Let’s talk about sex.
Specifically, let’s talk about sex to our children, from the time that they are very young, throughout their childhood and teens, and on into their adulthood.
Let’s talk about it often.
Let’s start when they are babies and toddlers.
Is anyone uncomfortable yet?
“My child is an preschooler. They’re so young! Why would I need to talk to them about this? Why do I need to even be thinking about this, at this point? I was hoping to put it off as long as possible!”
Normal reactions. I hope that by the end of this, you will, if not agree with me, at least see the reason why someone would talk to their children about sexuality from an early age.
Let’s start with some groundwork.
Sex is a good gift
Sexuality is a good gift given by God. He created it; he made it to be THE way by which new humans are formed.
Genesis 1:27-28—So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Genesis 2: 20 – 25—The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bond of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.”
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
When you think of it, God could have created us to reproduce in a different way. God could have made us asexual and reproduce by subdividing, like an amoeba; he could have had one gender lay eggs in the sand, and another fertilize it; he could have made humans to procreate in a variety of ways. But he didn’t. He made us to be fruitful and multiply through sexual union, between a man and woman joined in marriage.
Secondly, we see that sex was created to be pleasurable.
The first poem or song was composed by Adam, in Gen 2:23-25. There wasn’t a guitar yet, but if there was, can’t you just see Adam picking up his guitar and singing this song to Eve?
“Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone…”
<back to the chorus>
Adam is thrilled to have Eve, and he sings about it. And they become “one flesh”, and “were both naked and were not ashamed.”
The Song of Solomon is another love song in the Bible, full of sexual references between the bride and her bridegroom. In fact, according to some scholars, our translations are probably too tame in regards to what the text is saying.
From the Song of Solomon, chapters 5 & 6 (The Message version):
My dear lover glows with health—red-blooded, radiant!
He’s one in a million.
There’s no one quite like him!
…..Fine muscles ripple beneath his skin, quiet and beautiful.
His torso is the work of a sculptor…
Everything about him delights me, thrills me through and through!!
My lover is already on his way to his garden, to browse among the flowers,
touching the colors and forms.
I am my lover’s and my lover is mine.
He caresses the sweet-smelling flowers.
And then it’s her lover’s turn (chapter 7):
Your limbs are lithe and elegant, the work of a master artist.
Your body is a chalice, wine-filled.
Your skin is silken and tawny
like a field of wheat touched by the breeze.
Your breasts are like fawns,
twins of a gazelle….
The feelings I get when I see the high mountain ranges
—stirrings of desire, longing for the heights—
…You are tall and supple, like the palm tree,
and your full breasts are like sweet clusters of dates.
I say, “I’m going to climb that palm tree! I’m going to caress its fruit!”
Oh yes! Your breasts
will be clusters of sweet fruit to me,
Your breath clean and cook like fresh mint,
your tongue and lips like the best wine.
I think it’s clear that God loves sex.
There are parts of our bodies that He made only for sexual pleasure; they have nothing to do with procreation. The clitoris on the woman and the undershaft of the penis are particularly sensitive; they were created for pleasure. So we know that sex isn’t just for making babies.
Third, we see that sexual unity in marriage is a reflection or a type of the love and unity and ecstatic oneness of Christ and the church —which is us.
Eph. 5:25-32 : Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the Church.
Paul quotes the verses from Genesis, which refer to oneness between husband and wife—sexual union, becoming one flesh—and says that it is referring to Christ and the church, the oneness that should be evident to those around. Our marriages and our sex lives are designed to reflect that.
God loves sex; he made it for his glory, and for our good and enjoyment. He has made us sexual beings. It’s both mysterious, and glorious. Proverbs 30: 18 – Three things are too wonderful for me; four I do not understand: the way of an eagle in the sky, the way of a serpent on a rock, the way of a ship on the high seas, and the way of man with a woman.
Early teaching is good stewardship
As parents, we have a responsibility to teach our children about good stewardship of all the gifts God has given us. We don’t wait to be good stewards—we start from very early ages, in very natural, everyday ways.
Do you wait until a certain age before you talk to and teach your kids about eating healthy or exercising?
Do you wait until they have the capacity to speak before you read to them and tell them stories?
Do you wait until they are older, say maybe around the age of twelve, and the start to explain to them all the things about Christianity and faith? (Well, maybe some people do, but usually if it’s important to you, you start far earlier.)
No. Instead, we start teaching about these things in very natural, everyday ways, weaving it into the warp and woof of our lives. We should do the same thing with sexuality. We are called to steward it well—so we should be teaching about it from an early age.
At the same time, however, the culture at large is hyper-sexualized. It is all around our kids, at younger and younger ages. Maybe some of our avoidance is understandable. We are trying to resist what we see around us. We may think that avoidance is the best option.
There is a term from sociologists Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker called “anti-conversational logic”. If we don’t talk about something, then it doesn’t exist.
The problem is—it really does exist. And we need to be talking about it.
