How to Talk to Your Children about Sex: When Do I Begin?
In our last post, we discussed the crucial precedent to talking to our children about sex: develop our own belief on the subject. Now that we have a foundation, this week we will unpack when to actually begin having these conversations with our children. Is there an optimal time frame that considers our child’s emotional capacity while laying a foundation before outside sources do? The answer is yes and it is also no.
Each child is different – and your family, culture, society, and worldviews as a parent are different, too. Therefore, chronological age is only one factor in the determination of timing. However, there are generally appropriate times to begin and continue the discussion on sex. And it starts much younger than we often think.
Between ages 2-5, children are increasingly curious about themselves and the world around them. They start to notice their various body parts and their functions. Arms, ears, vagina, nose – they notice it all. However, as parents we tend to skim over the ‘vagina’ portion of anatomy 101 in fear of harming our child’s innocence. I would submit that this age is ideal for teaching children about the splendor of God’s creation, including their bodies! When you identify their ears and nose, also identify their vagina or penis – instead of elevating it onto an unnecessary and secretive pedestal. As you share with them the purpose of each body part, you get to claim the beauty and function of the genital areas. You get to teach them that these areas are good, and because they are good, we protect them with privacy. In this age, you can also:
- Help them grow in understanding of their gender.
- Affirm your child’s curiosity. They are not ‘wrong’ or ‘shameful’ for being curious about their body parts and others. As parents, if we display shame in talking about sex, our children will pick up on it.
- Use correct terminology to describe body parts.
- Prepare yourself for specific questions about sex. Be comfortable going as far as your child wants to go (this is where ‘every child is different’ comes into play).
- Share the value of their private parts – and the boundaries we set around them for others and ourselves.
- Instill a healthy body image for your child.
In laying this foundation, we prepare them for more specific questions on sex.
Between ages 6 and 9, children express heightened curiosity about sex, reproduction, gender roles, and their own emotions/sexual feelings. After laying the foundation of the beauty of God’s creation, you have prepared a platform to dive into more specific topics. In this age frame, continue to keep the door open for honest, open communication. Welcome and encourage questions about sex, masturbation, pornography, and relationships. Check in with your child and initiate by asking clear questions, modeling for them the ability to do this same. Children are often curious about their parents’ marriage and sex life and want to know personal stories. Fight the urge to ignore these topics and instead, press in, allowing your child a safe place to explore with you. Children express the desire to learn these things from their parents over other sources; however, if we choose to stay silent, they are forced to search for it elsewhere.
Between 10-14, your child’s body is rapidly changing. It is important to prepare them for the natural body changes that they will experience. Discuss the feelings and facts surrounding menstrual cycles, acne, voice and hair changes, and body parts changing. Let them know that it is okay and normal, no matter what age it begins. This age is a great time to:
- Continue affirming gender roles.
- Help children begin to develop their own values concerning sex.
- Discuss sexual feelings and attractions.
- Continue education about pornography and masturbation.
- Set healthy boundaries concerning laptop and phone use.
- Discuss the importance of coming to parents when they have sexual concerns.
- Continue expressing the goodness of God’s design for sex.
By the age of 15, you have given your children a wealth of understanding. You have taught them about God and his purpose for sex, you have affirmed their curiosity and feelings about sex, and you have educated them on their role in the matter. However, at this age, they have also received many messages from the media, society, and friends. They have a tremendous access to outside messages through television, the Internet, phones, friends, and even their school’s sexual education. It is crucial to continue ongoing dialogue about sexuality with your children to help them discern what is true and what is a distortion concerning sex. You can also:
- Help them begin shaping their own understanding of God’s purpose for sex.
- Help them navigate dating relationships and the emotional/sexual feelings involved.
- Continue explaining boundaries as protectors of what is good.
- Discuss the role of shame and guilt in sexual experiences.
- Continue affirming their ability to come to you for questions, concerns, advice, and comfort.
There is no perfect formula for sharing about sex with your children. However, because of the mystery and awkwardness often surrounding the topic, it is natural to want to avoid it altogether. Instead, we have the privilege to explore the topic of sex at a young age. Instead of having one ‘talk,’ we allow for many open conversations about sex. In doing so, we meet our children where they are at developmentally and allow a safe space to return.