When I was a little girl I did not dream of growing up to be The Sex Talk Lady. Well. . . maybe that isn’t entirely true. I was the kid in Kindergarten who told all my friends where babies came from in as much detail as I understood at the time. So I guess while my career aspiration wasn’t to talk to parents about talking to their kids about sex, I have always been abnormally comfortable with having that conversation.
Because people know I’m a safe person to talk to about this, I do get a lot of questions. These questions have helped me to understand that we’re not all equally comfortable with this conversation just because we’re all adults. I honestly thought that maybe people just needed a little prompting to know how to have the conversation with their kids, but I’m understanding more and more that some people are looking for ways to actively AVOID the conversation because it makes them uncomfortable.
In my house, we just don’t have that luxury.
Because our family was formed by adoption, where babies come from is an early conversation. In fact, there are a lot of touchy conversations that happen really early in our house. Drug use, unwed pregnancies, jail, racism, poverty, orphanage life– these are all conversation topics that have happened while my kids were still preschoolers. As they get older, the conversations become more detailed, but I will answer any question my child asks me.
I once asked an adoption professional how honest we should be with our kids about their adoption story. She gave me some wisdom that has come to inform the way I do a lot of my parenting. She said, “Your child needs to know everything there is to know about their story before they leave your home. The goal is that they always know you told them the truth so that you are always a trustworthy person for them.” I have come to see that as the goal in a lot of these conversations– it’s not just about giving them factual information (although that is very important), it is about being sure they know I am a trustworthy person who will tell them the truth.
When we don’t tell our kids the truth about sex, we become untrustworthy people. We inadvertently communicate that sex is shameful, bodies are shameful, the truth is something that should be hidden. I don’t understand how parents who tell their children that God created them and made them special and wonderful are also afraid to talk to their kids about how God designed the reproductive process. Sex is only shameful if we treat it shamefully. Communicating that sex is shameful (intentionally or unintentionally) doesn’t keep our kids from being curious, it only tells them that we are not safe people to come to with their questions.
The benefit of starting this conversation when kids are really young (as soon as they’re verbal) is that you become comfortable with saying these things out loud and you make your mistakes before they are old enough to remember them. If you only ever call body parts by their correct names, then there’s never a day when you have to sit down and tell them that the name you’ve been using all this time was wrong and then bashfully tell them the correct name. I got all my blushing, stammering, “am I sure I want to say it that way” out of the way before they ever really understood what I was saying. Now they know they can talk to me and I will answer their questions honestly and I’m much less likely to fumble around.
The reality is that you don’t have to talk to a kid about sex for them to be aware that they are sexual beings. There are physically pleasurable feelings that nobody has to explain to you in order for you to find them. And if nobody DOES explain them to you, you won’t understand why it might not be a great idea to let somebody touch you there. How is a child supposed to understand healthy boundaries if nobody has talked to him about God’s beautiful design for his body?
I get so very concerned when a parent tells me they have not talked to their child about sex because they believe that will keep the child from having an awareness of sex. It’s just not possible. It only means that the child won’t come to you with questions, so they will get their information somewhere else. A neighbor, a friend from church, their cousin, your computer, their own exploration of their body– these are all potential sources of information if you decide not to talk to them about it. Is that what you want?
I want to acknowledge a painful reality I have noticed in my time as The Sex Talk Lady: Many people who are uncomfortable having this conversation with their children are people who have been sexually abused. They seem to have almost a panic response about children and sexuality and don’t want their kids to carry the burden they did of having an inappropriate sexual awareness too early in life. Can I just tell you how much I grieve for you? I hate that you experienced what you did. I hate that it colors how you feel about sex, especially when it comes to your understanding that your kids are in the process of becoming sexually aware. I don’t want to pretend to know how it would feel to have those conversations when they bring up your own pain. I just want to tell you I believe the greatest tool you can give your children is information.
I have heard the same story over and over again, “I was abused as a child and nobody gave me appropriate information about sex, so I don’t know how to talk to my kids about it and I’m scared that I’m going to damage them by bringing it up.” I just want to draw the connecting line between the abuse and the lack of knowledge for these parents. Obviously knowledge isn’t going to prevent every kind of abuse, but when we give our kids language and understanding about their bodies, we give them language to report abuse and understanding of what isn’t okay. This is how we teach kids to defend themselves in a hyper sexualized culture. I know it’s painful to try and bring up this topic when it carries that heavy weight for you, but just know it doesn’t yet carry that heavy weight for your child. But it MIGHT if you wait too long, until they already have sexual feelings and are feeling shameful about them because they don’t understand them.
Parents, it isn’t too late. Start today. Get a good book to help you have the conversation. Ask your kids what questions they have about their bodies or where babies come from or whatever. Then answer the questions honestly and in an age appropriate manner. And afterwards, reward yourself! Have a bowl of ice-cream because this stuff is tough and you’re doing it well because it matters to your kids.
Is there any specific way I can help you have this conversation? Ask questions in the comments and let’s see if we can figure out how to address this issue in a way that works for your family.