Teaching Your Children About Intimacy: : How, When, Where, and Why
It can be bit daunting – we know. Teaching kids about the importance and sacredness of intimacy is a bit intimidating. When should you start? How should you bring it up? What should you say?
We delved into advice from the experts, drew from our own personal experiences, and drummed up some great tips on how to talk to your kids about sex.
If you’re a newbie parent like me with young children always on your hip, this topic may seem so distant. The fact is, though, it’s not. The time has come to officially abolish the horrifically awkward “one-time-talk” in our society, and make the education of intimacy a more open, ongoing, and honest conversation – one that lasts years, through childhood, teen years, and beyond. And yes, the seeds of this conversation starts as early as potty-training does.
Does that surprise you?
Deborah Roffman, teen sexuality expert, said1, “…kids who grow up in families where sexuality is openly discussed are not just healthier and happier, but they also postpone participation in a range of risky behaviors including sexual activity. Talking with your kids is protective … a buffer against what goes on around them.”
Laura Berman, Assistant Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Psychiatry at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, as well as author of Talking to Your Kids about Sex: Turning “The Talk” Into a Conversation for Life, said1 “Give the information on a consistent, ongoing basis, because one talk is definitely not going to do it.“
So how do you make that happen? Let’s break it down into the when, how, where, and why.
The idea of “the-one-time-talk” happening at 12 is no longer looked upon as enough sexual education in our society. Teaching your children about sex needs to start early – as early as they start asking questions – and continue on for life.
- In most cases, teaching kids about sex in your home will be on a “need-to-know” basis. We loved the point made in this article – just focus on giving them what they need, and answer their questions directly. Focus on the Family summed it up perfectly: “Your five-year-old is probably going to want to know how the baby inside Aunt Susie is going to get out. But your child may not think to ask how the baby got there, and you don’t need to broach the subject at that time.” Avoid bogging them down with too much information, and then confusing – or worse – scaring them. Answer their questions honestly, but don’t worry about too many details.
- Think ahead…err – think backwards? Remember to when you were 11 years old, on the cusp of puberty. What do you wish someone would have told you going into those important years? What about 13? When you were 15? There is a touching story found here about a father who sits down with his son periodically and warns him of what is ahead in his life. A young man reports to his ecclesiastical leader, “When I was nine, my dad took me aside and said, ‘Pablo, I was nine once too. Here are some things you may come across. You’ll see people cheating in school. You might be around people who swear. You’ll probably have days when you don’t want to go to church. Now, when these things happen—or anything else that troubles you—I want you to come and talk to me, and I’ll help you get through them. And then I’ll tell you what comes next.’” So – think backwards to recall what you wish you would have known, and then think ahead with your own child. What do they need to hear, and when? Make personal chats with them happen – often. As the uplifting talk suggests, “it’s never too early, and it’s never too late.” Doing this on a regular basis is sure to keep the lines of communication open between you, and that child will know that they can turn to you – always – with any questions they have, not just about intimacy.
- Anytime, anywhere – so make yourself available. Laura Berman continues1, “I would say 90 percent of being a good sex educator of your kid is being someone that they’re comfortable coming to with questions and concerns. You don’t have to be perfect at it … you don’t have to always say the right thing, and you can always ask for a redo,” she says. If you don’t know the answer, you can promise to find one, and that “gives you a chance to regroup and think about what you want to say.” You have two ears and one mouth – that should be a big hint. Listen. Being available for those times when they do want to talk will show them that you are there for them, always, with whatever questions they may have.
- Be confident. Being straight-forward and confident when answering their questions reassures to your children that they don’t need to be embarrassed about being curious. When asking fellow Divas what they had to say about this important topic, we loved what Carisa had to say: “I hope that even if I feel embarrassed when talking to my kids, I won’t show it.” Your children will appreciate your confidence, so study up, and be prepared with what to say. (See the next bullet!)