Maybe we grew up where sexuality was something that was cloaked in shame, or secretiveness, or ignorance. Maybe we were sexually active outside of marriage, and are ashamed of that. Or maybe we were sexually abused, and so we fear talking about it, or we don’t know how to talk about it. If that is your situation, I want you to know that I grieve with and for you. You are not alone, and there is help to be found. I urge you to seek help and good counsel, through a trusted friend, a counselor, a pastor. There is healing to be found.
I also urge you to acquire truthful, helpful knowledge about sex, because the more that we know the facts about healthy sex and sexual relationships, and are comfortable with them ourselves, the more comfortable we will be in talking to our children in a common sense yet respectful way about this good gift that God has given to us.
“But….talking about sex is scary! And intimidating.”
When you have “THE Sex Talk” as your plan, there is a lot of pressure on it: you have to say things in the right way, you have to cover EVERYTHING, you need to make sure you don’t forget anything, or say something in a way that might be misunderstood. Twelve- and thirteen-year olds are likely to be embarrassed about talking to their parent about this subject. It must be scary and shameful, because it’s been pretty secretive so far, and mom and dad act weird whenever it comes up, so it must be a Big Deal. Plus, they already know some things about sex (either accurately or inaccurately), and are aware enough of it from other sources to have a sense that it’s dirty, inappropriate, or just plain weird to talk about sex with your parents.
This brings me to an important point: you may not be teaching your kids about sex before “The Sex Talk”; but they are learning about sex regardless. From friends, from school mates, from siblings or other relatives, from media—it is unavoidable. Much, if not most of that info, may be faulty information.
Wouldn’t you rather have an ongoing, open conversation with your child about the wonder and beauty of their bodies, and the good gift of sex, in the context of age-appropriate discussions? Wouldn’t you rather that you children knew the correct anatomical names for their body parts, so they will be a less desirable target for sexual abuse and molestation? Wouldn’t you rather be the person your child comes to with questions about sexuality, instead of consulting the internet, or their friends? I know I would.
One of my general goals that I have had in parenting my children: I want relationships with them that are ones of trust and openness—that they know that they can come to me with anything and talk to me about it, and that I will still love them and accept them, and work with them to help find a solution to their problem if they want, or simply be a listening ear. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be consequences if they are needed, or hard truths communicated to them in love. But I want my kids to know that they can come to me and talk to me about anything, and know that I won’t automatically freak out or be condemning, or fail to listen to them.
It doesn’t mean that I will automatically agree with them or affirm their decisions, actions, or thoughts. But I will listen.
The goal, as my friend Maralee Bradley says, is to be a trustworthy person. “Sex is only shameful if we treat it shamefully.” If we can build conversations of trust around things that can be hard to talk about (like sex), then it is likely that those conversations and relationships will continue to be open and trusting as our children grow up.
If you are having these conversations all along, then you will be more ready to handle such situations as these:
What would be your response if your child came to you and was worried they might be homosexual, or convinced that they are?
What do you do when you find an inappropriate Google image search, such as “girls without panties”?
Are you brave enough and have enough relational credibility in speaking honestly and in “non-freaking-out-mode” to be able to ask your adult child if they are sleeping with their boyfriend or girlfriend?
Will you be able to speak honestly and ask questions of your son or daughter about pornography and its dangers, and if they are struggling with it?
If you have not been building up a foundation of honest conversations about sexuality, then it’s going to be far harder to approach these things.
I know these conversations are not easy. But they are far easier, less scary, and doable, when you have been talking with your child about sexuality (and praying about it as well), through out the growing up years.
The pressure of getting it all correct in one talk or one “weekend getaway” is too much, in my opinion. Instead, we can dispense knowledge in age-appropriate amounts, over time. We can add in things later, what we either forgot to say, or figured out a better way to say, or stammered and got red-faced about the first time we said it. We can feel more comfortable handling spur of the moment questions.
You won’t do it perfectly
Remember, you won’t do this perfectly.
Guess what? That’s okay.
When my youngest sons were around 7, 5, and 3, I was reading them a bedtime story. My husband wasn’t home—he was at a meeting for work—and after I finished the story, the seven year old said, “Mom, you know how people sometimes say things like, he has his father’s eyes?”
“How does that happen?”
“Well, a baby is made with some of the dad, and some of the mom, and they combine to make a new person. The baby gets some things from the mom and some from the dad, in their genes—so you might have your mom’s nose and your dad’s eyes.”
“Yeah, but HOW does that happen?”
“Well, the egg part comes from the mom, and the sperm part comes from the dad, and they combine, and form a baby that grows inside the mom’s tummy for a long time—9 months! And when the baby comes out, then we see that he has mom’s nose, and dad’s eyes.”
“Yeah, but….if the baby comes out of the mom’s tummy, HOW does the part from the dad get in there??”
Big breath. Okay. We are doing this!
I commenced to tell them a simple version of sex. The five year old started laughing. And he kept laughing, all the way through my explanation.
The older brother got very indignant with him, and scolded him, “Why are you laughing?!”
“I. Don’t. Know!!” (while still laughing)
I said, “Well…it does sound kind of funny the first time you hear about it.”
