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Sanford scandal provides ‘teachable moment' for parents

sexmatterslogo_optBY SUSIE WILSON

Gov. Sanford of South Carolina has four sons. Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer, and Jim McGreevey have daughters, and John Edwards has children of both genders.

I thought of these sons and daughters recently when I read Gail Collins' New York Times column on Gov. Sanford, where she mused that all of these fathers took "a swan dive off the adultery cliff."

The media have detailed every aspect of this latest political sex scandal, and I'm sure many young people have questions in the wake of it.

Governor Sanford's liaison provides parents with a great opportunity to talk about important sexual and relationship issues with their children. Sexuality educators have long called these types of high-profile media events "teachable moments," since they give us a great way to introduce the often difficult subject of talking about sex with our youth.

Parents can easily become squeamish and uncomfortable talking about sex honestly with their kids, unless they already have a good record of doing so.

Think of a "teachable moment" as the brass ring on a merry-go-round. Clutch it, clear your throat, and open the conversation with something as simple as, "Have the kids at school been talking about the governor of South Carolina's sexual affair?"

It would be easy to sidestep the sexual aspects of the story and focus on Governor Sanford's failure to do his duty to the people of South Carolina when he disappeared for days. But talking about the sexual side of the disappearance is necessary, because it's what drove him to neglect his responsibilities.

Political sex scandals like this one give us a world-class moment to talk in particular about family values with our children. Every family has its own set of values about sexuality and sexual behavior. But there is a core set of values that we can possibly agree on, and the premier value in that set is sexual fidelity. We can discuss with our children our beliefs about sexual fidelity as well as marriage, love, and mutual responsibility.

Older teens really thirst to know about their parents' feelings and values on relationship issues, since they themselves are just beginning to wrestle with them. So they welcome open, honest discussion with their parents about issues like: why people cheat, why a marriage sometimes isn't enough, why kids get hurt by their parents' affairs, and how to trust and cope when faced with disloyalty.

I have to admit that, in retrospect, my husband and I never had as many conversations with our three children, now grown, about sex as I wish we had had. (I did not get involved in sexuality education until they were adults and did not see the importance of talking to them about sexual health topics when they were younger.) I missed many chances to grab a teachable moment like Gov. Sanford's affair.

I have urged my children to talk to their children about the Sanford affair. Among my five grandchildren, I have only one who is a teenager, and he is already saturated by the TV coverage. I asked him how he thought Sanford's sons might be feeling about their father's sexual misbehavior.

"Embarrassed, very embarrassed," he said.

I am hoping his parents will take up the conversation with him where I left off-and that all parents will grab the brass ring of teachable moments and talk honestly with their kids about sex.

Susie Wilson, former executive coordinator of the Network for Family Life Education at Rutgers University's Center for Applied and Professional Psychology (now renamed Answer), is a national leader in the fight for effective sexuality and HIV/AIDS education and for prevention of adolescent pregnancy. She can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Comments (1)
1 Monday, 29 June 2009 18:59
When You Vote Republican You Get Immorality Sun Jun 28, 2009 9:41 PM EDT

Republicans never tire of making public displays of how concerned they are with America's moral fabric while supporting their own adultery and fornication at the same time. This while they judge others, deny equal rights to gays, plunder America's treasury on illegal wars, support torture and discriminate against anyone who does not agree with them. Americans been barraged with laws, programs, sermons, demagoguery, the religious right, right wing bigots and all sorts of moral demonization from a Republican political movement whose most powerful pundit is a multiple-times-divorced drug addict who flamboyantly cavorts around with a new girlfriend every few months.

The GOP harbors these deviants and why Americans seem oblivious in caring is beyond words! Americans get more upset over two men kissing in a movie than they do murder, rape or soliticious sexual affairs by Republicans. Perhaps it is their own self righteousness that dictates a gross misjudgment of immorality.

After all, even now that this conduct has been exposed, their instinct, all the way to the highest levels, is to excuse and defend those leaders and offer up the most disgusting defenses, all because preservation of their political power depends on it. This is not some bizarre aberration. This is how they operate and it is who they are.

Republicans and the religious right talk a lot about threats to marriage and families, especially when scaring Americans about gay people. They do this to control, manipulate and raise money in an obscene hypocritical manner; however these right-wingers have the market on breaking up families and marriages, creating orphaned children and hurting people and destroying the moral fabric in America.

The Republican Party nor the right-wing, religious right preachers who claim "family values," and "pro-marriage" platforms in the context of their Party and their religion in order to propel themselves to power and who cannot remain faithful to their own families and churches, demonstrates the PURE hypocrisy of the right wing and the so called "Christian/Religious Right".

I must admit I always get a good laugh out of witnessing another one of these "family values" type politicians getting caught with his pants down. I say if a man cheats on his wife, he will cheat on anyone, his wife, his children, his political Party, his church, his congregants and his country.

The truth is that on a personal level these solicitous sexual affairs are none of my business however when elected leaders, taking taxpayer money, stand on their soapboxes and judge others, when they condemn gays and deny equal rights to all Americans, when they destroy the lives of their families and their children, when they use their political power to deny rights and benefits to others and use taxpayer money for self-righteous and religious right agendas then it becomes my business, it becomes Americas' business.

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