Talking to Your Kids about Sex: No More One & Done

So it’s like my parents said to me once . . .

Wait, I don’t remember anything they said to me once.

I do remember “A thing worth doing is worth doing well” and “Keep your room clean” and “Be home by 10:00 p.m.!” because my parents said those over and over. I remember John 3:16 (“For God so loved the world . . .”) because I read it, heard it, and said it again and again. I remember “Breathe from your diaphragm!” when I sing because the director repeated it every day in high school choir.

So why do parents think a single sex talk is going to do the trick for our kids? If you can’t convince your child of the upside of broccoli after 34 creative presentations and comments about its inherent goodness, why do you think one “sex belongs in marriage” conversation is going to convict a hormonally charged teen to keep his hands where they belong? There are moments in one’s teens and young adult years when waiting for God’s timing of sex within marriage feels like staring down an ominous vegetable on our plate.

But what parents know that kids don’t is that healthy food can be delicious. And God has the most amazing dessert prepared for those who eat all of their veggies. Godly sex in a healthy marriage is like this:

Chocolate dessert

By Flickr user: Edward Russell, aka Flickr user “meshmar2,” via Wikimedia Commons

Back to talking to kids about sex, one talk about the birds and bees is not going cut it. You must have an ongoing conversation with your children about sex with factual information, values commentary, and God’s plan laid out. Be willing to discuss the subject whenever it naturally arises or whenever you need to bring it up. Expect to have several discussions on this topic if you want to pass a godly view of sexuality on to your children.

So how do you have an ongoing discussion with your kids about sex? Do you bring it up at the dinner table, as in “Hey, John and Jane, while you eat your chicken and green beans, let’s go over female anatomy and erogenous zones”? Awkward. Here are a few tips instead:

Become your child’s sexpert. Establish yourself as the go-to person when your children have questions. Be ready to answer with knowledge and confidence. If you don’t demonstrate that you know the deal about sex, children assume that other resources are more reliable.

That is, if you are silent or clumsy about the subject of sexuality, they might figure it’s because you don’t know anything about it. The person who has nothing to say about the war in Afghanistan probably doesn’t know anything about it. That does not mean that everyone who has something to say knows something; plenty of people spout off ignorantly on various topics. But if you say nothing to counter wrong messages and your kid hears them day in and day out, who do you think they will listen to?

Look for opportunities. If you’re watching a television show or movie that conveys sexuality or relationships in a way that doesn’t fully agree with your standards, say so. You don’t have to make a huge deal about it. However, if a couple is sleeping together before marriage, pipe in with something like, “That’s not a good way to start a relationship.” If there is a scantily dressed female oozing sensuality on the screen, ask “Why do you think she’s dressed like that?” Listen to what your kids say, and then talk about modesty. If a song has questionable lyrics, inquire what your child thinks the song means. Discuss underlying assumptions that the world makes about sexuality with your child and whether this is God’s plan.

Admit that you have sex with your spouse. Please do not draw a diagram or reveal details, but it’s healthy for children to understand that mommy and daddy having sex within marriage is a blessing from God. Telling your children that you have sex will not encourage them to do it prematurely. When children perceive a healthy representation of sex in their own home — a committed, married couple engaging in godly intimacy — they are more likely to want such a relationship for themselves. One way you can share that you are physically intimate without sharing TMI is to stress that you and your spouse need alone time in your bedroom. As they age, children will figure out what some of that entails and won’t inquire further. But they will be aware, and that positive influence remains.

Ask questions. Believe me, your kid does not want to hear you rant on and on for 45 minutes about the pitfalls of premarital sex. If every sex talk feels like a college hall lecture, your child may be nodding as you speak, but he’s mentally plotting his strategy for conquering the next level of Call of Duty while you discuss the perils of STDs. You need to have a conversation, which means two people talking (or more if other family members are involved). Ask what your children know and what they want to know. Ask what they think about the world’s approach to sexuality. Ask what strategies they have to stay sexually pure until marriage. Listen and then respond.

Avail yourself of quality resources. There are some great resources for teaching your children about sex. If you need or want additional tools, check out a local or online Christian bookstore. Kevin Leman has a book called A Chicken’s Guide to Talking Turkey with Your Kids about Sex. I haven’t read this particular one, but Dr. Leman is an excellent marriage and family expert whom I trust. One of my favorite bloggers (whom I’ve mentioned before!) is Julie Sibert of Intimacy for Marriage. She has two excellent posts on talking to kids about sex — 10 Worst Mistakes You Can Make When Talking to Your Kids About Sex, Part 1; 10 Worst Mistakes, Part 2 — in which she recommends resources.

