when is the right time to talk to your kids about sex?

It’s a question often wrestled with by parents and leaders, when is the right time to talk to kids about sex?

The answer is simple.

The right time to talk to your kids about sex is just before they hear it from someone or somewhere else.

That might not be the answer you were hoping for. In fact, that probably opens up more questions than anything. How can you know when they’re going to be exposed to content on television, scribbled on a bathroom wall, stumbled across on a computer or device, conspiratorially whispered about amongst friends at a sleep over, or joked about in a locker room? It seems impossible to predict, and therefore difficult to pre-empt, but it is undeniably the ‘best time’.

The power of first exposure.

Our brains are wired to attach knowledge about a subject to the person who first introduced it to us in an informative or useful way. So, whoever first exposes us to information is solidified, subconsciously, in our minds as the expert on that topic. We are far more likely to return to that source if we find ourselves needing more details or, if we get data from an alternate source, we are likely to come back to the original source to verify or test it.

What an incredible opportunity that presents as parents or people of influence in the lives of young people. If they are introduced to concepts of sexual biology, reproduction, arousal, intimacy, consent, masturbation, boundaries, gender, safety, identity and responsibility by you, they are more likely to see you as a source of useful information and understanding on these topics. How much more preferable is it that YOU be in this position of influence than a child’s school friends, bus pals or anything that might spew out of a television or smart phone?

This doesn’t completely address the question of timing, but I believe it ought to create a sense of urgency and boldness driven by the value of equipping our young people to adequately navigate their own sexuality, understanding and expression in a highly sexualised culture.

“I don’t want to talk to my children too early because I don’t want to introduce them to concepts before they need to be … and I don’t want to arouse their curiosity, which might lead them to further (potentially unhelpful) exploration.”

This is a hybrid of commonly expressed concerns by parents when wrestling with decisions around timing.

The myth of early exposure.

It goes without saying (which generally means it needs to be said!) that when we reference ‘early’ conversations (as in, prior to when they might otherwise be exposed) those need to happen in age appropriate and ongoing ways.

It’s not just ‘the talk’ it’s a lot of talks. It’s a continuing conversation. Any thoughts you have, as a parent or leader, of having one conversation that articulately (and in completely non-awkward ways) covers all of the necessary topics and concepts your child needs to successfully land them in sexually educated, adjusted and healthy adulthood need to be banquished! Sorry! 😉

In light of this, any topics you broach ought to be couched in language and cover information that is able to be helpfully processed and absorbed by the individual child. It will be different at every stage of development, but it will most likely be different from child to child. Their level of maturity, sensitivity, social awareness, personal experiences, personality and intellect will all impact what they need to know and what they are able to absorb.

Tips

  • You need to talk about everything in order to be able to talk about anything. Developing a relationship of open dialogue with your child (about Minecraft and puppies and football teams and complicated school/friendship dramas and …)  will grow their confidence that you are someone they can trust to handle conversations about particularly uncomfortable or uncertain topics.
  • Ask your child to ask questions – and then ask more questions. “What do YOU want to know? What do you understand and what more can we learn about together?” Respond to only the questions that are asked and check understanding as you go. “Does that make sense? Does that settle what you were thinking about?”
  • Capitalise on ‘teachable moments’. Interact with books they’re reading or things they see on television – “Why do you think she/he reacted like that?” If your child says or does something that indicates a wrong understanding (like the Gr 5 child wrestling with a peer in the playground I overheard exclaiming “stop it, or you’ll catch puberty!”) or an awareness or exposure to something – speak to it, ask about it, clarify it.
  • Act normal! Even if you don’t feel normal, ACT IT! It is counterproductive to try and explain the ‘naturalness’ of sexuality and intimacy while you stumble over words, don’t look anyone in the eye and scurry off as soon as there’s the slightest break in conversation. So …
  • Practice! Practice what you might say, what words you might use, how you might describe certain acts, attributes or attitudes. Read articles or listen to speakers who can help you develop your language – it will help your child as well as increasing your confidence.

