Parents will do almost anything for the welfare of their children. But talking with their kids openly and confidently about sex and intimacy doesn’t seem to be one of those things. When I ask audiences how many of them had parents who taught them more than half of their knowledge about sex, I rarely get more than a smattering of hands.
Parents are chicken.
I feel for them though, because I used to be one of those chicken parents. I remember when I first realized that my husband and I needed to get busy talking with our children about sex (and intimacy and marriage). I didn’t know where to start. I didn’t know what to say. I thought how embarrassing it would be. I was chicken. It was quite a while before I could come up with the courage to do so.
But we as parents have got to step up to the plate on this issue. So, how do we find the courage to take on this parental responsibility that is otherwise quite terrifying for many of us?
When our six-year-old son began to get bits of “sex education” at school that were inaccurate and negative, I began to find some courage. When I realized that it took more work for our kids to “unlearn” the inaccurate stuff they were already learning from the world, I began to find courage. When I realized that our kids were going to get a sex education whether I liked it or not, I began to find more courage.
Then when I realized that my teachings (or lack thereof) would have a profound effect on their future happiness and stability in marriage, I really got brave. And when I got the fact that if we as their parents could talk with them about sex, and them with us, that we would be able to talk about and handle anything that came our way, I no longer needed any more courage. I knew we could do it.
It wasn’t easy to develop the confidence and courage to tackle such a delicate yet important subject. I had to do some unlearning and some relearning myself. I had to work on some of my own issues in order to be genuine and positive in my teachings. I can see why many parents never quite get around to opening this dialogue with their kids. It can be pretty scary.
Shining a Light on the Subject
Most parents know they should talk to their children about sex, but don’t know what to say, or where to begin. I hope this article will shine a light on the subject, making it easier for parents to feel confident in the ongoing process of providing a positive and healthy dialogue about sex and intimacy with their children.
Parents can overcome any discomfort they may have, and prepare themselves and their children for these sacred conversations by learning what, when, why, and how to teach their children about the intricacies of intimacy, and better prepare them for a mutually fulfilling, lasting relationship in marriage. What a priceless opportunity parents have at their fingertips, if they will just reach out and grab it.
So what is it that keeps parents from talking to their kids about this important subject, and how can we make it easier to take on this challenge?
Parents often encounter one or more of the following barriers in talking to their children about sexual intimacy and marriage:
- Lack of personal conviction regarding the sanctity of sex
- Lack of knowledge
- Fear that sexual knowledge will lead to promiscuity
Each of these barriers must be addressed so that discussions about sexuality can have a positive focus and be accompanied by a spirit of reverence and confidence. (For more information on this and each of the following sections, you can listen to the audio book “Teaching Intimacy 101,” or read the last three chapters of the book “And They Were Not Ashamed.”)
Parental Preparation to Teach
Some of the things parents can do to remove the barriers are to:
- Invite the Spirit to help guide them as they prepare, and as they teach.
- Gain a conviction of the sanctity of sex and the importance of teaching this to their children in preparation for a happy and successful marriage.
- Remove any negative beliefs and inhibitions they may have about sex.
- Get educated about sex and intimacy.
- Have open and healthy discussions about sex with your spouse.
- Have a practice discussion with your spouse (or the mirror) to be better prepared for a positive and relaxed experience with your children.
Building the Parent/Child Relationship
Parents are wise to spend some time building the relationship with their child before embarking upon these sacred discussions. This can be done by spending time together, especially one-on-one time, and learning how to love your children in the way they need to be loved. Hugs and handholding are always helpful. Refining your ability to see the good in each child, and express it openly, helps provide a positive foundation for sacred discussions about sex.
Not only do parents need to prepare themselves and their children for these discussions, but they also need to know what, when and how to go about it.
Taking a Positive Approach
Society is saturated with sexual information — most of it negative, distorted, even corrupt. Parents must go on the offensive, teaching a healthy and holy understanding of sexuality. Parents must transform their teachings from an almost exclusive emphasis on dire premarital warnings, to a positive emphasis on the marital blessings of sexual purity and the righteous sharing of physical intimacies within marriage.
What to Teach
Teaching children about sex is more than just teaching the mechanics. The more important teaching is that which creates an attitude of reverence and respect for sexual intimacy and marriage. With that tone you can then teach such things as God’s purposes for sex in marriage, gender acceptance and role learning, that the body is good and is a gift from God, as well as the essentials of procreation.
Depending upon the age and readiness of the child, parents need to prayerfully consider how much and when what teachings are needed. This is why “sex education” must not be a one-time event. Dr. Wayne Anderson suggested six general categories of information that need to be taught about procreation:
- Bodily organs and their functions
- Physical differences between boys and girls
- The origin of babies
- Intrauterine growth
- The birth process
- The father’s role
Other topics that parents will want to teach in the context of their values include:
- God’s standards for sex and intimacy including modesty and dating standards
- Sex can be controlled
- Sexual fulfillment takes time and effort after marriage
- The blessings of righteousness
When to Teach
When children are young, they are more teachable. Having appropriate discussions about sexuality and the body when children are young helps them develop a healthy foundation for sexual relations within marriage. Of course it’s best to start early, but it’s never too late even if your children are already married! The four most critical times that teaching is needed are:
- Before the age of accountability (age 8)
- Before puberty
- Before dating, and
- Before marriage
How to Teach
The following are some suggestions for how to effectively provide sex-related teachings:
Fill Love Bucket First. Spend some time giving your child extra attention and love prior to a special parent/child discussion.
Sex discussions are more effective if both parent and child feel love and warmth toward each other.
