This is one of those topics nobody likes to talk about. Most parents I talk to have a lot of concerns about talking to their kids about sex, afraid to say “too much, too soon”. It can be uncomfortable for a number of reasons. But sometimes this fear leads to saying “too little, too late”.
Now, I’m not a parent. I’m well aware that I don’t fully understand all of the feelings that come into play when it’s not just talking about sex, but talking to your child about sex. However, I am a trained sexual integrity presenter, otherwise known as an abstinence educator. So basically, I talk about sex a lot, in public school classrooms no less. I’m also an adult daughter raised in a Christian homeschooling family.
I’m assuming that if you’re reading this, you’re probably a parent or hoping to be one, and you’re probably a Christian. If you’re not either one of those, this may not be quite as applicable. 🙂 But read on regardless.
I’d like to share with you a little bit of what I’ve learned along the way, why I’m so glad my parents talked to me, what was most valuable about what and how they talked about it. I’d also like to share a little bit of what I’ve observed, what I’ve seen happen in some families, and some common pitfalls to avoid. And then a few resource recommendations to help you along the way.
Why I’m Glad My Parents Talked To Me
I grew up knowing what I needed to, when I needed to. I was a little girl before the age of the cell phone and access to the internet at my fingertips, and I was homeschooled. I didn’t experience friends telling me things I didn’t need to know, nor did I have the temptation of a phone. So the info I had was correct and carefully presented.
I learned pretty early on the general basics of where babies came from, because my mom would have a baby every year or two (I’m the oldest of 14 children). My parents were always openly affectionate, too. Then, when I was 11 or so, my mom and I had more intentional conversations. It wasn’t a one-time thing, but rather a process. She used some materials, but most of it was just talking, not just about this topic but related things. Sure, we talked about puberty, but we also talked about friendships and modesty and crushes and pursuing God.
Sex was never made to be a “dirty” thing, but rather a special thing. These were special times that I remember fondly. The conversations never really stopped, they just changed over the years. My dad was involved at various points; our conversations looked different, but no less vital. I still talk with both of them about relationships, possibilities, and the different twists and turns of this journey.
I deeply value their commitment to make the time, share their personal stories, weave the Bible in with the science, be intentional but not make it an awkward “talk”, and invite me to ask questions and answer ones I hadn’t even thought to ask but would have at some point.
What I’ve Observed Elsewhere
Unfortunately, my positive experience isn’t always the case for teens, even in Christian homes. All too often, parents say too little for too long, or the message is focused on “Don’t Do It” and strict boundaries. If the focus is mainly negative (even unintentionally) whether by not saying enough, phrasing it in negative terms, talking only about what you shouldn’t do or the bad consequences of sexual sin, or putting excessive importance on virginity, kids won’t get the message you’re hoping to communicate.
An unhealthy view of sex, whether from teaching, their own perceptions, or guilt over sexual sin, has a huge impact. An unhealthy view of sex is what can prompt teens to do everything but lose their technical virginity. It’s what makes a teen who does sin sexually decide that since they already messed up, they may as well keep on doing it. It’s what can lead to wrongful shame or guilt about sex within marriage. It can even prompt someone to make virginity a point of pride or a “holier than thou” attitude.
On the other hand, a healthy view of sex has a different huge impact. If the focus is on pursuing Christ, making Him the center, sexual integrity flows naturally out of a desire to obey Christ and pursue holiness. Boundaries aren’t “rules” so much as they are exercising common sense in order to obey Christ. The questions changes from “How much can I get away with?” to “How holy can I be?”. Sex is celebrated and anticipated within God’s design. Forgiveness and redemption from sexual sin are also discussed and accepted.
What you say matters. How you say it matters. What you model matters.
- Assuming that if your kids haven’t asked you about something, they probably don’t know about it. In today’s day and age, that’s a very dangerous assumption. There’s just so many ways they’ll find out. For example, your kids probably won’t come and ask you what oral sex is, but they might have heard about it. If there is any hesitation at all about how you might react, if there is any experimentation and shame involved on their part, they won’t ask. But they might still look it up or even try it, if given the opportunity. So volunteer info or at least ask questions like “Have you heard of different kinds of sex?”
- Thinking that curiosity in sex is bad, or implies something bad. Sexual abuse does happen, so I’m not saying to rule it out or not ask your kids questions about it. But, curiosity isn’t inherently bad. There is a God-given fascination with sex that should be addressed, not put down, but explained as something to be careful with. Ie. It’s okay to ask you questions, but it’s not good to look up a question online.
- Sex is something that’s totally private. At first glance, that sounds like a good thing. Sex is supposed to be private, sure. But it’s also something that is openly celebrated in Scripture, and there is no shame associated with sex within God’s design of marriage. Use great caution in clarifying that just because it’s special and only supposed to be within a married couple, doesn’t meant that it’s bad, dirty, or shameful.
- I don’t need to say anything about sex until my kids are close to puberty. This is tempting for parents, but not healthy for kids. The target age of pornography is 11 or younger. So if they have access to electronics or have friends with access to electronics, chances are they’re going to see something and wonder. An 8 year old doesn’t have to know everything, but they need to know enough to be protected, and they need to know that they can ask you about anything.
- I didn’t do it God’s way, so I don’t want to tell my kids my story. The reverse is true, too, “I did it God’s way, so my kids will think I don’t know how bad sexual sin is, or how attractive it is”. Let me just say this. I’ve seen God work through people who had a broken and sinful past (by their own admission), and in sharing their story and what they wish someone had told them, they’ve saved others the heartache. And I’ve seen God work through people with a “perfect past” (although everyone has stumbled sexually at one level or another), as a testimony that sexual integrity is possible and beautiful. God will use your story, no matter what it is.
- Talking about sex with my kids is going to be super awkward and uncomfortable. Only if you want it to be. Approach the subject naturally, over a period of time, just presenting a little bit of time as it comes up in life, starting when your kids are young. There’s no need for “the talk” that you’re envisioning, just real conversations that are open and honest. If you’re comfortable, you’ll make them comfortable. This can be a great bonding experience!
My Perspective As A Sexual Integrity Presenter
I’ve mainly shared the above from my perspective as an adult daughter, but I can’t completely turn off my perspective as a sexual integrity presenter. I’ve found a lot of freedom in open, honest conversation, both for myself and others.
I know a lot about sex and related topics, because I have to in order to do my job well, but that knowledge hasn’t drawn me towards wanting to experiment in sexual activity. Rather, it has grown my awe of God as the Creator and Designer of Sex and His beautiful plan for it within marriage. It’s shown me how powerful sex is for evil outside of God’s design, and how powerful it is for good within God’s design. I’m looking forward to marriage one day and having the personal experience to go along with the “head knowledge”, but in the meantime, knowing what I do has helped me keep my commitment.
Unsure of where to start? You can use any number of materials with your kids, and there are many excellent programs out there. Here’s a few recommendations:
The Talk: 7 Lessons to Introduce Your Child to Biblical Sexuality I haven’t used this curriculum, but everything I’ve seen about it looks very well done, and the reviews are excellent.
Girl Talk: Mother-Daughter Conversations on Biblical Womanhood. My mom and I went through the original book years ago, and really enjoyed it. They’ve redesigned and updated it, but same great content.