I asked the guys later if they remembered this. The one who asked the question did not remember it at all. The one who was three years old did not remember it (understandably, given his age).
The Giggler remembered it, but his memory of my explanation of the sexual act was not accurate. He seemed to think it was something about peeing on someone else.
Does this mean that I failed?
Does this mean that we shouldn’t have had the conversation?
No. Dealing with and answering questions on the level of the children conveys that we are willing to talk honestly about sex, and answer questions and have conversations, without shame. Whether or not a particular conversation is recalled with great specificity is not that important at these earlier ages. What is important is the openness and willingness to engage the subject.
Yes, facts will be misremembered. Teaching will not always be perfect; learning will not always be perfect and mature. This is the same for all learning; we mature, and our learning is shaped and re-shaped as we add in new or more clarifying information. This is how we can teach and tell things in keeping with the age and maturity of the child; they can learn and understand more as they grow older, and we continue to explain and talk about it. (And yes, the Giggler came to understand a more accurate description of sex. :))
Even if you don’t do things perfectly, you always have the opportunity to try to do better, as you continue to keep the door of conversation open. That’s one way I like to think of this: it’s not ‘open the door, talk about sex, shut the door, and now we never go into that room again’; we leave the door open, so that it can be entered when needed and desired.
The main obstacle to this approach is fear. Fear of just talking about it, first of all; and then fear of being seen as being ignorant, or not knowing the answers. No one likes to be seen as ignorant, and we may be concerned that it diminishes our authority as a parent if we don’t know the answers.
Ignorance is easily addressed by educating ourselves, so that we feel comfortable and confident in talking about bodies and sex. (We can also admit when we don’t know an answer, tell our kids we don’t know, but will do some research and get back to them, and then do so.)
We build our confidence by talking to our children when they are young; we can get our embarrassment and stammering out of the way, when they won’t remember much about the conversation anyway. The earlier we start, the more opportunity we have to practice!
Our kids want us to talk to them
If we are afraid of the conversation, we cultivate an atmosphere of “don’t ask, don’t tell”. Ironically, not talking about it doesn’t make things better, it makes them worse.
And, perhaps surprisingly, kids WANT us to talk to them more.
Listen to this, from the book Divine Sex by Jonathan Grant:
….parents have far more potential influence over their adolescent and emerging-adult children than they generally realize. Sadly, parents—including Christian parents—often shirk their potentially formative role out of a misplaced belief in the cultural myth that they have no influence over their children once they hit puberty. Indeed, one of the most surprising findings of Regnerus and Uecker is the indifference of modern parents to their children’s sexual lives.
Most assume “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy focused on “safety,” ensuring a minimal protection against disease or pregnancy. The emotional, moral, and spiritual consequences of their children’s sexual and relational lives are almost completely ignored. “In fact,” the researchers say, “American parents’ oversight of their teenage and young-adult children tends to be wide but shallow, resulting in children who long for—but seldom experience—real intimacy with their parents. Instead of pursuing a deeper relationship, many parents settle for just knowing that their kids are safe.”
…..when it comes to faith and practice, the example and advice of parents are more likely to influence emerging adults than the beliefs, perceptions, and habits of friends and peers. Tragically, Smith reports a deep yearning among adolescents to have a closer relationship with their parents at the same time that their parents are choosing to give them “space.”
…..The modern parenting script is letting this generation down, and that is a tragedy. Christian parents can and should play a significant and constructive role in their children’s lives, not just in the early formative years but also in these critical transitional phases. Here parents can offer unconditional friendship, assurance, wisdom, and rites of passage that enable their children to move into the next stage of life on a secure platform and with a well-formed self-identity.
This is good news! Kids want to be closer to their parents and their family. And that’s what we as parents want, too, right?
As kids get older, there are more complex things to talk about and address: unplanned pregnancies, STDs, questions about homosexuality, sex outside of marriage. These are things that you will want to be addressing from the standpoint and foundation of faith that you are and have been building. And they all can be dealt with better if you are proactively being open and honest about sexuality when your children are young, and continuing the conversation, as they grow older.
Teachable moments will arise, during normal life events. You will be prepared to talk about it if you have been talking about it all along. Kids will feel more comfortable talking to you about sex when you have established yourself as a safe, honest person with whom to talk. The desired result is a trusting and open relationship that continues well into their adulthood– and the rest of your lives.
Listed below are resources to help you in talking to your kids about sex, educating yourself about sexuality, and protecting your family and kids from pornography and sexual abuse.
Books for Kids:
God’s Design for Sex — a four book series by Stan and Brenna Jones and Carolyn Nystrom The Story of Me; Before I Was Born; What’s the Big Deal? Why God Cares about Sex; Facing the Facts: The Truth about Sex and You
Maralee Bradley—A Musing Maralee (blog) :
Great Conversations (http://www.greatconversations.com) : classes for kids (age 10-13) and their parents about puberty
Books for adults:
Covenant Eyes (www.covenanteyes.com)
Circle with Disney (https://meetcircle.com)
Review/article on Circle:
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