Not long ago, my seven-year-old son picked up a Maxim Magazine at the barber shop and his eyes quickly bulged out of his head as he flipped through the pages filled with bikini-clad young ladies. My wife Ashley quickly noticed and put the magazine back telling him it’s not polite to stare at ladies’ bodies.
A few minutes went by and she noticed he was staring at a “Field and Stream” magazine with the same intensity he’d had with the Maxim, so she investigated and found that he had snuck the Maxim inside the Field and Stream.
He was busted, and his little face turned red. He shook his head and said, “I’m sorry, mommy, but I really like looking at those ladies!”
A few weeks later, during bath time, he said, “Dad, today on the playground, one of the kids was talking about S-E-X.”
My first thought was, “I’m not ready for this! He’s SEVEN. I was planning on starting the sex talk when he was in his mid-thirties.”
I didn’t know if he knew it was a real word called “sex” or if he only knew of it by it’s 3 infamous letters (like the CIA or FBI). I smiled and calmly asked, “S-E-X, huh? What do you think that means?”
He thought for a moment and said, “My friend said it means when two people are boyfriend and girlfriend.”
In just a minute, I’ll tell you what I told my seven-year-old about S-E-X, plus an age-specific chart of what to say and when, but first, I’d like to address a few important points about how (and when) to start communicating with your children about these important issues.
In no particular order, here are some things to keep in mind when communicating to your kids about sex and other “touchy” issues:
1. They’re hearing about it much earlier than you’d think.
The internet has opened up a new world to this generation of kids, and consequently, they’re hearing about sex younger than any previous generation. According to XXXchurch.com, the average age of first exposure to pornography is now around ten-years-old. That means the typical ten-year-old has seen explicit porn before she has ever had a conversation about sex with her parents.
2. They are getting mixed messages.
It should come as no surprise that the mix of messages about sex on the school playgrounds, internet, Netflix and other easily-accessible sources is going to leave kids confused. That means we as parents need to be starting these age-appropriate conversations early and keep the dialogue going consistently through every season of their development.
3. They want to be able to talk about anything with you.
It might seem super awkward, but believe it or not, your kids crave the kind of relationship with you where they can talk about anything. Don’t’ hide from touchy subjects. You don’t need to have the “perfect” thing to say. Kids aren’t looking for perfection; they’re looking for your availability and authenticity.
When you get started, remember that the strategy isn’t about having “The Talk” but, rather, “talks.” When my dad had “The Talk” with me, it lasted around 30 seconds and he summed it up with the wise maxim, “Just keep your weanie in your pants.” Not bad advice, but our kids today need a lot more information than that. Practically, here are some age breakdowns that seem to work:
Ages 7-9: Introduce the subject. Ask what they’ve heard. Start the conversation.
Ages 9-11: Begin to talk about the biological and moral aspects of sex in an age-appropriate way. Their own bodies are changing in this phase, so talk about how they’re feeling and prepare them for the physical and mental developments they’re already experiencing and will continue to experience in the years to come. Talk about the beauty of sex within a monogamous marriage and the dangers of sex when it’s used improperly.
Ages 11-13: Address the realities of sex with delicacy, but also with bluntness. By this age, they will undoubtedly have some friends who are already experimenting sexually. Most likely, your child will have been exposed to porn by this point (whether accidentally or on purpose). Share with them your hopes for their sex life and your family’s moral standards regarding sexuality. Encourage them to ask questions, even questions about your own past, and answer those questions with transparency.
Ages 13+: Keep you thumb on the pulse of what’s happening with their peer group, recognizing that with each passing year, more of their friends will become sexually active. Reaffirm your values often, but also bring up the subject without a judgmental tone to keep the dialogue open and transparent.
So, back to my seven-year-old’s question about S-E-X, here’s what I said…
“Buddy, I’m so glad you feel comfortable talking to me about this. I always want you to be able to talk with me about anything. You’re going to be hearing a lot about sex from your friends and maybe on TV, and most of what you’ll hear won’t be true. As you get older, I will explain more about this, but for right now, the main things you need to know are that sex is a beautiful gift God made for a Mommy and a Daddy who are married and it’s part of His perfect plan for making babies. It’s beautiful, but it’s also private, so just like you don’t talk about your private parts or other people’s private parts on the playground, you shouldn’t be talking about sex either. If you ever have any questions about sex, or about anything, else, I want you to always feel comfortable asking me, okay? Ask me anything, anytime. We’ll talk a lot more about this as you get older. I love you, buddy.”
I’m sure I could have said some things differently or better, but he seemed to respond well. I’m still trying to figure out this whole parenting thing! Thankfully, God gives a lot of grace for the journey.