Did your parents give you “The Talk”?
If not, you might be comforted to know that only about 5% of the parents I talk to say their parents ever talked with them about sex. My parents were divorced when I was very young, and just as they had different religious beliefs, I’m certain they had different ideas about the best way to parent us around topics of sexuality. My dad had a more permissive perspective. I got the impression that he grew up with a lot of shame around sex and did not want the same for us, but I never felt from him that sex was good and worth guarding because he never provided any boundaries. My mom, in contrast, was largely silent about sex. The first time I remember her sitting us down for the talk, my brothers and I were all in college. I’ve got to give her credit for not neglecting the topic altogether, but this was way too late.
To be truthful, I’m not sure I really wanted either of my parents to talk with me about sex. But the truth is, I needed them. Every kid does. Without a parent’s loving guidance, kids are left to navigate this part of their developing selves alone. For this reason, I’m convinced there has never been a time when it was a good idea for moms and dads to be silent about sex as their kids grew, but there have been times in history when the surrounding culture was more likely to be supportive of what Christianity teaches about marriage, love, and sex. Not so today.
A Pornographic Worldview Meets the Digital Age
When I was growing up, if a kid was going to be exposed to pornographic ideas or images, it meant finding an adult’s secret stash of magazines or staying up really late and trying to catch a glimpse of nudity on a scrambled cable channel. Today, pornography is mainstream, easily accessible in a million formats on devices found in everyone’s purse or pocket.
In the U.S., adult online content is estimated to be a $1.1 billion industry. Since 2014, it’s grown year over year by an average of over 14%, outperforming the U.S. tech sector and the U.S. economy overall.
In 2016, Barna released one of the most comprehensive studies on U.S. porn use ever conducted. It found that over 30% of all Americans seek out pornography online at least monthly. That’s almost 100 million people in the U.S. alone. It is safe to say that pornography is a significant force shaping public norms around anything related to sex. Perhaps even more alarming is the fact that nearly 70% of young males (ages 13-24) and just over 30% of young females actively seek out porn online at least monthly.
Parents, if there was ever a time you could skip the sex talk, that’s certainly not now.
But you should.
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Why? Because your kids need something much more valuable than one sex talk. They need ongoing, age-appropriate, regular conversations with you about all things related to healthy sexuality.
I stress conversations (plural), not just one “sex talk.”
One talk is a hundred too few. Here are five reasons why:
- One talk means one stressful talk.
Sex is a sensitive topic and not one most parents can dive into comfortably. In truth, it can feel uncomfortable for parents and kids alike. Settling for just “the talk” means your kid’s one memory of you talking about sex is the time you sat down together, and you fumbled through what sounded like a half scripted, half unintelligible monologue followed by a relieved sigh and, “Any questions?” followed by their, “Nope, I’m good.”
Instead, by having multiple conversations about sex as your son or daughter grows, the talks become less stressful and more normalized. Like anything we practice, the more we talk with our kids about tough topics, the more comfortable we get and the more our kids can feel comfortable with us. In addition, if you start early enough and are consistent enough, your kids will grow up never thinking twice about mom and dad talking with them about sex, just as they do about a million other topics. So if you feel uncomfortable talking about this today, keep at it.
- One talk means getting it all right all at once.
One sex talk means you’ve only got one shot to communicate everything you’ll ever want to share and everything your son or daughter will ever need to hear, and you better communicate all of it well. You need to find the right balance between not saying too much but also not saying too little, and you need to find that great balance between grace and truth too.
Instead, having lots of conversations means you can share your thoughts and wisdom with your kids over time. It also means that if you phrase something poorly, you can revisit it later.
- One talk also puts too much pressure on your kids.
Similar to the previous point, if you opt for just one sex talk, you’re narrowing your kids’ opportunities to talk with you if there’s something they don’t understand, questions come up later, or they find themselves struggling. You may be tempted to try to get around this by telling you kids something like, “My door’s always open if you want to talk more,” but that puts too heavy a burden on your kids. If you find it difficult to bring up sex with your kids, recognize it will be even more difficult for them to bring up with you.
Instead, having lots of conversations means your kids can sit with what you share knowing that you’ll come back to them again and again. If they forget a question today, or if they just feel too nervous to bring something up, they know they can always come back to it the next time you initiate a conversation with them.
- One talk ignores the fact that your kids are in process.
We are all familiar with the old question “When’s the best time to have ‘the sex talk’ with my kids?” But the truth is that there is no one best time, there are many. You’d never assume there is just one best time to talk with your kids about math, or health, or friendship, right? You know that your son or daughter’s relationship with each of these will change and grow as he or she develops and goes through life. The same is true about sex.
Instead, make this an ongoing part of your conversational relationship with your kids. Having lots of conversations means making yourself available to your son or daughter for the long haul, so there won’t be a time when mom and dad are leaving him or her to navigate this sensitive topic alone. So, no matter what your kids are feeling, thinking, or experiencing now or in the future, you’ll be there for them.
- One conversation suggests you have it all figured out now.
One talk misses the reality that a big part of parenting is learning and growing as we go. No parent I know has all of this figured out. I’m a published author on the topic and know others who are as well, and we are all still making our way, doing our best, and hopefully getting better year by year.
Instead, multiple conversations provides you with the opportunity to grow and learn as your kids do. You don’t have to pretend to have it all figured out today. It leaves you the option of responding to your kids’ questions with your own, and learning together. In this digital age when things are changing so quickly, this will be a huge benefit to you and your kids too. What’s more, you’ll always be getting to know more about your kids, their world, and their perspectives as they grow older. In this way, your ongoing conversations with your kids can simply come under the larger journey of sanctification you and your kids are both on.
What Your Kids Need Most
What all of this points to is really this: The one conversation approach fundamentally misunderstands what your kids really need. It’s not just a set of principles, right information, or right beliefs about sex, as important as those are. (Ask yourself, is that what you most needed when you were growing up?) More than a few paragraphs of good information or a list of facts about sex, your kids need you—your ongoing, non-anxious, Spirit-filled presence. In every area of life, so much of good parenting is about being a stable, reliable, loving adult deeply invested in your kids’ lives as they grow.
Truly, your number one job is to do your best to abide in Christ as you seek to love your kids with a Christ-like love. In this way, whether they’re five years old and asking how their baby brother got in mommy’s tummy, eleven and reeling from seeing porn on a friend’s phone, or sixteen and feeling pressure from a boyfriend to have sex, they know you’ll be there.
Moms and dads, your kids are not prepared to walk alone through this sexually-confused culture. They need you now and they’ll need you every step of the way.
Praying for our kids,