Young people are seeking meaningful romantic and sexual relationships. Although myths about hookup culture are provocative and serve to freak out parents, there isn’t that much data pointing to hookup culture as a true phenomenon. College students themselves tend to overestimate the extent to which peers engage in casual sex. Myths about hookup culture have my clients asking “Am I weird for wanting a relationship?” or, “if I date, will I find other people interested in a relationship?”
Young people want to know more about healthy sexual relationships. They are curious about relationship skills they will need as a foundation for the future. They want to know about how to work through conflict and talk about sex with their partners. They wonder how to meet someone interesting and fun to be with. Relationships can be supportive and stabilizing in a world that is unpredictable and demanding.
Whether navigating a first serious relationship, dating or hookup culture, young people are developing their sexual identities. Development of sexuality takes place well before college and throughout the lifespan. Our sexuality becomes shaped through interactions. We construct our sexuality within relationships and our culture. Values and beliefs about sex and gender influence what we perceive as normal, safe or pleasurable. Messages about sexuality, love and commitment can include sex as a ‘right of passage’ or an expression of individuality. Fears about sex and expression of sexuality are imposed on young people through the media and societal taboos.
All these things influence how young people might talk to their counselor about sex. Young people may be questioning their sexuality, wanting a healthier connection with their own body or wondering how to navigate satisfying sex. Counselors can play a role in empowering young people to define and become more connected to healthy, satisfying relationships.
-Model acceptance, openness about sex. Don’t reinforce shame or embarrassment about sex by using your own slang terms. Be direct when referencing the body or specific sex acts.
-Ask about sex. Take time during assessment to discuss current and past sexual relationships. Ask about the client's comfort with their sexuality, such as comfort expressing themselves sexually and being sexual.
-Familiarize yourself with ACA competencies about sexuality, such as Competencies for Counseling LGBQQIA Individuals
-Take each individual’s developmental level into consideration when discussion sexuality. Consider what developmental tasks, questions and behaviors are normative and healthy. http://www.nsvrc.org/sites/default/files/saam_2013_an-overview-of-healthy-childhood-sexual-development.pdf
-Understand one’s own values, beliefs and opinions about sex and sexuality to remain focused and objective about clients needs and be person-centered.
-Talk about talking about it. Check in with clients and yourself throughout conversations about sex to assess comfort level and how this may be impacting the intervention.
-Wonder aloud about how gender dynamics, age, culture could be showing up in the conversation.
Therapeutic conversations about sexuality can lead to opportunities to explore deeper understanding and empower clients. Assessment, treatment and therapeutic relationships can all be enhanced by awareness of client's sexuality. I’m often impressed and gain respect for young clients as they navigate all aspects of healthy relationships and sexuality in their lives.
Amy Rosechandler, MS, LMHC is a counselor in Rochester, NY working with teens and adults at a local university counseling center and in her own private practice, Clarity Mental Health Counseling. Amy adores group counseling, youth development, and strengths based approaches to therapy. Read more about Amy at http://claritymentalhealth.org/about.php