We all know we need to teach our kids about “the birds and the bees.” But do we realize just how important a lesson it is, and how important it is to make this an ongoing conversation throughout their childhood and adolescent years?
According to Dr. Jane Nelsen and Lynn Lott in Positive Discipline for Teenagers, “The greatest contributor to teen pregnancy is the lack of sex education and a failure on the part of the significant adults in teens’ lives to acknowledge and cope with teen sexual activity.”
Dr. Jill Manning is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and expert on how pornography affects the family. In an interview with Dr. Ben Erwin of LDS Family Services, Dr. Manning said, “I view teaching healthy sexual intimacy and relations in the home as being one of the most value-based areas of teaching in today’s world. And many parents may not think of it like that, a value based area of teaching similar to how we teach honesty and work ethic, and many of those things.”
It’s important that we talk openly with our kids about intimacy, especially because they are receiving so many confusing messages from the media, classmates, and other outside sources.
In that same interview with Dr. Erwin, Dr. Jason Carol of BYU’s School of Family Life explained, “I think really what we have in today’s culture and time, it’s not a matter of if children are going to learn about sexuality, it’s a matter of who. It’s who is going to do the teaching. If we step back as parents, if we step back with our youth and our young people, we’re really just stepping back to let others do it.”
It’s our obligation and opportunity as parents to teach our kids about sexual intimacy in terms of what we value. We can teach them about the miracle of birth, and the joy of parenting. We can teach them that playing with the powers of procreation is playing with an innocent baby’s life and future. We can teach them how beautiful and God-given sexual intimacy is within marriage, and that having kids within marriage will bring them the greatest happiness. And we can teach them the importance of keeping their bodies clean, and being the kind of person that they would want to marry.
It’s a challenge to know how much and when to teach a child. There are so many different aspects of intimacy and what we need to teach, but if we try to teach our kids too soon, we will overwhelm or scare them. Each child develops at a different pace and comes into contact with different sources at unexpected times, so we as parents have to be very observant and sense when the right teaching moments are. There might be a question the child asks that sparks a teaching moment. Or a situation might arise that provides a good teaching opportunity. This topic cannot be taught just once; it must be taught many times throughout a child’s life and in different stages.
In a 2018 study published by Brigham Young University family life professor Laura Padilla-Walker, results suggested that having “the talk” only once is not enough to steer kids away from sexual activity. According to Science Daily, “An increase in sexual communication between parents and children, [Padilla-Walker] found, can help adolescents feel safe going to their parents with questions and concerns. She also found that ongoing sexual communication resulted in safer sexual activity at 21.”
Having conversations about sex can be uncomfortable and scary. It is such a private topic, and it can be embarrassing to talk about it. Parents might be afraid to say too much or not explain things well. They might be afraid that the conversation could make their kids even more curious about the subject and actually get into more trouble. The potential consequences of immorality are scary to think about, and it can be hard to know how to teach the issue effectively.
A helpful resource to guide parents and ease fears is A Parent’s Guide, published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This guide is value-based and Christian-based. It has helped me to know what topics to cover for the different stages of my children, and what to focus on. I learned that intimacy doesn’t just refer to sexual relations; it can refer to physical intimacy, or closeness, in any relationship, such as holding hands or hugging. It can refer to the spiritual bond you share with someone. Intimacy is an important part of our relationships, and when intimacy occurs with selflessness and love, it can bring the greatest happiness in life.
Let’s overcome our fear and embarrassment, and start having regular conversations with each of our kids about intimacy. The more open and informative we can be with our kids, while being careful to sense how much our kids are ready to learn, the less likely it is that our kids will stray from what we teach them about sex. Even though sometimes (or many times) it might seem like our kids aren’t listening, they are learning more than we might realize.
A Parent’s Guide. (1985). Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Brigham Young University. (2018, October 1). Checked off ‘the talk’ with your teen? Not so fast: Once isn’t enough: Ongoing communication about sex between parents and their adolescent children leads to safer sex at age 21. ScienceDaily. Retrieved May 29, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/10/181001154039.htm
Family Conversations: Talking about Healthy Sexuality [Interview by B. Erwin]. (n.d.). Retrieved May 30, 2019, from https://www.mormonchannel.org/watch/collection/family-conversations-talking-about-healthy-sexuality
Nelsen, J., & Lott, L. (2012). Positive Discipline for Teenagers: Empowering Your Teens and Yourself Through Kind and Firm Parenting (p. 227). New York: Harmony Books.
Packer, B. K. (n.d.). Ready or Not, You Will Be Taught. Retrieved May 31, 2019, from https://www.lds.org/study/liahona/1977/12/ready-or-not-you-will-be-taught?lang=eng