- Keep it age-appropriate. Let’s try and avoid making our children drink from a fire hose! We need to keep things age-appropriate, and only tell them a) what they can comprehend, and b) what they need to know. We came across this list, as well as this list and really liked the guidelines it laid out for each age. Be sure to align your personal beliefs into the age appropriate guidelines as well.
- Clarify your own values. Laura Berman has also said, “Before you even begin thinking about talking to your kids about sex, get really clear on what your own attitudes are and perspectives, and that could mean asking yourself, ‘What is the ideal circumstance under which I want my child to have their first sexual experience?'” Whatever your values may be, clarify them, and make sure you relay them clearly to your children.
- Go beyond the “no’s” of today – Laura Brotherson wisely stated in her book, “And They Were Not Ashamed2” (if you haven’t read that book yet, it’s a must! She also authored the fantastic audio book, Teaching Intimacy 101: How to Teach Your Children about Sex and Intimacy in Marriage) “Parents and youth leaders must look beyond the “no’s” of today to the “yes’s” of tomorrow. Their teaching must be transformed from an almost exclusive emphasis on dire premarital warnings against sexual intimacy, to a hearty dose of after-marriage blessings. A positive emphasis on the blessings of sexual purity can give power to youth to get them past the difficult teen years, safely into the covenant of marriage.” Avoid conversations like, “don’t get pregnant,” “don’t get a disease,” or “don’t have sex.” Focus on the positive, and the good that is waiting for them within the sacred bonds of marriage. There is so much good to look forward to; don’t scare them out of enjoying their future.
- Give them some space, too. Along with always being available and willing to answer their questions confidently, sometimes they need a bit of space to come to terms with everything, too. One day, at the tender age of 13, I was chatting with some of my friends in the hallway of my junior high before class started. While talking about the ever-awkward “Sex-Ed” class, my friend chimed in, “My mom teaches me everything. She always just answers my questions, but she gives me space sometimes, too. When I was ten, I came into my room one day and found a book on puberty [it was an earlier edition of this one, but we have heard fantastic things about this one for younger girls, this one for boys, and this one for older girls], my favorite treats, and a note that said, ‘When you’ve read this through and have had some time to think about it, come talk to me. I have a hot chocolate mother-daughter date planned so I can answer any questions you might have about this exciting time.'” I remember being so impressed with the mother involved, mostly because she provided my friend with important information, but also let her daughter digest it at her own pace and didn’t shove it in her face. She even encouraged questions! (Plus – treats!) I’ve never forgotten that story, and always vowed to myself to do something similar for my own children.
For whatever reason, we all seem to envision these chats taking place in the privacy of the child’s bedroom. The reality is, depending on the relationship you have with your child, that might be a bit awkward for them, especially as they get older. Besides answering questions whenever they crop up (and that could mean the grocery store, the bank, or the living room), if you feel like you need to take the initiative and bring it up to your child on your own, try these places, too:
- The car. The car is a great place for one-on-one talks. I’ve had many-a-serious-chat with my parents while driving. It always eased the pressure, as eye contact wasn’t possible, and typically it was just us in the vehicle. I felt like I had their full attention, and they had mine. Jay Homme, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics and Director of the Pediatric Residency Program at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, adds a warning to not go overboard, though1, “You don’t want them to feel like every time you get in the car, you’re going to start talking about sex.” But once in a while, if the time is right, it’s a great place to continue the conversation.
- While doing something they enjoy. Give the kitchen, the garage, or the basketball court a try. Keeping them busy with their hands helps ease the pressure of the situation, and also helps avoid eye contact between the two of you. You might be surprised as to how well they open up when they aren’t feeling like they have to sit-down-and-talk-right-now.
- A special night out with just them. In the story mentioned above, my friend’s mom planned a special night to answer her questions when she was ready. Even if the conversation doesn’t turn to intimate matters, that’s okay – just setting aside the time for them and upping the communication between you two will help when the time does come. Aim for a special night out annually! Laura Brotherson also comments on the importance of a parent/child date in her book2. She says, “Children will begin to eagerly anticipate their annual tradition of a special date and discussion with Mom or Dad to receive the ‘next installment’ of their sex education.” She continues, “Since young children have not yet learned to have anxieties about ‘sex talk’, if you treat the experience as an enjoyable, special occasion, the child will, too – especially if you begin when they are young.”
