I had an amazing talk with Ethan a few weeks ago while he was still eight years old. No, it was not THE TALK. It was rather one of many talks that we have had and hopefully will continue to have over the years to come. Let me give you some background.
The fact of the matter is while I can technically say I was a virgin when I got married, I messed up a lot with sexuality throughout high school and college. I have experiences I truly regret that continue to have an emotional and spiritual impact even now. I don’t want my children to go through that. So, in order to keep them from making sexual mistakes I had a plan. I would hide everything about sex I possibly could from them and then scare the living daylights out of them about the rest. Then it occurred to me. That was my dad’s sex education plan. I only remember one talk with him ever. He warned me before I left for college that some girl would find out I wanted to be pure and she would set her sights on me and try to “conquer” me. Sadly, I was 17 and my hormones were raging and while the spiritual side of me was saying, “Oh, how awful,” the other side of me was saying, “I sure hope so.” In that little bit of self-admission can you see the problem with the “hide and scare” sex education plan?
Hiding it only produces curiosity. The fear only produces rebellion. That is what it produced in me and I realized it would produce that in my kids. Sadly, I was curious about sexuality but I was afraid to talk to my parents about it and learn from them. So, I learned about sex at school (and I don’t mean from health class), work and from pornography-whether it was the locker room brag sessions, the clandestine centerfold passed around under the teacher’s nose, the stories of the sexually active girls and guys I worked with or the video one of the guys on my dorm floor rented and showed in his room.
Let me ask you, is that how you want your kids to learn about sex? Trust me. if you purposefully or even unconsciously take the “hide and scare” method, that is exactly where your kids will learn about it. Gone are the days where we can hide sex from our kids and they make it to marriage and just learn for themselves (even if you are a homeschooler). The fact is, if you don’t take the upper hand on this one and inoculate your kids with healthy teaching and exposure to sexuality you better know that Satan will get it into their little hands somehow. I know about one child who was told how to unlock some easter egg of pornographic pictures on a video game by another kid in his bible class. If you want to know how really bad it can get, I know of a story of a teenage girl who met with her youth minister to ask a question about oral sex. She had a rep among the boys in the youth group as being pretty good at it but was starting to have second thoughts about whether it was right. What a rude awakening for the youth minister.
Do you get the point? Dads, Moms start thinking about how you are going to talk to your kids. Go a step further. Start talking to them about it.
So back to my conversation with Ethan.
Ethan has started Cub Scouts again. One of the very first things we have to go through is “safety” training in which I read to Ethan some safety rules about strangers and such. Included in that was the rule that his body is his body and he doesn’t have to let anyone do anything to his body that makes him feel uncomfortable. As part of that process, we went through some scenarios and he was to respond how he could act. For instance, if a man pulls up while he is playing in the yard and says, “Hey pal, can you come help me find my dog?” Ethan knows to say, “No. But I’ll get my Dad and he can help you.”
Another scenario was what should he do if someone offers to show him pictures of naked people. WOW! Didn’t expect that from the Cub Scouts, but kudos to them for putting it in there. Now, the old me didn’t want Ethan to know that it was even possible to see pictures of naked people anywhere. What was I going to do with this? I could just skip it. But I didn’t. I went ahead and asked him. Of course, he gave the right answer. “I’d tell them no and come home.”
What would I do next? I could have said, “Great answer, Son,” and moved on to the scenario about the missing dog. Instead, I probed a little. I didn’t tape the conversation, so this isn’t word for word, but it went something like this:
“I bet that would be hard to say no to. I mean, bet you’re a little curious what a naked woman looks like aren’t you.”
“Yes sir,” he responded.
“What do you think you should do even though you are really curious?” I asked.
“I should still say no.”
“That’s right. You know what. There is absolutely nothing wrong with being curious about what a naked woman looks like. God made us to grow up and be sexual people and curiosity is part of that. But did you know that God has a plan through which we can learn all about our curiosities about women?”
