As a parent, you are the best person to educate your child about sexuality. However, our children’s culture poses threats to a healthy perspective on sexuality.
For decades, social media and our culture at large have presented a caricature of the sweaty-palmed, birds-and-bees conversation in which Dad stammers through a convoluted description of sex to a pre-adolescent child — who, it turns out, knows all of the details already. However, talking about sex and puberty with your children is a bit more unique and nuanced than this common image.
The humour arises from the tension most parents feel about discussing sex with their children. “What if we tell her too much?” “Will this rob him of his innocence?” “What if she starts asking about what we do?”
What isn’t so funny is the reality that too many children learn about sex from everyone but their parents. Playground slang and obscenity can give children an entry into a new understanding of sex and puberty. Even worse, an inadvertent or intentional look at some pornographic material provides a child’s first jarring glimpse of sex. What should be seen as the most beautiful, meaningful and private communication between a married couple becomes a curiosity that can quickly spiral.
Sex Education or Sexual Wholeness?
Efforts by public schools to correct misinformation from the street and lack of information from home often leave out a critical ingredient: the moral framework within which the facts about reproduction should be presented. Without an ethical context, sex education becomes little more than basic training in anatomy, physiology, infectious diseases, and contraception.
Many have made laudable efforts to teach principles of sexuality to their youth groups. But these important concepts are not always accompanied by accurate medical information or refusal skills. Furthermore, youth-group presentations usually begin late in the game (i.e., during the teen years) and rarely involve an on-going dialogue about this subject.
Even more glaring are the downsides of talking about sex and puberty in the context of purity. Dr Danny Huerta often counsels parents on this topic in promoting sexual wholeness above sexual purity. Put simply, purity communicates an all or nothing significance to sexual intimacy. If broken, then it can leave a child with no hope. However, sexual wholeness incorporates foundations of redemption, healing, and hope from brokenness while still stressing the value and importance of virginity and sexual intimacy.
Talking about Sex and Puberty Begins in the Home
The best place for a child to learn about sexuality is at home from those who care most about him. Anyone can teach the basic facts about reproduction in an hour or two (or they can be read in any of several reference books).
But you are in the best position to put this information in the proper context and give it the right perspective over a period of years. There are no cut-and-dried formulas for carrying out this assignment, but keep the following principles in mind:
1. Facts Aren’t Necessarily Bad
Giving a child facts about reproduction, including details about intercourse, does not rob him of innocence. Innocence is a function of attitude, not information. A school-age child who understands the specifics of sex, while seeing it as an act that, in the proper context, both expresses love and begins new life, retains his innocence. But a child who knows very little about sex can already have a corrupt mind-set if he has been exposed to it in a degrading, mocking or abusive context.
2. Investigate Your Opinions and Feelings
If you feel squeamish or inhibited about broaching this subject with your child, reflect for a moment about your own attitudes. Books that are reliable, informative and honouring to sex and marriage can also be very helpful. But for many people uneasiness about sex may be rooted in life experiences, especially if they involve sexual abuse experienced during childhood, adolescence or even adulthood. It is never too late to address such issues with an individual who has training and experience in this area and can help you work toward healing.
3. Take Your Time
Don’t wait to tell your child everything you know about sex during a single, intense marathon session. Doing so risks either waiting until it’s too late or dumping more in the child’s lap than he can process. Instead, gradually release information during conversations over a period of several years. The same principle applies to any other area of life. Topics like faith, values, responsibilities, relationships, handling money require multiple, ongoing conversations. Similar to talking about sex and puberty, these subjects are too important for a single conversation.
4. Need to Not Have to
In many instances, you will be giving information on a need-to-know basis. Your five-year-old is probably going to want to know how the baby inside Aunt Susie is going to get out. But your child may not think to ask how the baby got there. And you don’t need to broach the subject at that time. On the other hand, if you haven’t yet had any discussions about reproduction with your ten-year-old, you will need to take the initiative to start some conversations. She needs to hear from more reputable and mature sources.
5. You Don’t Need All the Answers
What if your child asks you questions you can’t answer? Be honest, and then do some research. You gain far more stature in your child’s eyes by showing candour than by bluffing. Also, you may not have a detailed knowledge of the intricacies of the menstrual cycle or the developmental stages of puberty. But you’re never too old to learn.
Where Do We Go from Here?
Conversations about sexual wholeness, as mentioned before, can and should last as long as your children are in your home. So, where do you go from here? Depending on your child’s grasp of complex topics like sex and puberty, you may have a few options. Put your child and his or her development first. Then, you can know how to appropriately handle important conversations with your children.
© 1999 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Excerpted from The Complete Book of Baby and Child Care, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers. Published at focusonthefamily.com.
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