Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Talking To Your Kids About Sex

I spent this past weekend at the Minnesota Catholic Home Educators Conference in St. Paul, Minnesota. In two of my talks, I briefly mentioned the dangers of pornography and the need for parents to talk to their children about sexuality. After the talks, I was flooded with questions from parents wanting to know how they should talk to their children.

One thing I told them is that just giving a "no" to their kids is not going to cut it. When I was a kid I never had a talk with my parents about sex and the message I got was "NO! Don't do it!" But, society is saying "YES! Do it now, as much as you can with whomever you can!" The "no" can still be a small part of the conversation, but should never be the heart of it.

We have to give our kids something to say "Yes" to. God is much bigger than pleasure or sex. Everytime you say "yes" to one thing you say "no" to others. When I said "yes" to my wife I ruled out loving all other women in a romantic and sexual way. Love sometimes means delaying gratification, limiting yourself, and being ready to sacrifice. Marriages are strengthened by people who have such virtue and self-control.

Furthermore, parents need to talk about the big picture of relationships with their kids:
  • Why do people date and marry? Because we are made for relationships and they can draw us all closer to God and heaven by loving others.
  • Why do we have these desires and feelings? They come from God and point to our need for Him. 
  • Is it ok to have these desires and feelings? Of course. 
  • How do we properly channel them? By learning chastity and self-control
  • What does appropriate intimacy look like (whether emotionally or physically)? It depends on the level of the relationship, but true intimacy should be reserved for marriage.
These questions and many more come up when you talk to your kids about sex and relationships. So, I have put together this post as a way to help parents (and future parents) work through the issue of talking to your kids about sex. Please add any thoughts you have in the comments.

  • If you don't teach them, someone else will. Schools, friends, and the wider culture (TV, movies, music) are shoving sex down your kids throats already. You need to have the loudest and clearest voice in this conversation. Time to be proactive about educating your kids, not reactive. Parents are the primary educators of their children. This is an obligation and a gift to teach our kids!
  • You need to educate yourself so you can properly educate your children. You can't give what you don't have and your kids can't love the truth if they don't know it.
  • Important conversations with your children can only help all of you. So, make sure this isn't the only topic of conversation about life you talk with your kids about. Spend time talking about important subjects in order to teach your kids communication within the framework of the family.
  • We should not merely protect our kids, but prepare them to change the world. So, the goal of talking to your kids about sex is not to put a virtual chastity belt on your kids, but prepare them for what they will face in life.
  • It isn't about you! Your own personal sexual baggage need not be a part of the conversation nor should it ever keep you from talking to your kids about sex.
  • Your job as a parent is to form, teach, model, and help your child. Ultimately, they will make their own decisions and sometimes mess up. Your goal isn't to control your child, but to set them on a course for success in life.
  • Your kids want you to help them. For a child, the most important people in their lives are their parents (even if they never admit it). So, when your kid initiates a conversation about sex, relationships, or any other important topic - drop everything else and focus whatever time you need to to listen.
  • The culture could destroy your kid's life. The negative realities of having sex with someone you aren't married to should be talked about, even if they are not a focus. Sometimes people need a negative reason to say no. Single mothers, STDs, broken hearts, failed marriages, etc. are all reasons not to have extra-marital sex, even if they aren't the best reasons. Natural consequences happen. Kids know this.
  • Your children's souls are worth it! Don't forget the spiritual reality is that sexual sin can kill the supernatural grace of God in you. Remember that there are two levels of forgiveness - fear and love. The lower is fear of punishment, but it is enough to have your sins forgiven. The higher is love of God. If it takes fear in order to get someone to do the right thing, use it. But, use it appropriately - hell and brimstone notwithstanding. 

  • Focus on what is most important. While you need to talk about biology, the conversations you have with your kids should focus on God's plan for our lives, character, virtue, morality, and relationships. Not biology.
  • Teach them the "big picture" of sex, using the Theology of the Body and the Church's other teachings on sexuality and love. There is a reason God made us sexual beings and a healthy human is a person who has integrated their sexuality in a healthy manner. We need to teach our kids how to do this.
  • Our bodies are a reflection of God. We are made in God's image and likeness and this includes our bodies, not merely our souls. Our bodies can be used for great good (imaging God, worship, love, etc.) or great evil. They are temples of the Holy Spirit made for good.
  • If needed, use good resources. There are many good resources for parents. I will mention some below. Go through materials with your child, don't just give it to them to use on their own. But, don't feel tethered to the resources you use. Add or take out whatever you think is best.
  • Be ok with the conversation feeling a bit awkward or your own limitations. Do your best and give your child what you have. There is nobody else who can take your place in this conversation.
  • Teach them what love really is. True love = choosing what is best for another, despite what it might cost me. This kind of love is not easy, but worth it. It takes sacrifice and effort and it is the kind of love we are created by and for. This is the kind of love that says "yes" to loving another person, by not having sex until marriage.
  • Sex has a dual purpose. As the Church has always taught, there is a dual purpose to sex - babies and bonding (aka - unitive and procreative purposes of sex). Talk about both.
  • This should never be a one-time conversation, but an ongoing series of conversations. There is no "birds and bees talk" that covers everything. Make this formation a part of your family.
  • The conversations need to start at a young age. How young? 7-8 is a good starting point. Why? 90% of 8-16 year-old children have viewed porn online. The average age for first exposure to hardcore online porn is 11. You have to talk to them before the culture gets them.
  • Start the conversation with both parents (if possible). This means mom + dad + child should be the formula, especially at early ages. Try not to do it with more than one kid at a time, to stress the importance of the subject. Are there times it should be one parent? Absolutely. Dad should also talk to sons about male issues and moms with their daughters. Naturally occurring conversations with the entire family are ok, as long as their is an age-appropriate filter that takes the younger children into consideration.

This list is by no means comprehensive and I would love to add others to it, so if you have one, please let me know. With any of the resources, the parents should careful read/watch them before going through them with their children.

Catholic resources:
Non-Catholic resources:
  • 4-part series entitled “God’s Design for Sex” by Stan and Brenna Jones from NavPress. While it isn't Catholic, my wife and I love the series and have supplemented with the Theology of the Body and fullness of the Church's teachings on sexuality. We only found 1 small issue with the entire series.

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