We love this story from Gordon B. Hinckley2:
“Not long after we were married, we built our first home. We had very little money. I did much of the work myself. […] The first of many trees that I planted was a thornless honey locust. Envisioning the day when its filtered shade would assist in cooling the house in the summertime, I put it in a place at the corner where the wind from the canyon to the east blew the hardest. I dug a hole, put in the bare root, put soil around it, poured on water, and largely forgot it. It was only a wisp of a tree, perhaps three-quarters of an inch in diameter. It was so supple that I could bend it with ease in any direction. I paid little attention to it as the years passed.
Then one winter day, when the tree was barren of leaves, I chanced to look out the window at it. I noticed that it was leaning to the west, misshapen and out of balance. I could scarcely believe it. I went out and braced myself against it as if to push it upright. But the trunk was now nearly a foot in diameter. My strength was as nothing against it…
When it was first planted, a piece of string would have held it in place against the forces of the wind. I could have and should have supplied that string with ever so little effort. But I did not, and it bent to the forces that came against it.”
It is all too easy for children – especially teens – to bend and sway with the forces of peer pressure and the “in-crowd.” The media today is riddled with sex, so they need you to teach them right from wrong. If they don’t get it from you, they will get it from somewhere else – like their peers or the media. Who do you want them to listen to?
Research is on our side, too. Publications from Advocates for Youth show the importance of educating our children about sex:
“Evaluations of comprehensive sex education programs show that these programs can help youth delay onset of sexual activity, reduce the frequency of sexual activity, reduce number of sexual partners, and increase condom and contraceptive use. Importantly, the evidence shows youth who receive comprehensive sex education are NOT more likely to become sexually active, increase sexual activity, or experience negative sexual health outcomes.”
Whether you choose to enroll your child in the Sex Education programs at school, or take on those responsibilities yourself in the home, the message is clear; children benefit from loving, ongoing, and supportive education with this sacred topic. As a parent, your work is never done, and you can’t rely on peers, media, or even their teachers to teach your children everything; from potty training to the time your children are married, proper sex education never stops.
More than just words, they need your example. They need you. They need your support. They need your values. They need your love. They need your openness. They need to understand how special intimacy really is, and why it’s important to wait until the right time. They also need to understand about the dangers of abuse, what it is, how to handle it if it happens, and the sacredness of their unique bodies. It’s up to you to teach them.
Most of all, they need your example of a good marriage. They need to know what a wonderful intimate life looks like. They need to see you kiss each other, surprise each other, acknowledge each other, and miss each other. They need your smiles, your love, your understanding. They need to see that you regularly date each other, and show romance. Ultimately, they will take your example of marriage into their own marriage, and only you can decide what legacy to leave.
Here are the resources we mentioned, as well as other fantastic sources to check out:
2And They Were Not Ashamed, Laura Brotherson
- Focus on the Family: Talking About Sex & Puberty
- Teaching Intimacy 101: How to Teach Your Children about Sex & Intimacy in Marriage, Laura Brotherson
- Talking to Your Kids about Sex: Turning “The Talk” Into a Conversation for Life: Laura Berman
- What’s Happening To My Body? Book For Girls: Revised Edition: Lynda Madaras
- The Care and Keeping of You: The Body Book for Younger Girls: Valorie Schaefer
- The Care and Keeping of You 2: The Body Book for Older Girls: Cara Natterson
- Dr. Phil’s Do’s and Don’ts of Sex Talk/Age Guidelines
- HealthyChildren.org: Talking To Your Child About Sex
- Advocates For Youth, Comprehensive Sex Education: Research and Results
- WedMD: When To Talk To Kids About Sex
- Advocates for Youth: Parents Sex-Ed Center