Sex Ed: Timing “The TALK”
The timing of telling your child about intercourse is a strategic decision made considering the needs and maturity level of your child, as well as the circumstances of your family; it is not a moral decision. There is no divine rule.
We do not know when children in ancient Israel learned about sex, but they lived in a culture dependent on breeding, raising, and consuming animals, a culture in which the fertility cycles, breeding strategies, and births of animals would be regular occurrences. They also lived in a culture short on privacy in which, as best we understand it, some young people married quite early by our standards.
Theirs was also an earthy culture in which God spoke to his people in earthy terms. For example, through the prophet Ezekiel, God talked in a brutal and explicit way about his people’s spiritual unfaithfulness (Ezekiel 23). He compared them to two sisters who act like whores, even to the point of fantasizing that their immoral lovers have penises the size of those of donkeys and semen ejaculations comparable to that of horses![i] God’s Word, in all its explicitness—including stories about incest, adultery, prostitution, and the like—was read aloud every Sabbath in the ancient synagogue. We can’t assume that ignorance, silence, and embarrassment was the Hebrew approach to talking about sex.
Whether children will be traumatized by hearing about sexual intercourse depends entirely upon how they are told. Lurid or overly graphic descriptions are not healthy for children, and hearing or seeing such depictions is increasingly a risk in today’s media-driven culture. In many households, nine- and ten-year-old students watch R-rated movies on cable television. The kids who don’t see such movies themselves are regaled with vivid descriptions from these movies on the playground.
By being the first to tell your children about sexual union in marriage, you can prevent them from getting an initial impression that is distorted or destructive. This is another application of our Principle 3: “First messages are the most potent.” Better to form a child’s view of sexuality from scratch than to correct the distortions the child could pick up. Building a godly view of sexuality and sexual intercourse after children digest distorted views would be like trying to teach children good nutrition after years on junk food. For this reason, we urge parents to tell children about sexual intercourse between ages five and seven. The question of how to do this leads us to . . .
Principle 5: Accurate and explicit messages are best.
Tell them the truth. Be clear and direct, avoiding language that is figurative, too technical, or obscure. This doesn’t mean being indiscreet or lewd. Typically, little damage is done by giving a bit too much information if the information is true, sensitively described, and offered in a positive spirit. Children absorb the information they are interested in and understand, and they seem simply to ignore whatever they cannot grasp. Strike a balance: Don’t bore them with details they don’t want—that will discourage them from coming to you. But if you make them feel like they are making you uncomfortable, they may get the information they want somewhere else.
HOW TO TELL THEM
It can be difficult to talk to our children about sex. We are unused to talking about sex at all, and when we do, it is usually in the abstract. Plus, there is a natural privacy around our sexual lives that is difficult to deal with. When we begin to talk with our kids about sex, we have a sense of invasion of that privacy; the little people in the bedroom next door now know what we have been doing! Also, many of us parents feel conflicted, often due to unresolved guilt or shame about our past choices or actions. And perhaps we fear we won’t know the right answers.
None of these reasons should stop us. We must put aside our discomfort, work through our hesitancies, and risk being shown as not knowing everything. Our children are worth it.
That leads us to our next general principle of sex education in the Christian home:
Principle 6: Positive messages are powerful.
As Romans 2:1-16 teaches, God’s law is written on the hearts of all humanity. We trust, on this basis, that in their hearts, our children will recognize truth presented to them. The truth of the Christian view of sex is that sex is a gift of God, and that good is more powerful than evil. Because the Christian message about sexuality is fundamentally positive, good, and true, we can trust its persuasive power.
Carolyn Nystrom’s wonderful book Before I Was Born (for ages five to eight) is a marvelous introduction to the topic of sexual intercourse. After describing the nature of marriage, she offers the following direct, simple, tactful explanation of intercourse:
Friends bring gifts to a wedding. God also made a special gift for husbands and wives. It is called sex. God’s rules say that only people who are married to each other should have sex. It is God’s way of making families strong.
After a man and woman are married they share their bodies with each other. They like holding each other close. When a husband and wife lie close together, he can fit his penis into her vagina. His semen flows inside of her, and their bodies feel good all over. Husbands and wives want to be alone during sex so they can think only of each other.
This is the way babies are made. A husband can’t make a baby by himself. A wife can’t make a baby by herself. But God made their bodies to fit perfectly together. And together they can make a baby.
Simple, direct, honest, clear, and satisfying. We have had the following sort of conversation after reading this description to our five- and six-year-old children.
CHILD: So that’s sex? When people talk about having sex, they mean the man’s penis being inside the woman’s vagina? That is so gross!
PARENT: You know, I felt just the way you do when I first heard about sex. I think maybe God makes us so that when we’re too young to have sex, it sounds gross to us. It really isn’t. Someday, when you really love someone and you are physically ready to have sex, it won’t sound gross anymore but wonderful. I remember when your mom and I were dating, I wanted to have sex with her. But even when it sounds lovely, it isn’t the right thing to do until you are married. God wants you to have sex only with your husband or wife. Since your mom and I weren’t married, we didn’t.
CHILD: Why does God have that rule?
PARENT: Because God made sex as a special gift for husbands and wives to share only with each other. Sex isn’t meant to be shared with anyone but your spouse. To share it with other people would ruin it. It’s like two radios that two people can use to talk just to each other. If you break the radios into more pieces so that three or six people can all share the pieces, the radios are broken, and they don’t work. They were not meant to be shared like that.
PARENT: You know what? I like talking with you about this, and I’m glad that you want to know. Would you please tell me when you have more questions so that I can talk more about it with you? You will hear other kids and even adults talking who have very wrong ideas about sex. I want you to know God’s truth about sex.
…. In the following we present the summary conclusion of a long discussion in the book for parents about how to build the moral understanding of the child about sexual intercourse.
The Three-Strand Cord of Christian Sexual Morality
The writer of Ecclesiastes says, “A threefold cord is not quickly broken” (4:12). The three reasons we’ve explored behind the traditional moral standard form a three-strand cord of great strength. Most importantly, sexual intercourse has objective meaning as designed by God; because it is designed by God, obedience has value to God, and disobedience results in natural negative consequences.
If sexual intercourse is what Christians claim the Bible teaches it is—a life-uniting event—then obedience makes sense. For those of us who are married, this rule guides us into experiencing the best that God has for us: unity with the person who is our mate for life. For those of us who are single, God’s rule guards and protects us from linking our lives with those with whom we do not have life union. The sexual ethic preserves us from acts that would be self-destructive.
The three strands intertwine and mutually support each other in an exquisitely beautiful way. Sexual intercourse is a gift with built-in meaning—meaning that speaks to the deepest longings of our hearts for intimacy with another who loves and accepts us, one who is “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23). And our union with another, in turn, mirrors the nature of the triune God and our desire for union with God.
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 www.navpress.com.