Parenting is a learn-on-the-job adventure, never more so than in figuring out how to talk to your kids about their bodies and sex.
Like nearly every girl of my generation, I was handed a book about sex (probably something terrifying like “Growing Up Is Beautiful”) and taught myself how to use tampons by reading the Kotex box. My sweet Mama did better than her own parents, she had no idea what was happening when she started her period and thought she was dying.
So here I am trying to raise healthy kids – boys! – wanting to do a good job teaching my kids about their bodies and sexuality, wanting openness and to avoid shame. Wanting them to be ready for this age of sexualized rice-a-roni commercials and p0rnography that is available 24-7 at the click of a button.
If we ever get to know if we’ve succeeded in this area, it won’t be until they are older, but we’re trying hard to be proactive in this area. We’ve made a few decisions and found a few resources that have been super helpful.
10 Year Old Guy Trip
If I had a daughter, I’d get to participate in this one, but so far it’s all Matt’s job. He’s taken our older two to World’s of Fun for a Dad-Son getaway the year they turned 10. They have a great time riding roller coasters and water slides, and spend the night in a hotel. Then over breakfast the next morning, Matt talks to them about puberty, their bodies, and changes that will be happening soon. I assume this talk covers wet dreams and other things about which I have no experience. I know for sure this talk includes Matt’s own history with p0rnography, and the invitation to talk to him about it anytime they need.
I love that this tradition provides place and space to have important conversations, so they don’t get put off. And I love that it puts those conversations in a relational context, with connection and support.
But we don’t leave the entire conversation for that trip, because we believe we need to…
Talk early, talk openly, talk often
Because this conversation is so awkward, it’s tempting to make it a one-time occurrence. But kids learn through repetition. And I’ve found it’s easiest and best to start talking when kids are curious but not yet embarrassed. We have a book my kids love that has kept these conversations coming steadily. More steadily than I’d prefer sometimes. As important as I think this conversation is, who really wants their 9 year old asking over dinner if they’re planning to have SEXUAL INTERCOURSE later (you could hear the all caps in his voice)?
Statistically, most addicts were exposed to p0rnography between the ages 8-12, so I first talked to my kids about what p0rn is, and why it’s not healthy for them, before 8. Traditionally this conversation was thought to be necessary only for boys, but my experience with college women tells me this is a BIG FAT LIE.
Anyone who’s tried to have open, regular discussions with their kids about private, personal things knows this is harder than it seems. Being Christians actually makes this a little harder, since the church is not really a place where we’re taught to be normal about sex or our bodies (unfortunately.) And if I feel shame or embarrassment about sexuality or my body, I’m bound to communicate that to my kids, accidentally or on purpose. But we’ve tried really hard to remove shame or embarrassment from this topic.
We have always used correct biological terms (easier for boys than if I had girls, I think), or talked about girl parts and boy parts rather than using nick names.
We’ve worked hard to recognize normal, human curiosity around bodies, and to answer those questions openly and honestly.
We are very very careful with the concept of modesty, because there is so much shame wrapped up in that topic and I don’t want to perpetuate shame. I want my boys to practice thinking of the girls and women in their lives as people created in God our Father’s image, daughters of God, no matter what they wear. I want them to know that how they think of women is in their own control, as is how they treat women. I’m am doing all I can to raise men outside of the “boys will be boys” mentality (because that nonsense doesn’t help anybody.)
Talk about consent, teach kids that they are in full control of their bodies
I have strong opinions about consent , grown from years of watching the results of our failure as a culture to address consent in anywhere near a healthy way, so this probably deserves a post of its own.
For now, I’ll say: It is really important that we teach kids that they have a voice and a vote where their body is concerned. They don’t have to hug people they don’t want to, they don’t have to receive affection or touch of any kind if they don’t want to. Even if it makes someone else unhappy: if you don’t want someone touching your body, they don’t get to touch you. And no one gets to tell you that something happening to your body is OK – if it’s not OK with you, it’s not OK. And that goes both ways: You don’t touch anyone who doesn’t want to be touched, or in a way they don’t want to be touched.
How about you? Do you feel squirmy talking to your kids about bodies and sex?
What conversations have been helpful for you? What has worked and what didn’t work?
Coming Saturday: Resources that have been helpful for us (a podcast and 2 really great books!)