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 and Before 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.
Some content below taken from HOW AND WHEN TO TELL YOUR KIDS ABOUT SEX, by Stan and Brenna Jones. Copyright © 1993, 2007, 2019. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. To purchase books in the GOD’S DESIGN FOR SEX book series, go to https://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 6:5-9 suggests that the heart of Christian parenting is, in love, 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 rigid, unemotional parent who forces a child to memorize “God is love” and other Bible verses? 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 of origin like this: “It was a Christian home all right. We had Bible verses and ‘God’s rules’ shoved down our throats at all hours. I felt I had to perform to meet up to the expectations, but no one cared about me. They never wanted to know what I thought after I recited a verse. If I expressed a doubt or asked a question, I was a ‘bad boy’ to bring back in line.” What a poor embodiment of love.
Love Shapes Character
Is simply loving your infant really a part of shaping your child’s sexual character? Absolutely. Our sexuality is a part of our relational nature, our capacity to give and receive love. Learning to love and be loved in the family is the true bedrock of all sexual development. When you give children a secure base of trust from which to launch out into the world, you are preparing them for oneness in an eventual marriage.
Thankfully, parents do not have to meet their child’s needs perfectly. One approach to psychology has coined the concept of being a “good enough” parent—a parent who is able to do a basically adequate job of meeting the child’s needs. Parenting is like the weaving of a grand tapestry; there are no critical threads, but rather what matters is the overall shape the artwork takes. In a loving family environment, the child can grow to love God and others.
THE CENTRALITY OF FAMILY
In our society, a battle rages to define the family. Proponents of gay rights, for instance, are attempting to redefine a same-sex couple as a family and 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 general ideal (or a cluster) of what a family is meant to be or whether humans are free to define family as suits their needs of the time.[i]
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 the core of family is meant to be, even as our families extend across generations. Groupings of people built on other foundations do not fully represent the ideal of what God meant families to be. God designed marriage as an earthly model of the singular devotion to each other exhibited by Christ and his church (Ephesians 5:22–33), 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 children 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 should extol the benefits and goodness of this path of life.
At the same time, we should not deny in arrogance that people do experience much that is good in other family structures. Many 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 childless couples are childless by choice. Others are in “nontraditional” families because of choices that in retrospect they recognize as 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
Often, our children need to trust God’s law and follow it before they can fully understand it in a mature way, as do many adults. This is especially true with God’s rules about sexuality in the hormone-charged adolescent years. We need to think and work intentionally toward establishing a foundation of trust in our children that God’s law is a good and trustworthy guide for all of life, and the value of obedience to that law, through the way we discipline our children.
We do this by trusting God ourselves, by teaching God’s rules, and by explaining, 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. But it does not stop there. We are also to forgive each other as he forgave us. Even when we receive God’s forgiveness and we extend forgiveness to each other in God’s name, the consequences of sin may remain. Asking for forgiveness for having gossiped does not erase the broken relationships and hurt feelings our actions created.
We should reenact God’s pattern of forgiveness 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 suggest that male children even experience partial 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 (or at least a firming of the penis) while breastfeeding. Some have suggested that infant girls may 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 need not 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.
It is important to qualify this, however. Children are not sexual in the same way before puberty as they are after puberty. It is a mistake to “eroticize” children—to interpret the reactions as them responding like an adult would. They do not lust or have other adult erotic reactions. They are just responding as embodied, emotional beings, as God intended.
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 Set the Foundation
Parents should be the first to 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 your child God’s perspectives on their developing sexuality, you build their beliefs around God’s truth rather than the world’s distortions. It also establishes you, the parent, as a trusted authority who tells them the truth. The earlier you start, the easier it will be later. Additionally, kids learn better through small chunks than in big “information dumps.” Gradual introduction of this information also better mirrors the biblical exhortation to instruct your children as you go about your way, as you lie down and rise up.
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 between 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 Matias 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.
Some content taken from HOW AND WHEN TO TELL YOUR KIDS ABOUT SEX, by Stan and Brenna Jones. Copyright © 1993, 2007, 2019. Used by permission of NavPress. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. To purchase books in the GOD’S DESIGN FOR SEX book series, go to https://www.navpress.com.
[i] In chapter 2, we discussed how the 2015 Supreme Court decision to legalize same-sex marriage was premised on the individual’s right to “define and express their identity” (p. 2). The implications of this decision do not, of course, stop with the individual. Kennedy’s combination of a new right to “define and express their identity” with a “right to marry” (p. 22–23) basically creates a constitutional right for every individual to define marriage and family in whatever manner one sees fit. Justice Roberts and others, speaking in dissent, pointed out that this immediately opens the door to polygamous marriage and other distorted forms of marriage (p. 20–21). Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ___ (2015), http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/14pdf/14-556_3204.pdf.