A Quick Guide to Talking with Kids about Sex

My five-year-old daughter and I sat in the Wal-Mart parking lot one weekend waiting for my husband to return. Suddenly out of nowhere, she asked, “Mommy, what does f— mean?” I consciously locked my jaw to keep it from falling to the floor mat and exuded a studied calm as I asked where she’d heard that word.

She was at the neighbor’s. Her friend’s dad said it. “But what does it mean?” she insisted.

Though her question arose from hearing profanity, not curiosity about sex, I realized the need to have “the sex talk” had arrived a few years earlier than expected.  

So, what in the world do we say when it’s time to tell kids where they came from? Actually, it’s not too tough if we begin the conversation shortly after birth…

• Talk about it from the beginning. Children pick up their parents’ attitudes. If the parents seem to feel weird about it, the kids will too. If parents seem unashamed,  the kids will think bodies and sex are no big deal. From the start use the real names for body parts. A Gallup Poll showed that about a third of parents always use  euphemisms when referring to male and female genitals. Avoid joining that group.

• Storks. Birds. Bees. Cabbage patches. Keep agriculture and creatures out of the discussion unless you and your child inadvertently witness two animals mating  and you see an opportunity to talk about human sexuality. Talk about how God made human bodies beautiful, but ever since He provided humans with animal  skins, certain body parts have been considered private. (Looking for a resource to help you? Consider Ken Sande’s Peacemaking Families. Though it’s about  conflict resolution, not sex per se, it helps parents lead by example with their kids, finding teachable moments instead of calling awkward meetings.)

• Emphasize privacy without evoking shame. Genitals are private. If you discover your child and a sibling or neighbor engaging in sexual play, stay calm in voice and  facial expression. Express in a matter-of-fact way that it’s unacceptable to show genitals to someone else, to receive such intimate touch, or to touch someone else’s private parts.

• Hopefully hugs and kisses from family members have been a part of your child’s life since you welcomed him or her into the family. Explain the difference  between this and unwanted and/or inappropriate sexual touch. Children need to know what parts of their bodies are excluded from others’ eyes and hands. Ask  your child to tell you if anyone ever makes him or her feel uncomfortable by how or what they touch. With a teen, talk about all the peer pressure that suggests  different parameters from God’s about what’s appropriate.

• Listen. Kids see images and hear about sex much earlier than most parents realize. Find out what your kids know, what they’ve heard, and what they have  questions about. Often the most difficult part is initiating the discussion. If your child doesn’t bring it up, you can start by referring to television or movies, a  pregnant friend, or some exposure your child has had to sexual or sexy behavior or images. Ask what he or she has heard about it and already knows. Then find  out “What do you think about that?”

• Bodies change in puberty, which can feel embarrassing for the boy with unwanted erections or the girl having her first period. Encourage your child that puberty is  normal and it is nothing to feel embarrassed about.

• Not everyone has the same opinion about sexual activity. Because of that, you have to tell your child about what you expect and about what you consider right or  wrong. You can begin by saying “Sex is good. God made sex. It is so special, in fact, that he gives rules about it—not because he wants to ruin anyone’s fun, but  because of love.” You don’t have to go into detail, but because so much in the world promotes wrong thinking on the subject, you have to let your child know  what you believe is morally right and why.

• Think in bigger terms than having “the sex talk.” Think plural—“the sex talks.” Expect to have ongoing conversations about body changes, sex, and reproduction.  By taking this more holistic approach to bodies, privacy, and development, when the season for discussion about sex arrives, you will have already spoken at  length about toilets, training, and other normal functions. You can marvel at this “bonus function” as yet another part of God’s design.

• Avoid giving your kids more information than they need at each stage. One grown daughter joked with her sex-therapist father, “When we do the sex talk with  your granddaughters, we plan to exclude all the charts you used.” But during conversations about sex, discuss more than body functions. Talk about God’s design  for marriage, and describe the spiritual and emotional aspects. Especially for older kids, when warning about STDs such as AIDS, include the emotional and  spiritual turmoil that accompany sexual sin.

Studies show that when parents talk about sex, children are more likely to talk about it themselves, to delay their first sexual experiences, and to protect themselves against pregnancy and disease when they do have sex. Teens who feel closely connected to their families are also less likely to have sex at an early age or to engage in other risky behaviors than are those who feel more distant from their families.

Our kids learn a lot about sex from neighbors, movies, magazines, the internet, classmates, ads, and relatives. And a lot of what they learn is wrong. As parents, we have a responsibility to make sure they also hear the truth about sex. And the best place for them to hear that is directly from us.

