When it comes to parents talking to their kids about sex, the most common question I hear again and again is when parents should start the discussion.
When’s the right time? When’s too early? Is it too late? How much do I share? When do I share? Talking to your kids about sex is not a onetime event. It is an ongoing conversation.
You’ll talk to your kids about various aspects of sexuality from the time they’re in diapers, through their elementary school and teenage years and, yes, even into adulthood.
We must stop seeing sex as shameful, awkward, and embarrassing. Can these conversations be a little uncomfortable? Absolutely. But sex, in and of itself, is beautiful and should be celebrated as the good and perfect gift God has intended it to be. When we’re excited about something, we want to talk to others about it. And we should be excited about sex!
Repeat after me: we should be excited about sex! Doctors and psychologists have researched how a child’s brain matures and develops. If you have children, then you know when to expect certain milestones—rolling over, teething, saying a first word, crawling, and walking. As your children get older, they are able to understand more and more, which is why initiating age-appropriate conversations about sex as early as possible is the key to making these conversations a normal and expected part of family life.
As you learn about which conversation points are appropriate for each age group and make plans to begin and continue your discussion, keep in mind your family values.
- We believe God created sex to be a worshipful experience between husband and wife that brings glory to him.
- We believe that because we live in a fallen world and will constantly face distorted views of sexuality, we must learn to identify and process these views in a healthy and biblically sound manner.
- We believe in honest conversation, even if it feels uncomfortable, antiquated, or old-fashioned.
- We believe everybody is created in God’s image, and no one should be abused or exploited for any reason.
- We believe we should not be ashamed of sex or sexuality— ever.
- We believe in showing grace, mercy, and love in every circumstance, even toward people whose beliefs we don’t agree with or understand.
- We believe in the healing and redemptive power of the love of God, who sacrificed his Son, Jesus Christ, for our sins.
- We believe in having integrity in our thoughts, words, and actions by demonstrating God’s love to everyone, including ourselves, regardless of past or present circumstances.
- We believe in asking for help when we need it.
- We believe in relying on the power of God and prayer, as well as being
Age Group 1: Infants to Four-Year-Olds
While you won’t be talking to your infant about sex, your actions will help establish a healthy connection and attachment with your child, even at this very young age. Believe it or not, a child’s sexual development begins at birth. During these tender formative years, your child begins to learn about love and identity. In the infant to four-year-old age group especially, focus on connecting, accepting, answering questions appropriately, and never shaming.
Age Group 2: Early Elementary School
Children in early elementary school are curious. It’s important to encourage and engage their questions, clarify what they are really asking or what they’ve really heard, and then answer their questions succinctly and appropriately. As we discussed earlier, don’t shame or dismiss your child for exploring their body. Instead, help them understand appropriate touch and boundaries and the importance of privacy and modesty.
Age Group 3: Older Elementary School and Early Middle School
I hate to tell you this, but your baby isn’t your baby anymore. This is a time of incredible transition and growth, and you are going to see it happen fast. Your child’s independence begins to form quickly during this time. Talking about puberty, boyfriends and girlfriends, modesty, and masturbation is going to be really uncomfortable for both you and your child. Godspeed. You’ll do fine. If you need some prayer beforehand, shoot me an email. In all seriousness, though, this is an important developmental age for your child.
Age Group 4: Middle School and Younger High School
At this point you’ve probably talked with your child a bit about the physical changes that accompany puberty and covered the basics of sex. Now it’s time to talk about lots and lots of topics. Your child undoubtedly knows more than you think they do. By now, you should be discussing puberty, dating, masturbation, sex, and pornography regularly with them. Remember, it’s never too late to begin the conversation!
Age Group 5: High School and Beyond
I know it may feel as if you’re in the middle of a never-ending hormone zone, but I promise you, relief (and maturity) is just around the corner. Hormones are slowly stabilizing.
If you feel overwhelmed, terrified, scared, hurt, concerned, or confused, it’s okay. I’ve been in student ministry in one capacity or another, including as a youth pastor’s wife, for the last fifteen years.
Every week I connect with students who have questions, who are facing delicate issues, or who tell me something about sex I didn’t know before.
Some are the same challenges you and I confronted when we were growing up. Some are entirely different. But one thing I’ve learned is this: your teenager wants to talk to you but is afraid. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had serious discussions with high school girls who have questions about sex and dating. My first response is always, “What does your mom or dad think?” When they reply, as they often do, that they could never talk to their parents about sex because they’re afraid to, I encourage them to try.But here’s my advice to you: Alleviate the fear your child is experiencing. Make the first move. Initiate the conversation, and then keep it going.
Your overall goal is to establish yourself as trustworthy—to communicate to your kids that you are an open book and a safe person with whom to talk about sex. Be honest and don’t shame, regardless of your emotional reaction to the conversations.
Above all, pray for your child daily as they mature from an infant to a preschooler to a teenager to an adult. Prayer will protect and sustain you and your child like nothing else can.
To learn more about how to talk to your children, purchase Miller's book.