The myth of aroused curiosity.

Curiosity only exists in a void. It’s true, right? You are only curious about what you don’t know. Speaking about pornography or masturbation isn’t a guarantee that your child is going to go off and explore that more for themselves. They are far more likely to if there’s a gap in their understanding. If they haven’t asked the questions that they still have or if they haven’t fully understood what you’ve explained.

Tips

  • Ask comprehension questions “Can you tell me in your own words what I just explained?”.
  • Encourage active listening “Nod at me if you are following but stop me if I’ve said something that was a bit weird or confusing.”
  • Plan a follow up chat. “That seems like enough for now. How about we check in later once you’ve had a chance to process that some more?”
  • Monitor your child. If they have been disturbed or discomforted by what they’ve heard you might notice that in their behaviour, body language or responses.

What do you think? What have you found helpful or unhelpful in your own experience? What further information or discussion do you require to help you keep this conversation going (or to start it!)?

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5 lies porn tells


Porn is increasingly acknowledged as the prominent sex-educator of children. Young people are being exposed to porn well before they’ve shaped any sense of understanding or appreciation of sexual intimacy, let alone experienced it in an appropriate context. 

Porn lies. It presents perverse fantasies and entirely unrealistic scenarios as ‘normal’. And many are experiencing this education and degree of desensitisation without a contrary voice to bring perspective and truth. 

Porn lies. 

  • Porn depicts violence as enjoyable and normal. 


These statistics are horrific but they reflect the reality of the content of pornography and the narrative it writes. Aggressive, injurious and demeaning behaviour is met with no resistance or even feined enjoyment. Interviews with teens have revealed unmet expectations from boys and trauma for girls who were surprised to discover that the reality was far different from the movies they had seen.  

  • Porn shows lack of consent as a turn on.

A rise in reported rapes and sexual assaults finds some of its explanation in a genuine lack of comprehension on the part of pornified men of the place of consent. Porn implies that women are ready for sex anytime, any place and that their resistance or refusal is part of the game; the conquest. 

  • Porn asserts sex is a spectator sport. 

Not only does porn depict sex acts in public places or with multiple people present but the increased societal acceptance of porn means that public viewing and sharing has become more common place. Young people’s first exposure to porn can often be on a school bus or train or in a classroom where youth deem it acceptable to not only watch it themselves but include others in the experience. 

  • Porn infers anal sex is pleasurable for females.

Women in porn react affirmingly to anal sex when the reality is that doctors have reported an alarming number of young girls presenting with severe injuries, infections and potential long term damage from untreated wounds. 

  • Porn suggests exposure to porn is harmless. 

Increasingly younger men are experiencing erectile dysfunction and an inability to engage in physical intimacy rather than “virtual intimacy”. Addiction to porn is rife with people reporting spending as much as 8 hours a day watching – leading to loss of sleep and related health implications, ineffectiveness in work or study and for some, loss of employment and relationships. 

To say nothing of the links between the porn industry and sex trafficking, the impact of porn use on spouses and families, legal implications and related consequences. 

Porn lies. 

Don’t believe it. And rise to speak a voice of truth to those susceptible to entanglement in its deception. The hearts and health of our young people require us to help them discern reality from fantasy. Our women demand our advocacy. ADDICTED men and women need our support. 

Read here for a VicHealth issued summary of research findings. 

Read also – why you should hate porn

rejecting objectification 

objectification : treating someone as an object rather than a person 

sexualisation : to make sexual 

pornification : the influence of pornographg on attitudes, behaviour and culture 

Objectification, sexualisation and pornification … we’re soaking in it! You don’t need to look too far to see this is true. A short stroll through a shopping centre, a flick through any magazine or catalogue, 3 minutes of online activity, or one episode of a TV show and you will be bombarded with images and messages that carry these themes.
These are some of the causes behind an alarming rise in domestic violence, assaults and sexual assaults, reported sexual activity and sexual regret, sexual addiction, young women presenting with health issues relating to aggressive sexual acts, erectile dysfunction in younger males, sexual addiction and related consequences (including financial, relational and career) … and the list could go on.