Ongoing Discussions and Teaching Opportunities. The quantity alone of important information that needs to be discussed requires that sex education be more than a one-time event. Gone are the days of having one “big talk” about the “birds and the bees.” Ongoing opportunities are needed, and parents must generally create them. A yearly discussion would be ideal, but be sure to at least catch the four important times: before age eight, before puberty, before dating and before marriage. One event for sex education does not provide sufficient opportunities for additional information as the child matures, nor does it allow for incorrect teachings that have accumulated to be addressed.
Prepare a Discussion Outline. You may need to do some homework to prepare yourself to teach and answer questions that may arise. Having a discussion outline allows you to think through what you want to teach and personally tailor the discussion to the age, gender, personality, and maturity level of each child. By preparing your own discussion outline, you also re-teach yourself and often address your own negative beliefs and inhibitions. You can start with the sample outline provided below then fill in any additional information.
Make It a Special Occasion. Sex education can become a special family tradition. If you make this an enjoyable event — perhaps at a restaurant or ice cream shop — children will begin to eagerly anticipate their annual tradition of a special date and discussion with Mom or Dad to receive the “next installment” of their sex education.
Schedule One-on-one Time. One-on-one discussions make it easier to assure the sacredness, specialness, and reverence of the occasion. A successful interaction is more likely when one parent and one child can discuss and address personal issues and questions in a casual atmosphere without the child feeling “ganged up on.” Talking with just one child at a time also allows adjustments to be made to match the interest and maturity level of each child, including the appropriate quantity and depth of information to be provided. Some parents may prefer to have both parents in the discussion. This can also be effective. I personally think both parents and one child is a great format for the “before dating” discussion and the “before marriage” discussion.
Begin with Prayer. There may be no other occasion that requires more divine guidance and inspiration than that of sex-related teachings. Begin each parent/child discussion with prayer.
Do Dialogue. Don’t Lecture. No one likes to sit through a lecture. Using questions and encouraging discussion can make the learning more meaningful. At times it may be better to answer questions with a question, so that you can better understand what your child really wants and needs to know. If a child is only ready for a cupful of information, don’t pour a bucketful over them.
Teach the Correct Behavior. Teaching is more effective when you teach what to do instead of what not to do. Parents should suggest the desired behavior rather than condemn the negative behavior. If you tell your kids what they are doing wrong, they immediately visualize themselves doing it wrong, thus reinforcing the negative behavior. If we instead tell them to “save sexual expressions for marriage,” for instance, they create a positive picture of what you want them to do.
Focus on the Blessings. As you develop your own conviction of the sanctity of sexual relations, you will have more power to teach the positives and blessings of sexuality. Sprinkle awe and wonder throughout your teachings with statements such as, “Isn’t your body amazing!” or, “Aren’t you glad God made you this way?” or, “Isn’t that a wonderful way for mommies and daddies to show their love for each other!”
Teach by Example. Children learn more from the example of their parents than from their words. If parents can model a healthy acceptance and respect for their own sexuality, their children will be more likely to develop a healthy acceptance and respect for theirs.
Sample Discussion Outline
There are many subjects that parents will want to cover in the course of their teachings between a child’s youth and on into marriage. Parents can start with the following outline and add their own questions and appropriate answers depending on the age, gender, personality, and maturity level of the child. This sample outline suggests some of the basic issues to address for a first discussion with a 7 to 8-year-old child.
- God’s plan for families
- Acceptance of and the importance of one’s gender
- The special kind of love husbands and wives share
- How Satan tries to mislead people about sex
- Inappropriate/immoral behavior
- Caring for our bodies
- Protecting from abuse
- Respecting our own bodies
God Bless Parents
As scary as it was at first to contemplate talking with our children about sex, it was ultimately such a blessing not only to prepare ourselves, but also to take advantage of these sacred teaching opportunities with our children. Children deserve to develop a healthy and positive regard for their bodies and for the procreative act. They also deserve to be informed and knowledgeable, taught by loving parents who desire to shine a light into the mists of darkness that otherwise surround sexuality.
Parents can help children enter marriage with a healthy and positive respect for sexual intimacy. With a solid sexual foundation for marriage, mutual sexual fulfillment will occur more quickly and easily, reversing the trend of sexual problems as a leading cause of divorce.
Good parenting is no easy task. It requires a lot of courage. It requires the best that is in us … and then some! God bless parents in all their good efforts to teach and prepare their children for happy and successful marriages.
The following is some of the feedback we’ve received from parents who have been helped by the information we’ve shared in the audio book:
I cannot say enough good about this information. I not only learned things that I will be able to teach my children, but it taught ME so much! Before listening to this book, I was nervous, anxious, a little embarrassed, and very apprehensive about how and when to teach my kids about sex. I can honestly say that I now feel 1000% confident in my abilities to teach my kids positive, responsible, and healthy understandings about sex and intimacy.
Your book has empowered me. I have learned what married sex could and should be like. Also, reading about teaching my children about sex made me change. I realized that I wanted my daughters to love sex. How could I tell them it was wonderful if I didn’t believe that myself?
With this information, we are now excited instead of scared about teaching our two daughters about sex.
Laura M. Brotherson is the author of a groundbreaking book on sexual intimacy and marital oneness entitled, And They Were Not Ashamed — Strengthening Marriage through Sexual Fulfillment .
Laura shares her passion for building strong marriages and families as an author, intimacy educator and relationship consultant. Visit her website www.StrengtheningMarriage.com to learn more. Sign up today for her FREE “Straight Talk about Strengthening Marriage” newsletter. StrengtheningMarriage.com is your trusted resource for education, products and services to strengthen marriages intimately!
For a discussion of this article visit Laura’s Strengthening Marriage Blog.