You don’t have to look them in the eye. As kids get older and experience intense sexual feelings, they may want to talk but are embarrassed. Shoulder-to-shoulder, or no eye contact, conversation can be easier. You can text back and forth. You can chat in the car on the way to school while your eyes are on the road and not available to glare at your child. You can shoot baskets, play Wii games, or do crafts at the table and have great talks with your kids. This is one of those times when “Look me in the eye” may not apply. Your child might be better able to absorb the message if eye contact is not required on this subject.

Relax. You don’t have to get everything right to be a godly influence to your kids. You don’t have to know everything; you can offer to look things up together. You don’t have to defend your less-than-perfect history; you can explain, “I didn’t do it right, but I sure wish I had. I want the best for you.” You can blush when you say “penis” and “vagina”; you still get credit for teaching your kids the right names. Thank God that parenthood doesn’t demand perfection! Being present is far more important to kids than being perfect. So relax. Do your best. Then pray and let God do His part.

If you aren’t sure why premarital sex isn’t a good idea, I laid out my thoughts on this topic in two guest posts at a great website from Heather and Eric Viets called Preengaged.com. Maybe these posts can help you consider what to teach your children: Sex Before Marriage, Part 1 and Sex Before Marriage, Part 2.

How do you talk to your kids about sex? Do you have any other tips? Have you found some terrific resources? How has it gone so far?

12 thoughts on “Talking to Your Kids about Sex: No More One & Done

  1. Anonymous

    “When you’re watching a television show or movie that conveys sexuality or relationships in a way that doesn’t agree with your standards, say so.”

    Why are you watching anything that doesn’t agree with your standards? All your children are going to learn is that your talk doesn’t walk.

  2. Nylse

    i read your blog and i like it, but of late the spacing has been off (but it seems to only happen in reader)
    To answer your question – 3 of my children are in college and so far so good. Nothing was off limits; we talked often and now that they’re in college the conversations are more intense but i’m glad we have them. i think with children even adult ones, it always helps to have a standard and they know what our standard is. best tips above “you dont have to look them in the eye and relax.

  3. J

    Great question, Anonymous! As a matter of fact, my hubby and I are pretty picky about what our family watches. However, I am in the camp of allowing our children to watch certain shows which have redeeming qualities but perhaps some questionable content with supervision and discussion. My approach for keeping our minds and hearts pure includes five words beginning with F: Have a good FOUNDATION (biblical worldview); FORTRESS (lock some things out completely); FILTER (learn to filter out the bad when needed); FOCUS (keep your eyes on godly things); and FRIENDS (choose them wisely so they can help you choose wisely).
    Sorry for the mini-lesson, but part of my goal as a parent is to teach my kids when a fortress is appropriate and when filtering is okay, etc. If they never learn to process through that, I am concerned that they will be ill-prepared for the world when they leave my nest. I may get some disagreement on this one, however.

  4. J

    Nylse – Good for you! It’s nice to hear that this approach works.
    (As to the spacing, I’ve been frustrated lately getting font size and spacing right. I’m sorry to hear that there are problems in the reader. I need to figure it out once and for all! Thanks for hanging with me here anyway.)

  5. J

    ANON – One more thought! I am wondering now if the “mini-lesson” word choice sounded haughty. 🙁 Actually, the five F’s is an overview of a lesson series taught to preteens, so that’s what I was thinking of when I wrote it. Sorry. (Maybe I shouldn’t comment when I’m tired.)

  6. Anonymous

    We obviously can’t shield our children from everything, but the home should–at the very least–be a safe place where the lies are kept out and the truth is upheld and taught. In this day and age, our kids needs exposure to every bit of truth they can get…especially about sex, morality, responsibility, and respect.

    IMO, using bad TV as a teaching example is only going to hinder and confuse, not help. If you want an example of a positive TV show that illustrates respect and love in marriage, the “The Dick van Dyke Show” is one such example.

  7. Anonymous

    Your “mini-lesson” is not haughty at all but very helpful to me. I believe we need to teach our kids to filter, and your comment helps me with how to teach that to my kids. I have 2 kids that go to a Christian school. One is a very rule-oriented child, and the other is inclined to go along with whatever. They are very shielded right now and I don’t want to them to enter the world with no idea of how the world is or how to handle it. The Bible teaches to be in the world but not of the world, and so that is what I need to teach my kids to do. -V. V.

  8. Anonymous

    Maybe if my parents’ sex talk had been more than: “Sex is bad. Don’t do it. If you get pregnant it will shame the family and we will disown you,” I wouldn’t be so screwed up now. Hoping to do better with my kids.

  9. J

    Good for you, Anonymous! I’m glad you are planning to do better with your children. The “screwed up now” line saddens me; I pray that you can work through those issues and find the intimacy God intended.

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