A Christian Mom Talks Sex Ed

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Photo by Thomas Rousing Photography, via Flickr

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.

Teaching a Healthy Sexuality to Our Children

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Sexuality and gender identity-based cultures

Image via Wikipedia

From day one, one of the most intimidating things about parenthood for me has been how to teach my children sexual morality. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. As with every area of parenting, we think about the way we were raised—what worked, what didn’t—and we try to imitate and improve. Of course, what works and what doesn’t is different from child to child within a family, but I’d like to propose a general first step:

Begin by speaking of the human body with respect.

I got to thinking about this at Christmastime, when my sister and her husband shared that their son, a second grader, has recently brought home a fit of the giggles about the word “booby.” Now, we all went through this. Somebody says something at school, you don’t know what it means, or you have a vague idea but not a clear understanding, and it becomes a source of hilarity because you know, instinctively, that it’s a taboo subject. Anything related to the body—whether it’s excretory or sexual in nature—falls under this heading. It happened to me; it happened to you; I feel safe saying it’s fairly universal human experience among children who attend school.

The problem is that then our first lesson in human sexuality is one that turns the body and its most miraculous function into something dirty, something to be giggled about in private, and never really understood.

When I heard that story from my sister, I realized that before long, it’s going to happen to my son, too. And I started wondering how to head it off. That’s when I realized:

The only way to get ahead of this is to start talking about the body frankly and respectfully from day one.

I was working in the Church when the sex abuse scandal hit the fan. Because I worked with school children, I was required to do “Virtus” training. They presented the idea that we should use body terminology with children. We should get them used to the words “penis” and “vagina,” and stop shrouding those parts of our bodies in undignified terms like “wee wee.” We shouldn’t

Eugen de Blaas: The Flirtation

be embarrassed to name the parts of our bodies; our bodies and all their functions are holy. If children’s first lessons in sex consist of dirty jokes and embarrassed giggles, how can we be surprised at the corruptions that ensue in adolescence and adulthood? They’ve laid down a film of disrespect for the physical human person, and all the healthy layers we try to put down on top can’t overcome a shaky foundation.

Christian has always understood this instinctively. He banned the word “boobs” from our house, because it has this connotation of disrespect. If you’re going to talk about a woman’s breasts, say breasts, he says. It’s more respectful of the woman.

Kids need to be introduced to human sexuality the same way they are introduced to everything else: one tiny piece at a time, beginning in early childhood. For a very long time, I resisted the idea that we should be doing sex ed in early childhood. But as time passes, I recognize the wisdom of it. If we wait until a girl gets her period to give her any sense of her own sexuality, then the first associations she has with the subject are wrapped up in awkwardness and self-disgust.

The concepts of abstinence, of the sexual act being something reserved to marriage, and so on—these concepts are built upon a foundation of respect, and if we wait till puberty to teach them, we’ve missed the boat. By then, kids’ attitudes are already half-formed. Cloak the human body in dignity, not in giggle-worthy slang, and you lay the foundation for children who have a healthy attitude toward sexuality—and toward the opposite sex.

It’s not a total solution, but it’s a place to start.