart – emotions and feelings – will collaborate effectively with the transformation of energy if it remains open, supportive and receptive of all the emotions that emerge from the vital energy through the body, whether they are pleasant or unpleasant, since they all carry information about the contents of vital energy that needs to be purified and transformed. As with the body, emotions must also feel accepted and accompanied by consciousness.
At this level of emotions and feelings we must not rush to make choices, since the contents that emerge from the vital level are still in a barely defined state, and we run the risk of dismissing valuable content. Discrimination and choice corresponds to the mind, when it can see and discern the contents which have already been defined.
It is necessary to explain well to adolescents that at the moment of conception all human beings become depositories of an energetic potential that contains contamination. This also occurs in the water of many reservoirs, as the rivers have accumulated pollutants. The task of each person is to purify and transform their energetic potential. The physical, emotional and mental structures, as well as the openness to transcendence, contribute to the purification and transformation of energy. The body acts as a filter, like machines that purify water and make it drinkable. At the emotional level, the contents of the vital energy diversify and mature, moving from a more amorphous state towards a progressively more defined and structured state until reaching a sufficiently clear definition that allows the mind to identify the content, discerning and feeding the constructive feelings, and stopping feeding the destructive feelings. This task of the mind is another step in the cleansing and transformation of the primary, sexual, vital energy. It is important to note that this process of purification and transformation of energy occurs without struggle. It feeds the constructive with thought and actions, and it stops feeding the destructive. This is how the constructive gradually gains ground and destructiveness loses strength and influence.
Adolescents need to try new experiences that can help them build channels for their primary creative energy, enhanced by hormonal changes. It is not easy for them to dare to experience different things, since this forces them to leave their comfort zone. Leaving one’s comfort zone is difficult for everyone, but it is more difficult for adolescents, since it means opening up to the unknown, and this inevitably entails doubts, fears and insecurities.
Adults, parents, and teachers should not repress or constrain the freedom of adolescents, but should encourage and support their attempts to try new things. It is evident that they should be informed of the risks inherent in experimenting with new things, but adults should not project their own fears and insecurities onto them. The curiosity to open up to the unknown is inherent in human existence, and especially in childhood and adolescence. Therefore, this natural curiosity must be recognized, respected and encouraged, both by parents and teachers.
If adolescents feel accepted, supported and understood, they will maintain trust and dialogue with adults, which is fundamental in the elaboration of their experience and learning, whether it has been successful or not.
I agree that adolescents should be informed of biological aspects and other practical issues related to masturbation, risk of pregnancy, use of condoms, etc., but they shouldn’t remain with the idea that this all that sexuality is about. Sexuality is much more. The degree of knowledge you have and the good use that you learn to make of sexual energy influences health favorably or not, both individually and in relationship with others.
Adolescents are at a stage in which hormonal changes accentuate sensations. It is important that their desires, thoughts and erotic fantasies are accompanied by adults who can educate them in this broader vision of sexuality instead of being reduced to the typical situation of sexual intercourse and other issues related to this aspect of sexuality. The sexual relationship should be considered as one of the many functions and possibilities that contain primary, sexual energy.
We must use correct terminology in educational communication with adolescents and not the vulgar terms frequently used to escape from shame, or to talk about sex with more or less hidden intentions. The penis is the penis, the vulva is the vulva, the testicles are the testicles, the vagina is the vagina, the clitoris is the clitoris, etc.
I wish to close this article by sharing an experience that I developed during the 1975-76 academic year.
The experience took place in a leisure centre in Barcelona. It had specific activities for children, adolescents and young people, and also for families, that is, for parents and children.
In a group of 24 male and female adolescents, there was a 15-year-old boy, Frac, and a girl of 13, Mat. They were both extremely shy and insecure. They were afraid to look up when they walked down the street. Their performance at school was very low, and among the group of adolescents in this centre of extracurricular activities they went unnoticed and also showed much fear and insecurity in their social relationships.
I was in the last year of university studies in Psychology. Taking advantage of my relationship of trust with the respective families, I proposed a plan to Frac’s parents and Mat’s mother (her father had passed away), to try to improve their children’s state of psychological health and school performance.
Following my own inspiration, I developed an experimental project of therapeutic support which aimed to naturalize their relationship with their body, overcoming the shame and the pejorative view of the body and sexuality inculcated by our culture and education. I reflected on the functions of the body and I realized that as well as being a support and container, the body is also what binds us to reality. Popular wisdom expresses this very clearly through sayings such as “keep your feet on the ground”, which means having practical knowledge, linked to the reality that surrounds us. In other words, being a realistic person, as opposed to being an idealistic person, with little sense of reality.
From this reflection I formulated the following hypothesis: If the body is what links us to our immediate surrounding environment, it is possible that conflicts with the body, such as shame and the pejorative views which have been inculcated into us though our culture and education could greatly influence one’s insecurity, conflicts related to the social environment, and perhaps even school performance.
I put forward my proposal at the University, specifically to the professor of Adolescent Psychology, who not only approved it but was also very enthusiastic about the project.
I explained my proposal to Frac’s parents and Mat’s mother, so that they would understand. Their children were to come to the leisure centre to practice gymnastics in the morning, before going to school. They had to bring a towel and have a shower after the gymnastics, then return home, have breakfast and go to school. They all gave their consent and deposited their trust in me.
I gave Frac and Mat some tests to record some parameters that would serve as a reference of their individual and social psychological state at the beginning of the experience. The project was developed from October 1974 to May 1975.
The plan was very simple. The aim was to educate the two adolescents in a natural and respectful vision of the body, freeing themselves gradually from the influence of fears, taboos and shame in relation to the body, including the sexual organs.
After just eight months a spectacular change was observed, and also reflected in the psychometric tests. It was also recognized with surprise by Frac’s parents, Mat’s mother, and other friends of the two adolescents.
The Sociogram was one of the personality tests I used at the beginning and end of the project. It is used to evaluate the relationships that occur between the members of a collective. It consists of some questions that are asked to each member of the group, more or less in these terms: – If you were proposed to do a task with two or more members of the group, who would you choose? Who would you not choose?
As I mentioned before, Frac and Mat were part of a mixed group of 24 adolescents. In the Sociogram recorded before the experience began, Frac and Mat were the most marginalized group members, since they were not chosen by any of their classmates. On the other hand, in the Sociogram recorded in May 1976, Frac and the Mat were the most chosen, and the only two that did not receive any rejection. It is necessary to clarify that they chose each other in 5th and 6th place, which shows that a bond of dependency or exclusivity had not been created between them.
Their attitude and performance at school improved significantly, and socially their change was spectacular: this was recognised with pleasant surprise by those closest to them. The observed change was supported by all the projective tests and personality questionnaires administered.
The source of this experience is the study prepared in 1975 with methodological rigor, and presented at the University of Barcelona, within the framework of the subject Psychology of Adolescence, taught by Professor Dr. Josep Maria Tous Ral. The study is unpublished, consists of 52 pages and is stored in the archive of ESTEL, Center for Personal Growth and School of Integral Studies, Barcelona.
I am aware that in this article I have not referred to specific cases in the sexual education of adolescents. The reason is that each person is different, and this becomes especially prominent at the stage of adolescence. Readers are invited to write and propose concrete situations. It will be a pleasure for me to respond, in a concrete and specific way, and apply the generic approach shared in this article on a practical level.
Ramon V. Albareda
Psychologist. Theologian. Sexologist
Founder of ESTEL, Centre for Personal Growth and
School of Integral Studies.