Updated: Sep 2
Quite often I have young parents say to me, “I grew up with sex not really talked about. There were a lot of “don’t” messages and a lot of shame around sex. I want to do it differently with my own kids but I have no idea how AND I am scared to death if I give them too much information I will somehow make them sexual sooner than they otherwise would be. Even though that wasn’t helpful for me, I have this total fear. What do I do? What is the best way to increase a kid’s chance of delaying sexual involvement and choosing a great partner someday?”
Even when the way we grew up around an issue was unhelpful or even hurtful, it is a powerful pull when we are raising our own kids. How we were raised is how our brain is set – it is our “training manual” handed down by our family of origin. We will consciously or unconsciously follow this manual unless we teach ourselves a new way.
So for parents who have this question, I want to lay out the top 3 things you can do to help your kids delay sexual involvement, make better choices, lower risky behavior, and see you as someone they can come to with their questions and concerns.
At the end, I will give you a list of resources you can turn to for more information and guidance. If your kids are under the age of 8, check out these resources a.s.a.p. If they are older than this, do it even sooner.
ONE – If you are married … Let your kids SEE YOUR MARRIAGE.
In a child-focused marriage society, like we currently have, far too many kids are going through childhood and adolescence only seeing their parents as “parents” and never seeing them as marriage partners, romantic partners, each other’s beloved. One of my grad students a few years ago said she never really thought of her parents as married until her first year of college when they announced they were divorcing. She had only ever thought of them as her parents – their lives seemed only to revolve around her and her siblings.
In order for your children to have a belief in marriage, a hope for love for themselves and a deep sense of security about their home, they need to see your marriage. They need to see you flirt; go on dates and hear you say something like, “Every so often, we like to go play all by ourselves without you kids.” They need to see intentional deep loving hugs and kisses. They even need, once in grade school, to know you have a lock on your bedroom door and that when you are in there and it is locked, you are not to be disturbed unless it is a 'level 4 emergency'.
One of my students said, “We all knew that every Sunday afternoon my parents would “take a nap”. It didn’t take long before we knew this was their time and not to bug them. While we said “Oh gross!” really, it gave us a great sense of security knowing they loved their private time.” If you are a single parent, talk a lot about the qualities in a good relationship. If you are actively dating, talk about what you seek in a partner, how you discern a person’s integrity and fit, and how you have learned to lead with both your head and your heart. Let them learn from your modeling too.
TWO – Have 100 – 1 minute Conversations (not 1 – 100 minute conversation).
Research is clear on this frequently overlooked fact. Kids who grow up with parents who are frequently weaving in sound-bites about body-awareness, growing up, gender-identity, caring for self and others, sex, sexuality and relationships, consent and safety, sexual orientation, and media literacy get involved later sexually, make better choices, are involved in less risky behavior, protect themselves better, and (one of the coolest things) describe themselves as closer to their parents overall. Parents so often want to be a resource for their kids.
Unfortunately when kids grow up never hearing a word about bodies and sex until their teen years, experience parents as uncomfortable with the subject or silent and negative or fearful about sex, they do not see their parents as someone they can go to for information. What happens then is kids turn to culture and friends (who are getting their information usually from culture too) to learn what they can about sex, sexuality, gender and relationships.
When this is the case you need to ask yourself what are the sex, sexuality, gender messages of culture?
Our culture says through all forms of TV and media advertising, “sex and bodies are for sale, people are to be used for pleasure, you may use or be used for pleasure, boys want sex but not emotional connection, and girls want emotional connection and will use sex to manipulate toward the end of emotional connection.” Ugh!! Are these the messages you want your child to absorb?
These messages are misrepresentations of men, women, sexuality and sex … and when believed they set people up for great misunderstanding in their intimate partnerships. So you ask … how do I have 100 – 1 minute conversations?
Begin by Paying Attention
Pay attention to all the ways issues of gender, sexuality and people relate in commercials, movies and TV. Listen. What are the underlying media messages? You will eventually begin to see them everywhere.
Listen to your children.
You will begin to hear it in their play. Begin to ask questions. For example – “How do you think it felt when that little boy was teased in front of his friend’s?” or “How do you think it felt when that girl’s friends talked about her on facebook?” Or, “I was talking to another mom today and one of the 4th grade girls started her period last week and it made me think even though you’re in 3rd grade, we should start talking about the changes that your body is going to start going through sometime between 9 and 13.”
Little sound bites. One thing at a time woven into life connected to relationships, gender, justice, their belovedness and the belovedness of all others – of how you are to be treated and how you are to treat others, anatomy, puberty, desire, cultural messages, what and who culture values, what and who culture dismisses, and how that is similar or different than the values in your family.
