A few years ago, I attended a Christian women’s conference. One of the breakout sessions was titled, “Sex! Now that I Have Your Attention, Let’s Talk About Sex.” It got my attention so I went.
Christian conversations about sex always interest me because it reveals so much about your background and how you were raised. If you read my last blogpost, I gave you a glimpse of part of my childhood. I grew up in an incredibly sheltered community during my preteen and early teenage years. One of the rules of this community was absolutely no dating until after college. This must have been awesome for my dad, who at the time had 4 daughters ages 10-15, although this did not shelter us completely from the arena of relationships and boyfriends.
The culture around sex has changed so much in the last century. In the 1950’s, episodes of I Love Lucy depicted Lucy and husband Ricky sleeping in separate twin beds. Sex and even pregnancy was taboo on public television. Fast forward to today when most shows and movies depict tons of premarital sex and very little sexual satisfaction after marriage. All of these subtle messages are inundating us all the time. It makes me worried about the philosophy my children will have about sex.
So, back to this women’s conference. It was a relatively conservative Christian conference so I expected one of two things: (1) either the presenter is all about no premarital sex and how she maintained her purity and virginity until marriage or (2) she had a horrible experience like she was molested as a child and how she overcame the baggage that comes from experiencing that. I was surprised but the focus was on neither.
I don’t remember her name so for the sake of this post, let’s call the speaker Jill. Jill did not focus on her own experience with sex as an adult but on how her mother introduced sex to her as a child. I was blown away and for the first time felt like I had a tool on how to talk about sex and how to approach sex with my children.
Jill was always a curious child, especially when it came to sex. She grew up on a farm and watched the animals mating and a few months later, giving birth. One day, when she was about 8 years old, it clicked and she thought, “Surely not mom and dad!” so she went and asked her mom, “How are babies made?” Her mom told her point blank the mechanics behind making a baby. Jill was like, “EW! I never want to do that!” Her mother responded by saying, “When you grow up and meet someone who will love and care for you, it’s a very special thing you share after you’re married. Right now some things are very difficult to do because you’re not ready, but when you get older you will be. Look at baby brother. He can’t walk or jump yet, but when he is ready, he will. We can’t expect him to do those things now though.” Jill’s classic response: “I don’t ever want to get married. I just want to live with you forever.” Her mother’s classic response: “Daddy and mommy would love that very much.” Her mom also went on to explain to her that this conversation about sex was between her and mommy. Her mom said, “If kids at school want to talk about it, you tell them that that’s something you talk about only with your mom.”
After a while Jill approached her mom and said, “I want to see what a naked man looks like.” Whenever I tell my friends this part of the story they all kind of freak out like, “What kind of child says that or wants that?” I am no psychologist so correct me if I am wrong, but I think it is completely normal for children to be curious about these things and it’s our culture and the way we were raised that make it seem like it’s something bad to be curious about sexuality. Not all kids are this curious, but some are.
So Jill’s mom says, “Well, you have your little brother and you remember when I would change his diaper.” “No, mom, I want to see what a grown up man looks like.” “Well, daddy isn’t going to model for you, so you’re just going to have to wait.”
Well, the day came when she finally got to see what a naked man looks like. Her aunt had just moved into a new house and it was moving-in day. The kids were running around the house looking into all the rooms, opening all the cabinets and just doing things that kids do in a completely empty house. Jill opened the stove and found some Play Girl magazines from the previous owner. She grabbed one of them and ran to the bathroom. After she skimmed through it, she found the centerfold. There was a man without a stitch of clothing, in the middle of the woods with a motorcycle. Jill went outside, grabbed her mom and dragged her to the bathroom with her. She opened the magazine to the centerfold and exclaimed, “LOOK, MOM, A NAKED MAN!”