Sandra Glahn, who holds a Master of Theology degree from Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) and a PhD in The Humanities—Aesthetic Studies from the University of Texas/Dallas, is a professor at DTS. This creator of the Coffee Cup Bible Series (AMG) based on the NET Bible is the author or coauthor of more than twenty books. She's the wife of one husband, mother of one daughter, and owner of two cats. Chocolate and travel make her smile. You can follow her on Twitter @sandraglahn ; on FB /Aspire2 ; and find her at her web site: aspire2.com.


  • Sue Bohlin

    The sex talkS

    Loved they way you brought in the PLURAL aspect of these conversations, Sandi!

    Another aspect of buiding a child’s emotional immune system is to tell them something along these lines: "If anybody touches you, or tries to touch you, in a way that gives you the ‘uh-oh feeling,’ you tell them no. It’s your body and you are the boss of your body. And if that ever happens, I want you to tell me, and I promise I will never, ever be mad. Sometimes grownups or older kids will lie to a child and say that if you tell your mommy, she’ll be mad. But that’s not true, and if that ever happens and you tell me, I’ll scoop you up in my arms and give you lots of kisses and hugs." Said with a smile and a light heart (despite the seriousness of the message), this can lay a foundation for a child to confidently stand against would-be boundary violators.

    Predators tend not to target kids who feel safe and loved and have been given the life tools to stand up for themselves.

  • Anonymous

    Two Other Teachable Moments: But Not about Sex
    Teachable Moment No. 1

    My family and I are members of what you folks would probably call a mainline, nonBible-believing, apostate church. That was not always the case. Back in the 1980s, we attended an extremely conservative Southern Baptist megachurch in our town.

    In Sunday school class one morning, our teacher was a woman friend of mine with an undergraduate and graduate degree in English from a large and very well-respected state university. She was also a long-time English teacher in one of our local public school systems. We were sitting in folding chairs arranged in a circle that morning, and our teacher had her large, black Bible resting on her lap. The lesson was from John 1: 1, and she began to read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” She then paused for just a moment with a stone-faced glare of certainty, grabbed her Bible, hoisted it high above her head and said, “See this. This IS God.”

    Apparently, she did not understand that the “Word” in John 1:1 refers to the person of Jesus himself. Because the Bible is often referred to as the “word of God,” she thought the scriptures were telling her that the Bible IS God and IS synonymous with God.

    Teachable Moment No. 2

    Back in the summer of 2000, I made posts to a religion forum on a website called “Alabama.Live,” which is run by the Birmingham Star newspaper. One of the other regular posters was a really obnoxious and incredibly self-righteous Christian woman who was a member of the Separate Baptist Church, which is a sort of loose confederation of independent, fundamental, Bible-believing churches in the Deep South. Another poster had made some major point in one of his posts and had used a verse in Philippians to make his point. This verse says the following about the name “Jesus”:

    “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name.” (Philippians 2:9)

    This lady, who was really a very intelligent and articulate person, just went bonkers because what she was hearing was different from the teaching she was apparently getting at her Bible-absorbed church. Out came the screed. According to her, there is one name that is even above the name of “Jesus the Christ.” She said, “That name is “BIBLE.” She then went on with some inane argument about why this was so, including the notion that the Bible is even more important than the person of Jesus Christ because, without the Bible, no one would even know about Jesus.

    Well, those were teachable moments for me. Sometimes, you do not teach the other person. Sometimes you cannot teach the other person. Instead, you teach yourself. After numerous other odd things with which I did not agree, I decided it was time to flee from my so-called “Bible-believing” church and assorted Christians who believe things that strike me as being really odd. We are now very much enjoying the loving atmosphere and stewing in our own Wesleyan juices at a moderate-sized apostate church in our home town—a church that focuses strongly on the person of Jesus Christ and what He had to say rather than worshipping the Bible as a god. That does not mean that we are better or more righteous than other people (far from it), but it does mean that we are happier.

    • Sandra Glahn

      Off Topic

      First of all, I think you might have missed the boat on what "we folks" believe. I was confirmed as a United Methodist. Many denominations are represented here.

  • Chrysalis School Montana

    Phases of life
    This is indeed a weird situation when talking to your kids about sex. But we have to tell them in a proper manner so that they take it positively. Most of the kids feel shy about talking this matter at home, we have to make them comfortable enough so that they can freely express their feelings and queries about sex. After all this is the phase of life.

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