My husband of 10 years used to travel a bit on business, and we would send each other explicit photos and videos of ourselves. I thought I had hidden all incriminating images in a protected folder on my phone, but, the other night, while I was randomly flicking through old family videos with my husband and 13-year-old stepson, up popped a video of my husband in all his glory, holding himself. There was stunned silence from the two of us, then panicked laughter, while my stepson looked at me with a bemused “busted!” expression. He still seems unconcerned about it, but both of us feel terrible. Should we have a conversation about it, wait to see if he acts any differently towards us, or trust our first instinct, which was to be a bit embarrassed and then pretend it never happened? We’re not a prudish household, but we figure that forcing him to talk could make this episode even weirder and more awkward than it already is. What should we do?
Our children pick up on our attitudes towards sex without any words being spoken. In fact, the most powerful learning they receive is the unspoken message. They easily absorb how each parent views sex, through our reactions when sexual content appears on TV, or the way we react when someone alludes to sex in conversation. Given that unspoken messages are the most powerful ways parents communicate ideas and feelings about sex, you have already let your stepson know everything he needs to understand about this. He is old enough to put it into context, and if he questions you in the future your job is to simply give a relaxed answer. You were right to normalise the accidental revelation, and there would be little point in returning to the subject.
Pamela Stephenson Connolly is a US-based psychotherapist who specialises in treating sexual disorders.
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