At this point I was flipping out. If my daughter had come to me with a Play Girl magazine like that I would be like, “Where did you get that? That is so bad. Don’t ever look at those things again!” But the way this mother handled the situation blew me away. She was totally calm and said, “Uh huh. Isn’t he handsome? God made our bodies to be so beautiful.” She commented on how the curtains matched the drapes and really let her daughter dwell on it. After a bit she said, “You know, God wants us to use our bodies to glorify Him, but unfortunately, the people who took this photo weren’t trying to give glory to Him. Although this man is very handsome, do you know if he is kind? Do you know if he is caring? Do you know if he is honest? We don’t know these things and those are the types of things that really make a man attractive.”
Of course, Jill grew up and got married a virgin, but the point of her presentation, at least for me, was more about how we approached sex than about how we avoid it. I grew up where even talking about sex was bad. The sad thing is, the world is talking about sex nonstop so if we as parents and Christians aren’t talking about it, then the world will be the only resource our children will have when they are developing their own philosophies about sex.
So here are some tips about how to talk about sex with your daughters (I think boys function differently than girls and I am still developing the approach I can work with when approaching this subject with my son- hint hint to daddy).
- Keep an open door philosophy with your kids. Jill’s mom was approachable, available, and nonjudgmental. Even when Jill was getting older she felt absolutely comfortable taking her mom into the bathroom with her to show her the Play Girl centerfold. We want to keep as much openness as possible between us and our children especially in the preteen years so we have an open window into the kinds of things they are dealing with at different stages of their lives. This doesn’t mean we have to interfere if they aren’t doing what we want or if they aren’t telling us everything, but we want to know what is going on in their lives until they are mature enough to know what is right and wrong and what is appropriate and inappropriate.
- Don’t EVER freak out if they say or ask anything. We should encourage curiosity by respecting their questions or comments. In the event that they tell you about a molestation incident, it is even more important to remain calm, communicate that you believe them, and have a sense of urgency, but not anger about dealing with the issue. Kids automatically think you can’t handle the truth if you react with anger. I think this applies to everything they tell you. If they tell you they got in trouble at school and you freak out and get angry, they probably won’t tell you if they got molested because kids hate seeing their parents upset. Calm communication is key. Let your kids know that you are listening and are trying to understand what they are saying. Affirm them if the other person is at fault or explain the consequences if they are at fault (in the event that they got in trouble at school or something like that). Child molestation is NEVER the child’s fault.
- Tell them that sex is a great thing that is definitely worth waiting for. Sex isn’t a bad thing as long as the context is good. I think letting your kids, at a very young age, ask all the questions they want about sex is important so they know that you don’t view sex as dirty or bad. As they get older and more mature, be sure to tell them that there are many people who have made sex into something that is horrible. Tell them about how they can protect themselves from the people and situations who want to hurt them through sex.
- Be realistic in your expectations about sex with them. This conversation is probably suited for our older girls. I have a few friends who never kissed until their engagement or well into their dating life. I even have a few friends who never kissed until their wedding day. This is awesome, but the majority of my friends were definitely not virgins on their wedding day. In our Christian communities it is so easy to put this pressure on our girls to be virgins until their wedding day that they feel that if they aren’t virgins on their wedding day, their life is doomed. I honestly believe that sex outside of marriage is sin and needs forgiveness, but I want my daughter to know that “sex outside of marriage” involves a huge spectrum of emotional and physical risks. Some friends never had sex with anyone else before marriage except with the one who eventually became their husbands. Some had tons of casual sex partners. Some people were prostitutes and strippers before they met Christ. These scenarios are all very different and all have very different types of emotional and physical baggage. I want my daughter to know that her decisions about sex will impact her marriage and that I hope she can be a virgin on her wedding day but that the choice is hers. This would probably be the time to talk about birth control too. Oh my gosh, I’m getting scared thinking about this even though my daughter is not even 3.
Every child is different and needs a different approach. Jill was an exceptionally curious child but yours may not be. Your child may not feel comfortable talking about it with you. That may mean that kids are already talking about it at school or they just don’t care at the moment. Either way, I do think that it is the parents’ responsibility to have this conversation with their children.
Please comment below if you have found any good resources on this topic for girls and/or boys. Please comment below your opinions on this topic too.
(Disclaimer: I am not a therapist so my views should not be taken as professional advice. These are just my opinions.)