“Absolutely. He has given us marriage. When you get married, you’ll be able to see the woman you marry naked and learn all about it and learn to enjoy it. And if you wait until then to pursue your curiosity it will be a great thing.”
I continued, “Let me ask you, Ethan. Has anyone ever tried to show you a picture of ***** *****?”
I inwardly sighed with relief when he said, “No sir.”
“Very good. I have to tell you when I was your age, I was out playing baseball with some guys and one guy brought a picture of a naked woman and I was really curious…”
Ethan interrupted, “But you said no way, I’m not looking, didn’t you.”
“I wish I had said that. Sadly, I didn’t. I looked. And you know what. It didn’t take my curiosity away. It just made it stronger and made it harder for me to say no when I was older. It taught me all kinds of wrong things about women and sex. It even has caused problems for me up to today with your mom. That’s why I’m telling you about this. Because I want to protect you from that kind of harm.”
I went on, “Because I’ve done some wrong things, I want to do everything in my power to help you avoid those wrong things because I know how harmful they are. I so want you to be be pure as you grow older. However, I also want you to know that if you make a mistake like I did, you can come talk to me about it. I know that I will be sad for you. But I remember when I made mistakes, I was very upset at me and I needed to talk to someone but I didn’t feel like I could because I knew I would just get in trouble. I want you to know if you make a mistake, I won’t be happy about it, but you can talk to me about it and I will still love you. I’ll be there to help you get over it and get past it. Do you think you can do that?”
“Yes sir. How much longer do we have to do this?”
I cut him loose at that point.
Key points I hope you got out of that conversation.
1) Talk about sex as if it is completely natural. I want my kids to know talking to me and their mom about sex is the most natural place to talk about it.
2) Affirm that curiosity about sexuality is natural. My son is not a freak or a pervert because he is curious about ***** *****. Neither is yours. And let me assure you if your son is getting close to 10 he is curious about ***** *****. I’m just glad that my son felt safe enough to be honest with me about it.
3) Express God’s plan for pursuing our curiosity in a positive light. Too many parents spend so much time being negative about sex when they talk about it that kids grow up afraid of sex even in marriage.
4) Non-judgmentally discuss what experiences they have had or might have had. If, God forbid, someone ever does show my son a picture of a naked woman, I want him to feel comfortable telling me about it so I can help him work through the feelings of excitement, guilt, curiosity and shame it will produce.
5) Share your own mistakes and their consequences. I used to be afraid doing this would provide tacit permission for my kids to make the same mistakes. I imagine in some few cases that will happen. However, now I realize it actually produces two positive results. First, it helps them feel comfortable talking with me if they make a mistake. They know I’ve made mistakes and so I won’t simply be sitting in judgment over them. Second, it lets them know in a non-threatening way how negative improper sexual conduct is and how it will impact their lives. In other words, it provides them with honesty where as the kids at school and the pornographers either have no idea what sexual acting out does or they ignore it and just lie to them.
6) Assure your children they can talk to you even about their mistakes and you will still love them. Again, I want my kids to know they can talk to me. If my son or daughter ends up going “too far” on a date, I don’t want them hiding that on the inside. Such isolation will only breed shame that will likely drive them to act out further the next time. Talking to me may provide the relief and forgiveness and education that helps them overcome and not commit the same mistake twice.
There is no foolproof plan for this. I don’t think there is a set way to teach about sex that will absolutely assure your children will never make a mistake. But I think this approach is better than the “hide and scare” tactic I was placing so much stock in before. I offer it to you for what it’s worth.
As I close, let me share with you the book that has helped me out the most on this topic. I encourage you to get it and read it. It helps lay out a plan for age appropriate sexual education beginning with infancy on through the early adult years. It is Mark Laaser’s Talking to Your Kids About Sex: How to Have a Lifetime of Age-Appropriate Conversations with Your Children About Healthy Sexuality.