Article Jul 10, 2017

Talking about sex with your kids: 5 things I’m learning

I can still remember what feelings ran through me as I stared out the window trying not to cry.  My mom was gently telling me how the kid in my class who told me how babies were made was technically right, but not in the way I was thinking. I recall my mom being angry at that kid for giving me information I wasn’t ready for yet. Even to this day, if I say his name, she sits up straight and has to calm herself down.

I understand why she was so mad now that I have kids. If a child told my kids the same thing, I’m not sure I could restrain my anger. So, I decided to do something about that and tell my children before the world could. We should establish ourselves as experts on the subject matter and need to be the ones our kids go to when they have questions about sex. We can do this by giving them the information before anyone else can get to them. I just had the sex talk with my oldest son. Here’s what I discovered:

1. Err on too early/too much, not too little/ too late

Children are exposed to sexually charged programming, information and contact at an increasingly earlier age. So, we need to be intentional in playing offense. If we play defense, we’ll have to deconstruct what they've heard first. We want to be the ones who frame how our kids see the world. From the day they’re born, there’s a race to affix a filter to their minds through which they’ll understand everything they see. Let’s help them put a godly filter on their minds so they can see things clearly—through the eyes of Scripture. It’s better to place the filter of worldview from the beginning, so that they know how to hear everything.

We want to be the ones who frame how our kids see the world.

This means we’ll need to have the talk over and over and over again, consistently giving the same information rooted in the same truths and asking for questions. My son and I have a secret code. We may be sitting at the dining room table eating supper, and if I see his pointer finger placed between his eyebrows (weird code, I know), I acknowledge him and find a quiet place, because I know he has a question about sex. I’ll drop whatever I’m doing to be able to be the one who answers his questions.

We want to be clear, tailoring the information about sex to their age. For example, they don’t need to know about masturbation and prostitution in their first engagement with the material. We can start simple and allow them to process what they have heard. And as they grow, we can help them engage new areas of conversation that are age-appropriate.

2. Root the conversations in the biblical context

We should do some study beforehand and have a good handle on passages like Genesis 1-3, Ephesians 5 and Romans 1 so that we know what sex is for, how it fits in God’s good design for mankind and how it’s been perverted. It’s important to show, through stories like David and Bathsheba and Hosea and Gomer, that the Bible isn’t out of touch with sex. Most importantly, it’s clear in the Bible. Ultimately, sex is designed to teach us something about God, about good gifts and about his purposes for the earth.

3. Ask lots of questions

Every kid will have questions during these conversations, so we shouldn’t be surprised. My son asked questions like: “So, I know what makes babies, but did you and mom do that?” or “How often do you and mom do that”? or “Where do you and mom do that?” or “Do I have to do that one day”? When I start talking about sex, I tell my kids that by the end of the conversation, they need to have at least one good question to ask. That puts them at ease, gives them a goal and encourages them to process the information I’m giving out.

In fact, we should ask for questions at every step in the game. And we shouldn’t be surprised to find out that our kids have already heard some things before. We should be cool, calm and collected and should avoid showing any anger. This world is fallen—we should expect knowledge of good and evil to get in to the hands of those who are not ready for it.

4. Have the first conversation in a familiar place

Do you remember where you were when you learned what sex was? So do I. And so will they.  I’ve found that it needs to be a place they feel safe, because the information will hurt them a little bit. And I like my kids to associate this conversation with something that they like—like ice cream.  

For my boys, it’s a hardware store parking lot. It’s right next to an ice cream place, so we get ice cream, back in to a parking spot at the back of the parking lot, and while we’re enjoying the ice cream, I open up the conversation. When we have subsequent talks, I take them back to that place, and they already have their game-face on, knowing that we’re going to be talking about sex.

The sex talk is important, and it shouldn’t be handled with shuffled feet, blushing cheeks and both parties racing through it just to get it over with. Sex is a precious gift from God, and so is the understanding of that gift in the mind of our children. In a sex-crazed culture wrought with disinformation and lies about sex, good we must get out in front of this unashamedly and confidently.

5. Give clear action steps

No one should find out about sex from my children. It’s worse than spilling the beans about Santa Claus or the tooth fairy. Our kids need to know how to handle this information with children at their schools or siblings in their home. There are also a few situations that our children will need coaching on in order to respond correctly.

For example, they need to know what to do when they see porn. Notice, I said when not if. Children will see some form of pornography very early in life, and we need to tell them how to handle it. Even if they aren’t meaning to, they’ll stumble across it. I told my children that if they see it on a friend’s tablet or on a phone when they’re playing a game, they should immediately drop the device, run and tell an adult. I told them that I won’t be mad if they break the device; I’ll be happy they told me.

Our children also need to know what to do if they hear about sex from other sources. I try to discredit every single other source of this information in their lives before it even gets to them. I tell them the kids down the street don’t know what sex is. They’re 10. I’m 35. If my kids have a question, they come to me with it. If they hear something from some source that doesn’t jive with what I’ve said, I want them to doubt that source, and trust me.

Finally, our children need to know how to protect those who are younger. I want my son who now knows what sex is to tap into his protective instincts as older brother and make sure that the kids that he’s around don’t tell his younger brother/sisters about sex before I do. I enlist his help. He’s with them on playgrounds when I can’t be there, and if he hears anyone trying to disclose information that I wouldn’t want my children to hear, he has my permission to shut down the conversation. And now that he knows what information I’m talking about, he’s better equipped to be a protector.

In this age of sexual confusion and disinformation, God has uniquely equipped parents to speak into the lives of their children. It’s a privilege to point them to a biblical understanding of sexuality. Let’s not squander so great an opportunity as shaping our child’s understanding about God’s good design for sex.

In a changing world, your children will have questions you may not know how to answer. Join us for the fourth annual ERLC National Conference on "Parenting: Christ-Centered Parenting in a Complex World" on August 24-26, 2017 in Nashville, TN, this event will welcome key speakers including Russell Moore, Jim Daly, Sally Lloyd-Jones, Todd Wagner, and Jen Wilkin. Learn more here.