We spent the summer of 2015 preparing rooms and moving kids around the house. Partly, this was because Nicholas and Alex were driving us insane with their nonstop bickering. But even more so, it was because Julianna, at age 8, was still sharing a room with Michael, age 3. Let me illustrate the problem:
Bath time. Michael in the tub. Julianna getting in. Michael looks up at Julianna and gets a horrified look on his face. “DADDY!” he yells at the top of his lungs. “JUWEEANNA IS MISSING A PENIS! JUWEEANNA NEEDS A PENIS!”
Sex ed in our house has always been ongoing and ubiquitous, in part because we have four kids who seem incapable of covering their bodies before they go running from one part of the house to another, but also because of course, we teach natural family planning in our living room. We have a much higher comfort level with topics surrounding sexuality than most people do. This became clear when Christian went to back to school night and the 5th grade teachers told the parents this is the year they start breaking open the topic. Apparently there was a noticeable undercurrent of discomfort among the parents.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about issues of sexuality over the years—as you can tell by the number of posts on the topic—and the more I think about it, the more convinced I am of the dysfunction in our collective relationship to our sexuality.
In some parts of the world people refer to Americans as puritans about sex. For a long time, I found this puzzling. How can you call us puritan about sex when the entire civilization seems structured upon sex, from advertising to entertainment and right down the line? But I’ve come to realize it’s true.
We want unrestricted access to sex, but we don’t want to talk about it. We get squeamish about the details, to the point where most women really have no idea how their body works, and can’t read the signs of fertility and infertility that have always been there, except when they’re suppressed by drugs. Nobody ever acknowledges that sex pretty much never plays out like it does in the movies—it’s not nearly as pretty. Whether we want to admit it or not, our cultural norm surrounding sexuality is that it is something naughty, dirty, and salacious, and hence, any discussion of it will automatically corrupt our children’s blinding white innocence on the subject.
It is our own dysfunctional attitudes toward sex that make it so hard for us to teach it to our children in a healthy way.
The thing is, kids are getting messages about their sexuality, whether we teach them or not, because it permeates the popular culture. It even permeates the news, for Heaven’s sake. And like it or not, they’re getting messages and formation about their sexuality from every single interaction they have with their parents, too, even if the parents punt and freak out and avoid the topic. It’s just that the message that’s being sent, in that case, is one that perpetuates the dysfunctional relationship with our sexuality through another generation.
Obviously, I feel strongly on this topic. I think it’s a bad idea to put off all discussion of body and sexuality until age 10 or 11. I think we as parents have to get over ourselves. We have to admit that we have hangups that we need to hang up, and wounds for which we need healing. And I say this, not from a perspective of judgment, but from the perspective of one who has had to (and continues to) face my own hangups and wounds on the topic.
I speak now specifically to Christian parents. We cannot sit around gnashing our teeth at the misuse of sex in our culture, and fail to admit our own part in perpetuating the problem from one generation to the next. As parents, we can teach our kids a healthy view of sexuality, or an unhealthy one. And if we’re scared of the conversations, it’s virtually guaranteed that we’re going to do the latter rather than the former.