Have you been dreading “The Talk” with your kids? You know the one I’m talking about. The talk about “the birds and the bees,” which has nothing at all to do with birds or bees. Let’s call it what it is. We’re talking about SEX.
It’s the subject that makes every parent sweat and every kid squirm, but I believe there’s a different way to tackle it. Not only is sex one of the most sacred and important lessons we need to teach to our kids; it can also be one of the most unexpected ways to truly build trust and connection with our kids. When we do it right, “The Talk” (or rather, “The many talks”) about sex can foster a unique bond of trust, mutual respect, and connection between a parent and a child.
I have four sons ranging in age from preschool to high school, so there have already been many talks along the way. They tend to pop up at unexpected times. Recently, during bath time, my seven-year-old son innocently said, “Dad, today on the playground, one of the kids was talking about S-E-X.”
My first thought was, “I’m not ready for this! He’s SEVEN. I was planning on starting the sex talk when he was in his mid-thirties.”
I didn’t know if he knew it was a real word called “sex” or if he only knew of it by it’s three infamous letters (like the CIA or FBI). I smiled and calmly asked, “S-E-X, huh? What do you think that means?”
He thought for a moment and said, “My friend said it means when two people are boyfriend and girlfriend.”
Later, I’ll tell you what I told my seven-year-old about S-E-X, plus an age-specific chart of what to say and when, but first, I’d like to address a few crucial points about how and when to start communicating with your children about these important issues. In no particular order, here are some things to keep in mind when teaching with your kids about sex:
1. They hear about it much earlier than you’d think
The internet has opened up a new world to this generation of kids, and consequently, they hear about sex younger than any previous generation. According to XXXchurch.com, the average age of first exposure to pornography is now around ten-years-old. That means the typical ten-year-old has seen explicit porn before they have ever had a conversation about sex with their parents.
Our oldest son came home from his first day of 8th grade, saying kids on the bus were sexting each other and sharing pictures of their genitals right on the bus ride. I’m thankful we’d cultivated the kind of relationship with him where he was comfortable talking to us about the real-life, unwanted sexual exposure he was experiencing. In my new book, Raising Boys Who Respect Girls, I share much more about the conversations we’ve had with him (and all our sons) about issues like sexting, porn, masturbation, puberty and everything else related to sex.
2. Our kids are getting mixed messages
It should come as no surprise that the mix of messages about sex on the school playgrounds, internet, Netflix and other easily-accessible sources is going to leave kids confused (like our son felt on that terrible bus ride on the first day of 8th grade). This means, as parents, we need to be starting these age-appropriate conversations early and keep the dialogue going consistently through every season of their development. We need to develop the trust with them from an early age that makes us (the parents) the safest place on earth for them to talk about sex (and everything else for that matter).
3. They want to be able to talk about anything with you (but they’re afraid you’re going to freak out)
Don’t freak out. Don’t’ hide from touchy subjects. You don’t need to have the “perfect” thing to say. Kids aren’t looking for perfection; they’re looking for your availability and authenticity.
When you get started, remember that the strategy isn’t about having “The Talk” but, instead, “talks.” When my dad had “The Talk” with me, it lasted around 30 seconds, and he summed it up with the wise maxim, “Just keep your weenie in your pants.” Not bad advice, but our kids today need a lot more information than that.
If you’re looking for a good starting point, this breakdown can help you connect with your kids in age-appropriate ways. My new book dives into these conversations in much more detail, but here’s a place to start:
Ages 7-9: Introduce the subject. Ask what they’ve heard. Listen. Don’t freak out if they already know more than you think they know. Reassure them that you’re always a safe place for them to ask questions and talk about anything anytime.
Ages 9-11: Begin to talk about the biological and moral aspects of sex in an age-appropriate way. Prepare them for the physical and emotional changes puberty will soon bring. Their bodies are changing in this phase, so talk about how they’re feeling. Prepare them for the physical and mental developments they’re already experiencing and will continue to experience in the years to come. Talk about the beauty of sex within a monogamous marriage and the dangers of sex when it’s misused. Clearly outline the boundaries for healthy relationships and sex, but in the process of creating boundaries, don’t demonize sex. Remember to talk about it as a beautiful, God-given gift that can be a lifelong source of connection with their future spouse when sex is used in the right way.
Ages 11-13: Address the realities of sex with delicacy, but also with bluntness. By this age, they will undoubtedly have some friends who are already experimenting sexually. Most likely, your child will have been exposed to porn by this point (whether by accident or on purpose). Share with them your hopes for their sex life and your family’s moral standards regarding sexuality. Encourage them to ask questions, even questions about your past, and answer those questions with transparency.
Ages 13+: Keep your thumb on the pulse of what’s happening with their peer group, recognizing that with each passing year, more of their friends will become sexually active. Have the courage to share some of your own past choices related to sex, even the mistakes. Talk about what you learned from your good choices and your poor choices. Reaffirm your values often, but also bring up the subject without a judgmental tone to keep the dialogue open and transparent. The more honest you are with them, the more honest they will be with you.
So, back to my seven-year-old son’s question about S-E-X, here’s what I said…
“Buddy, I’m so glad you feel comfortable talking to me about this. I always want you to be able to talk to me about anything. You’re going to be hearing a lot about sex from your friends and maybe on TV, and most of what you’ll hear won’t be true. As you get older, I will explain more about this, but for right now, the main things you need to know are that sex is a beautiful gift God made for a Mommy and a Daddy who are married and it’s part of His perfect plan for making babies. It’s beautiful, but it’s also private, so just like you don’t talk about your private parts or other people’s private parts on the playground, you shouldn’t be talking about sex either. If you ever have any questions about sex, or about anything, else, I want you to always feel comfortable asking me, okay? Ask me anything, anytime. We’ll talk a lot more about this as you get older. I love you, buddy.”
That was just one simple talk, but it was building trust and connection with him that will hopefully create a lifetime of talks even as the questions grow more complex and life gets more complicated. Teaching our kids about sex might sound scary, but it doesn’t have to be. When done right, it can be a subject where you and your kids can develop new bonds of trust and mutual understanding. For more research, tips and tools to help you navigate the road ahead, check out my new book, Raising Boys Who Respect Girls, and my new video course at HowToTeachYourKidsAboutSex.com.