While I was growing up, my father’s communication with me about sex was absolutely minimal,” says Christopher Floor, a staff educator at HiTOPS, a Princeton-based non-profit organization aimed at helping teens understand their sexuality. “Actually, it was pretty much only one sentence. ‘You have to have something to talk about when you get out of bed,’ he told me.”
Decent advice, but it doesn’t begin to address the numerous complex issues a teenage boy has coming to terms with his sexuality. All too often, Floor says, men leave the responsibility of talking about sex to their children’s mothers. “Passing the buck to the women in our lives just won’t do any more. It’s not only a stereotype that we need to get over — that women are better able to talk about sensitive issues — it does a disservice to men and can keep us apart from a rich aspect of relating to our children.”
And sometimes kids get no guidance at all. “I really got most of my information about sex from my peers, for better and for worse, and a lot of it was for the worse,” says Floor, who will facilitate a HiTOPS workshop titled “Father Knows Best?: Men’s Role in Raising Teenagers” on Wednesday, February 16, at 7:30 p.m. “I think that whole thing would have been so much better for me if someone had talked with me.”
Floor, 45, has been married for 18 years and has a nine-year-old son, Lucas. He joined the staff at HiTOPS 11 years ago as the lone male educator at the time. Floor became familiar with the organization while running the television studio at the Princeton Theological Seminary and filming a piece for World AIDS Day.
“I was so impressed with the HiTOPS portion, I took the footage over there and volunteered to do a video presentation with them,” says Floor. After working on the project for about a year, he was invited to “come on board” with HiTOPS and was put through an extensive training program.
Floor grew up in Media, PA, where his father was an electrical engineer and his mother was a psychologist. He holds a degree in video and film production from the University of Maryland and expects to receive a masters in counseling from the College of New Jersey in May.
“In college I saw sexual behavior from guys that was pretty appalling. Really it could be considered rape. Things like guys getting girls drunk and taking advantage of them,” Floor says. “I didn’t act on it then, because I didn’t understand. Now I do a lot of work with young men teaching them about rape issues.
Although the February 16 program is billed as a workshop for raising teenagers, Floor stresses that it’s important to begin laying the education groundwork early. “The program is for fathers of any age children, or for fathers to-be, to get them thinking about their role in raising their sons and daughters so they can make healthy decisions about their sexual health.”
“We’re going to talk about children’s different developmental stages and the appropriate sexual health information to give them,” Floor says, “and how to use teachable moments to talk to our children in a productive manner.”
A teachable moment is a scenario that can be turned into a learning experience. “When we spend time with our kids — watching movies, listening to music, or even watching animals in nature — we’re bound to come across issues of sexuality. The best approach is to make the situation less threatening by talking in general terms rather than overloading kids with information.”
When fathers are talking to their sons about sex, they should remain positive, Floor asserts. “It’s so ironic. Kids come from sex, but there’s a stigma attached to it in this country like sex is wrong. If we give them the message that sex is bad and wrong, it’s confusing. We can set up a lot of bad feelings about sex in kids and then when they get married they’re supposed to shift and become intimate, caring lovers.
“A dad who is approachable when it comes to questions about puberty, sex, and masculinity will more likely become that boy’s first choice to ask questions and talk about his fears and worries, instead of getting misinformation from his peers.”
When it comes to daughters, Floor says, fathers play an important role in the development of a girl’s self esteem. “Girl’s look to their fathers to support, praise, and appreciate them as developing young women.
“A girl who has open communication with her father is more likely to expect to have good communication with other men, and will be unlikely to settle for less in her personal and professional relationships.” – Bill Sanservino
HiTOPS (Health-Interested Teens’ Own Program on Sexuality) , 21 Wiggins Street, Princeton. “Father Knows Best?: Men’s Role in Raising Teenagers.” Registration required. Call 609-638-5155. Wednesday, February 16, 7:30 p.m.