“The standard we walk past is the standard we set.” Melinda Tankard Reist

Education and awareness are key. We can shift attitudes and change our culture by increasing our alertness and sensitivity to the examples of exploitation, objectification and sexualisation we see around us.

We need to start asking more questions and developing our capacity to translate subtle (and not so subtle) messages in images and language that might otherwise be accepted as common place.


This image is of an activity conducted with youth. You can see the questions … “where is this lady’s head?” “Why isn’t she wearing a watch?” “Why is she so scantily clad to ask the guy for a date?”

The absence of a lady’s head is objectification. We don’t need to know who you ARE, we just need to use your body to make a point. The lady modelling for the watch brand is a gold medal winning athlete – she is shown neither for a talent other than her beauty or even wearing the watch that is so keeping with her ‘dedication to perfection’.

The old adage that “sex sells” is true – it must be for advertising agencies to continue to use those themes in their campaigns. But at what cost? What are the messages that we are consuming and allowing to shape our cultural understandings of human dignity and the value of people? What of the ongoing consequences for decreasing respect and distorted understandings of sexuality and intimacy? 

Time for action : what conversations do you need to start or understandings can you expand to raise your awareness of objectification, sexualisation and pornification in our culture? How can we empower our younger generations to reject the normalisation of these perspectives?


[see collectiveshout.org to add your voice to advocacy efforts]

why you should HATE porn 


The harmful impacts of porn on those consuming it, those creating it and those affected by the consequences of addiction ought to cause a degree of alarm. The ready availability and ease of access to pornographic material requires intentionality to stand against the insidious nature of its reach and consequences. 

  • It makes public what should be private 

Pornography makes ‘entertainment’ out of activities that ought to be personal and private. It is so counterintuitive to have doors on bedrooms, curtains on Windows and do not disturb signs on hotel rooms and then watch by choice the exact actions we would deem necessary to discreetly protect. 

  • It turns real people into mere objects 

Most porn depicts women as existing for the pleasure and gratification of men. As porn access and use escalates there is an increasing dehumanising of all involved. It trains watchers to disconnect from any sense of empathy, care or interest in the people as people (someones’s sister or friend) and to see them only for the functions they perform. The societal impacts of this are being documented as devastating. 

  • It promotes sex without intimacy

Sexual exploration and enjoyment is designed to be an expression of intimacy and a catalyst for deeper intimacy between loving, committed adults. Pornography is such a perverse distortion of this design intent, depicting sex entirely devoid of relational connection or love and often without consent. 

  • It normalises rape and sexual violence

Over 88% of pornographic content depicts acts involving violence or force. Non-consensual sex and aggression (inflicting real pain) against women is not only condoned but portrayed as enjoyable for the women. Doctors report an alarming number of young girls presenting with severe anal damage and associated complications as a result of rough and inappropriate sexual activity. 

  • It is a common but poor sexual educator 

Young people are viewing porn before they have even had their first crush or kiss and well before any formal education from schools (or even parents). They are exposed to an insane level of sexual learning before their brains are even able to process what they’re seeing or the reactions it illicits in them. It is shaping the sexual appetite and expectations of people who are often without a counter-message about the truth of healthy sexuality and intimacy. 

  • It is as addictive as any drug 

Addiction to pornography is a well-documented, life destroying scourge. Research reveals impact on job retention, financial security, educational success, family/relational health and general mental and physical wellbeing as the result of an all-consuming obsession with watching porn. Like any drug, an increasing amount or level of stimuli is required to achieve the same degree of arousal, enjoyment or release. Some youth have reported watching more than eight hours of porn per day!

