Sex Ed: Toddlers Through Kindergarten
We cannot reproduce here our whole discussion of parenting in the early years. In How and When to Tell Your Kids about Sex and in the two children’s books for young children, The Story of Me andBefore I Was Born, we emphasize the importance of grounding your child in love, of teaching them of the centrality of family and of trusting God and God’s word, and teaching them that their bodies and their sexuality are a good gift from God. Brief examples are presented below of how we deal with these issues in these books. In our more expansive treatment in the parent’s book, we also talk about how we teach through our words, through our actions, by what we praise, and by how we respond to our child’s questions.
Following taken from How and When to Tell Your Kids about Sex: A Lifelong Approach to Shaping Your Child’s Sexual Character by Stan and Brenna Jones. Copyright © 1993, 2007 by Stan and Brenna Jones. Used by permission of NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO. www.navpress.com.
“You Are Loved”
The foundation of all sex education is enabling your child to give and receive love. At the heart of Christian theology is the notion that our God is a relational God who loves, and who imparted into His creation the capacity to love and be loved: “For God so loved the world …” (John 3:16); “God is love” (1 John 4:16). Deuteronomy 6 suggests that the heart of Christian parenting is to create a family environment where the truth of the Christian faith will be incarnated, lived out, made substantial and real, in such a way that our children will find it natural to believe the gospel and live it.
The loving parent. Which is more convincing in teaching children that God loves them? The distant, rigid, unemotional parent who forces a child to memorize “God is love” and other Bible verses while rarely embracing the child? Or the loving parent who shares with a child the joys of God’s love while holding and hugging that child, thus embodying God’s love in a vivid way? A counselee of Stan’s struggled with an obsessive preoccupation with sex but had a poor sexual relationship with his wife. He described his family like this: “It was a Christian home all right. We had Bible verses and ‘God’s rules’ and hymns shoved down our throats at all hours. And through it all, I always knew that it wasn’t me that mattered; it was the rules. I had to perform to meet up to the expectations, but no one cared about me. As long as I knew verses and was a ‘good boy’ I got approval. But neither my father nor my mother really cared about me; they never wanted to know what I thought after I spouted off a verse. If I expressed a doubt or asked a question, I was a ‘bad boy’ who had to get back in line. I never knew love. They wanted my performance, but not me.”
The Centrality of Family
A battle rages in our society to define the family. Proponents of gay rights, for instance, are attempting to redefine a same-sex couple as a family just as legitimate as a heterosexual couple. Where should the line between family and non-family be drawn? This is a moral question of whether there is one ideal of what a family is meant to be, or whether humans are free to define family as suits their needs of the time.
Scripture’s picture of family. The thrust of Scripture is that God has an ideal for marriage and hence for families. That ideal is for one woman and one man to be united for life, and for children to spring from that union. This is what family is meant to be. Other groupings of people do not fully represent the ideal of what God meant families to be. God designed marriage as an earthly model of the singular devotion of Christ and His Church to each other (Ephesians 5), a devotion that permanently unites two different but equal and complementary types of beings (Christ and His people; a man and woman).
Family—the ideal type of family God means all people to experience—is thus important to God as the primary place where He intends us to learn and experience love, devotion, and union. We need to teach this courageously, but not arrogantly, to our children. We need to teach that God’s ideal will for them is to marry and have children, if He should so bless them. We should extol the benefits and goodness of this path of life.
At the same time, we should not in arrogance deny that some people experience much that is good in other family structures. Many people have no choice in living in other family forms. Many divorced parents never would have chosen that way of life had other options been possible. Few singles are unmarried by deliberate effort, and few childless couples are childless by choice. Others are in “nontraditional” families because of choices that in retrospect they recognize to have been wrong (for example, the teenage single mother). We should celebrate the good that God can work in those families. Even more, as believers we have the obligation to contribute to those persons experiencing as much of God’s blessing as possible by supporting, helping, and loving them and teaching our children to do the same.
God’s Law Is a Trustworthy Guide
In disciplining our young children, we want to teach them to trust God and God’s Law. We want to teach them the value of obedience to that Law. We do this by trusting God ourselves, by teaching God’s rules, and by explaining and defending and praising those rules. Even more broadly, we want to reenact in our families God’s redemptive dealings with us, His children. The heart of Christian faith is rooted in our responsiveness to God’s love for us—our realization of our sin, confession of that sin to God, and receiving forgiveness and restoration of relationship from God. Even when we extend forgiveness to each other and from God, the consequences of sin still follow. Asking for forgiveness for having gossiped does not erase the broken relationships and hurt feelings our actions created.
This is the drama we should reenact in our discipline. Make every act of discipline with your child an opportunity to understand how God loves, forgives, and disciplines us. If you as a parent simply spank a child for doing something wrong and are done with the discipline, you miss a wonderful opportunity to teach your child about God’s love for her or him.
Children Are Sexual Beings
Because of brain structures and their genitals, it is indisputable that our children are sexual beings, even in the womb. Ultrasound studies corroborate this by suggesting that male children may even experience erections of the penis inside the womb before birth! The infant is a sexual being after birth as well. It is not uncommon, for instance, for an infant boy to experience an erection within moments of birth, and commonly while breast-feeding. Similarly, scientific studies have suggested that it is not uncommon for infant girls to experience the feminine signs of sexual arousal (firming of the clitoris and vaginal lubrication) during nursing. Boys will experience periodic erections throughout their childhood, frequently if they touch themselves for pleasure, but even if they do not. These will become more frequent during and after puberty. It appears that girls similarly experience regular vaginal lubrication, though they can be quite unaware of this, especially if they have never heard that this happens.
Because of this, Jen needn’t worry about her infant son Luke’s erections. Even as a baby, he is a sexual creature. Young children probably respond with sexual reactions such as erection or vaginal lubrication because they respond as whole beings to any pleasure they experience. God made each of our children to be a sexual being. He made our bodies sexual in indisputable ways by His divine will; and He called our sexuality good. Thus our vital task as parents is to pass on to our children the same blessing God gave to Adam and Eve—knowing that the goodness of God’s work in them is deeper and more fundamental than the sin that afflicts us.
Be First to the Story
We should talk to our children about these realities. This brings us to our next principle of Christian sex education:
Principle 3: First messages are the most potent.
By seizing opportunities to share with our child God’s perspectives on their developing sexuality, we build their beliefs around God’s truth rather than the world’s distortions. We also establish you, the parent, as a trusted authority who tells them the truth.
The Story of Me, the first book in the God’s Design for Sex book series, is a resource for parents in starting the conversation about sexuality with your child during the ages of three to five. If you have a track record of dealing comfortably with sexuality, conversations on this topic may be commonplace. But your children may not be comfortable yet in talking with you, and so reading The Story of Me with your child may well get this conversation going. This can then lead to wonderful casual conversations like the following:
While soaping himself during his bath, four-year-old Kevin gets an erection.
CHILD: Daddy, why does my penis get hard like this sometimes?
PARENT: Well, God made us men so that our penises are very sensitive. It feels good to touch them sometimes. When your penis starts to feel good, a little extra blood from other parts of your body goes into your penis, and that makes it get a bit bigger and harder.
CHILD: Is it a bad thing?
PARENT: No, not at all. God made you that way. It’s just part of being a man.