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talking to your kids about sex

When I was a kid, I asked my dad to teach me how to swim. He said no because he didn’t do it correctly himself. He didn’t want to screw up and teach me the wrong way to swim. I eventually taught myself. To this day, I am uncomfortable in deep water because I’m not a strong swimmer and I do not trust myself not to drown.

I totally understand where my dad was coming from. I am very comfortable talking about sex and sexuality with my clients. Yet, talking to MY KIDS about sexuality (and doing it well) TERRIFIES me. I didn’t do it all right myself, and it’s such a big deal. I get it. I see all the hurtful, painful possibilities of distorted intimacy and sexuality regularly, and I want to protect my kids from that. It makes this task feel bigger and more complicated than is helpful. That’s where my anxiety comes in, the fear of MESSING UP something so important. If you are anything like me, I urge you not to let the fear of messing it up keep you from saying anything. We CAN do hard things. We are in this together, friends. There is grace in this. Believe me, we need a healthy measure of grace when it comes to sexuality because I’m not sure any of us on this green earth have figured it all out yet.

A few things to remember: This is hard, but you can do it. You MUST do it. They will learn about sex somewhere; let their first messages be true (and from you!) so they have a better filter for all the distorted messages they’ll get later. Keep it simple at first. Think about the big picture and what you want for your kids as they grow up. Then, be intentional about giving them the best possible foundation for those dreams you have for them. Utilize teachable moments, and keep it an open dialogue. The sex talk should not be a “one and done” kind of thing. It should be an ongoing conversation. Positive messages are more powerful than fear-based ones.

Here are some benchmarks to help you (and me). I gathered the following information from a book called, “How and When to Tell your Kids about Sex” by Stan and Brenna Jones. I put it into an outline to make it easy for you and I’ve added some of my own insight, as well.

My Big Picture: For our kids to become healthy adults who can have deep and meaningful relationships, where they both respect themselves and others. To enjoy having emotionally, spiritually, and sexually intimate marriages. To know and feel that sex is good and for them to enjoy.

Infancy through Kindergarten (0-5ish years):
  1. Teaching the goodness of our sexuality. Our kids are sexual beings. Use correct names for body parts, normalizing erections (It feels good, God made men that way), noticing differences in male and female parts, God made all our parts and they are good.
    • Ladies especially, be mindful of the way you talk about and interact with your own body. Your parts were made by God and they are good, friend. A little girl I babysat helped me remember this important truth. She pointed out that my breasts were very big. I agreed and (unfortunately) told her that I didn’t like them for that very reason. She didn’t miss a beat, “Why?” she said, “That’s how God made you.” Mic drop, you guys. I got schooled by a 5 year old.
  2. Sexual curiosity. Curiosity is normal. It’s ok to look at and touch their own body parts (in private) and to ask questions. Explain things truthfully, but basically/broadly. Kids are usually not looking for in-depth explanations at this age.
  3. Remember: God’s gift is good. God’s gift is private. Curiosity is good. Set clear boundaries and expectations. You could say something like, “But even though it’s a fine thing to be curious, I don’t want you to show your penis (or vagina, privates) to other kids. And I don’t want you to ask to see theirs. If you keep those parts of you private and special, it will help you to always feel that God made you in an especially wonderful way.” (p.83, 84)
  4. Know that self-stimulation and touching is unlikely to become a problem if you do not overreact. Remind your kid’s about privacy if they are doing it around others. (p.85-87).
  5. Abuse prevention (p.94-97).
    • 3 important Rules:
      1. Your body is private. “No one has the right to look or touch your privates unless it’s mommy or daddy when we bathe you, or the doctor (and mommy or daddy are there).”
      2. Do not keep secrets. “If anyone ever asks you to keep a secret from us and says that we will be mad at you if you tell, please know that is a lie. We will never be mad at you for telling, we will be so proud of you for doing the right thing in telling us.”
      3. Your body belongs to you. “We will trust you, and we want you to trust your own feelings if you feel confused or uncomfortable about the way someone looks at or touches you.”
    • Skills: Recognize danger. Teach them to pay attention to their feelings and if something feels uncomfortable or confusing, to tell you.
    • Be assertive. “No” means “no”, “stop” means “stop”. During tickling and play, these words are to be respected immediately. Do not make your kids hug or kiss anyone, including you. Asking for a hug or kiss is ok, but they are allowed to refuse. Teach your kids to expect that their wishes regarding touch will be respected immediately by you, and should be respected by everyone. This will help them identify more easily when something “doesn’t feel right” and to be more aware of the problem when someone doesn’t do this. This will also aid them in understanding reciprocity and their right to refuse, as they get older.
    • Supportive Environment
      1. Stand behind your children (if they don’t want to hug, etc)
      2. Reinforce the three critical rules (your body is private, we don’t keep secrets, pay attention to your feelings)
      3. Be aware of your child’s world (have a sense of the kids and parents and caregivers in their lives. Pay attention, and do not ignore any feelings you have, either.
Next steps: Sit down with your spouse and talk about the big picture you both have for your kids. Then, review this together and discuss it. Begin telling your kids these things in every day moments (during bath time, when they ask a question, dinner time, before going to the park or visiting family, etc).

My next post will be on the big messages we give our pre-puberty (6-11ish) age kids, then puberty age (12-18ish) kids. After that, I’ll post about what to do and how to respond if abuse is revealed. If you can’t wait, check out the book, “How and When to Tell you Kids about Sex”. It’s not a perfect book, but it has a lot of good and helpful information.

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