How often do you hug or kiss your partner in front of your children? Now think about how your parents behaved when you were growing up. Were they openly tactile and affectionate? Or was there a distinct froideur in the air?
For most of us, thinking about our parents’ sex lives feels deeply uncomfortable, but understanding this formative relationship can be the key to unlocking insights into ourselves. The way our parents interacted profoundly affects how we perceive love, intimacy and sex for the rest of our lives.
The ways they demonstrated affection and expressed their sexuality (were they at ease with their bodies? Or prudish and full of self-loathing?) seeped into your subconscious.
Your ‘sexual spring’, as I call it — you might also term it your sexual DNA — is the set of instincts handed down through generations that govern how you connect with others and how you feel and understand intimacy.
My advice, honed over more than 30 years spent working with couples, individuals and teens, will enable you to understand the preconceptions you have internalised.
If you’re not happy with the level of intimacy and connectedness in your own relationship, I will help you work on these issues by looking at your family history.
So, let’s get started. I want to share a few stories you may find useful, which exemplify the connection between upbringing and your future relationships in adulthood.
Take one of my male patients, who comes from a family with four boys. He recalls that, in his early teens, his mother would walk around in her underwear and ask for help hooking her bra from any son who walked by. She talked openly about sex a lot, too.
When the boys started to bring girlfriends round, the mother behaved flirtatiously, talking to them in baby language in front of their new partners. Many young women left after witnessing this odd mother–son relationship.
She treated her adult sons like children because she had no idea how to interact with grown men as her sons got older. She missed the chance to help them grow into independent adults.
The father, meanwhile, was equally emotionally stunted and never seemed to take notice of the strange relationship between the mother and their sons. He was judgmental of the boys and competitive with them.
This is a familiar and damaging pattern. If a father repeatedly competes with his son, while having no input in his upbringing, the son will suffer with low self-esteem and feel competitive with other men. It’s likely no matter how successful he becomes, he will never feel good enough.
As they grew up, the boys — now men — became withdrawn and unable to connect with women. It took decades of therapy for some of them to realise their problems might stem from their mother.
To this day, even though the mother has reached her 90s, she still focuses primarily on her sons, ignoring their wives and adult children. This is an extreme case, but my advice for parents is that it is all about balance.