All woven together. All sound bites. Nothing long and painful. Don’t worry about getting it ‘perfect’.
If you give too much information – they will likely interrupt you and completely change the subject, like “Do you know where I left my basketball?” If you didn’t give enough information, they will likely ask a follow-up question – then or later.
You can also ask after you provide a sound bite, “We can talk about this more later, but do you have anything you’d like to hear more about now?” If you get more info, or want to adjust your response, you can do that with a simple – “You know I did more thinking on your good question the other day of …. And I wanted to tell you this too …”
The largest window of opportunity is going to be between 5 and 13. Also during this time frame children will drop ‘zingers’ – usually at completely awkward moments, like… “What’s a condom?”; “What’s a tampon?”; “What’s oral sex?; “What’s masturbation?”, etc. This is another reason why it is good to get some of the resources read sooner than later, so you can practice how you want to answer these questions in nonchalant but informed ways.
After this, some kids will begin to become less tolerant and more embarrassed by the subject of sex, bodies and gender. You will need to respect them, and make your sound bites even smaller and definitely only in situations where they can tolerate it more – say when their friends are not around. Here is a video clip of a mom being coached to talk to her 10 year old daughter by a sex therapist about how to answer the question of how a baby is made and here is a clip of a sex therapist talking to a group of middle school girls about the sexual activity of their peer group.
THREE- Help them See Sex as Sanctified.
Research shows that young adults and adults who see sex as sanctified (associated with the divine – sacred, holy, mysterious, blessed, spiritual) report higher sexual satisfaction, higher frequency of sexual touch and more variability of sexual touch than those that don’t … even when those that don’t are also highly religious (report high church attendance, frequent prayer, frequently in scripture).
Kids, adolescents and young adults who can hear from their parent’s sound bites that include ideas such as “There is something very special in us loving and knowing someone deeply, and being loved and known deeply. I would want you to someday choose someone you feel completely safe to open our whole being to – body, mind and soul in a committed relationship. Sexually intimate touch in this kind of love is sacred – we actually are communing with each other and with the Divine.” Or “There is something so amazing about learning to love well and letting yourself be loved well – all of you including your sexuality. That is why we want you to see how beloved you are, how beloved others are, and how to bring loving people into your life. We want you to be able to love yourself well and be able to choose a loving partner someday so you can experience what is so awesome about sexual communion.”
MODEL, MODEL, MODEL – It’s important to remember that what you model will always be more of a teacher than what you say. Model a loving marriage, model relationship investment, model flirting and romance, model open frequent communication about sex, sexuality, gender, justice, relationship, responsibility to others and our core nature as God’s Beloved. Model the call on our life to learn the art of loving and reflect the desire to be blessed as we practice being loving people.
When your kids can see you intentionally walking your talk it is a powerful message! They will see you as a trusted resource to help them sort through all that is confusing and difficult about growing up in the midst of our fast and chaotic culture. Remember that learning is more important than not making mistakes … we all make mistakes. Your grace, understanding and focus on what they are learning about themselves, their values and relationships will help them get the most out of their decisions – even when their decisions cause them hardship. It will also help them extend grace to themselves – learn, forgive and move on stronger and wiser.
Download this FREE Cheat Sheet a visual resource for parenting through the stages of sexual development
Sex Positive Families visit: https://sexpositivefamilies.com/
Vaginas and Periods 101 - Kriten Lilla and Sara M. Lyons
The Thinking Parent’s Guide to Talking Sense About Sex – Deborah Roffman
Talk to Me First – Everything You Need to Know to Become Your Kids ‘Go To’ Person about Sex – Deborah Roffman
Everything You Never Wanted Your Kids to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid They’d Ask): The Secrets to Surviving Your Child’s Sexual Development from Birth to the Teens – Justin Richardson
From Diapers to Dating – Debra Haffner
What Every 21st Century Parent Needs to Know: Facing Today’s Challenges with Wisdom and Heart – Debra Haffner
Ten Talks Parent’s Must have With Their Children About Sex and Character – Pepper Schwartz and Dominic Cappello
Ten Conversations You Need to Have With Your Children – Shmuley Boteach
So Sexy So Soon – The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do To Protect Their Kids – Diane Levin and Jean Kilbourne
Birds+Bees+Kids – Amy Lang – Sex Educator. Lots of resources for parents.
For those who grew up in a somewhat sexually silent and shaming conservative Christian home this article might be clarifying as well as other posts on this blog.