We should HATE porn. For the gross distortion it is of something innately precious. For its numerous negative and destructive consequences. For the themes of dishonour and abuse of power. 

This website is a useful resource for education, advocacy and also practical support to fight sexual/pornographic addiction. Check it out – fightthenewdrug.org   

talking with your kids about sex

Where did you learn about the birds and the bees? Do you remember your parents giving you “the talk”? Did most of your learning come from friends, the graffiti on toilet cubicle walls, movies and TV, or maybe your best friend’s super-cool older siblings?

One of the most significant areas of discipleship and leadership we offer our children is in the area of sexuality and relationship – and yet, they can be some of the most awkward or feared conversations of all.

Here are some thoughts to consider – part of a broader conversation that I host with parents – to help empower you for this potentially uncomfortable yet intensely important aspect of your parenting role.

1. do the personal work 

Each of us has a unique perspective on the topics of sexuality and relationship that is heavily influenced by our own life experience. Our ability to lead children in healthy and helpful ways is impacted by the degree to which we have reviewed and processed our own upbringing and history.

If you were sexually abused or mistreated you may pass on fears and stigmas that are unhelpful. If you have had negative experiences or made significant mistakes in your own past, this will impact how you approach these topics with your child. If you have had a sheltered or extremely conservative upbringing you may pass on uninformed opinions or ideologies. If you had multiple relationships or sexual partners, if you were a pregnant teenager (or made a teenager pregnant), if you had an abortion, if you had early exposure to pornography, if you’ve struggled with sexual addiction … all this and more SHAPES your perspectives, understanding and feelings about sexuality and relationship.

In humility, parents must to do the work of review. We are doomed to either repeat the actions of our own parents or react to them (and do exactly the opposite) – for better or worse – unless we stop and review what that looked like and make sober decisions about its validity or usefulness. Our own experiences can be redeemed when we allow them to inform and educate others to make better choices.

2. know where you’re headed 

What do you hope for for your kids? What do you understand of the goal or intent of their sexuality? What type of relationships do you hope they’ll experience? How do you want them to perceive their own body and manage it? What empowerment or wisdom do you want them to be armed with? What situations do you want them to navigate intelligently and safely? How do you wish them to honour and respect others?

Knowing where you’re headed makes the pathway there more clear and more intentional.

The more ‘simple’ outcomes of saving themselves for marriage or protecting themselves from abuse or regret are a starting point, but there has to be more to your focus than that. Beyond the messages of “don’t” and “no” we have to endow our children with a sense of the beauty and joy that sexuality and relationship are designed to bring us and others in our world. Part of our created design includes this aspect of our beings and, as such, it is more than just a set of rules and guidelines that will help our children navigate the murky waters of culture and desires. It is a well shaped understanding of who they are, what God has in store for them and how they might ensure they are experiencing the fullness of His intent.

3. talk, don’t have ‘the talk’ 

It may be stating the obvious, but you’re not going to get this done in one conversation. It doesn’t matter how good that conversation is, how long it goes for or how many incentives are offered with it. One chat over milkshakes is not going to cover everything, it’s not going to accommodate for changing needs and cognition with age, it’s not going to give opportunity for all questions to be asked or all teachable moments to be explored. This is an ongoing conversation. Sorry for those of you who thought you were done! 😉

Make the most of opportunities that present to continue to shade in the big picture understanding you desire your kids to have. Ensure that each time you do talk about these kinds of topics it is left open-ended – ‘we can talk about this some more whenever you want’ or ‘if you think of other things later, be sure to come and ask me’. Engage with TV, media, overheard conversations, events in your family, song lyrics and the like to leverage opportunities to know where your child is and to keep the dialogue happening.

For some tips about talking to your kids about porn – check out this article  For further development of your awareness and language check out this site Fight the New Drug.

4. help your child translate culture 

We live in a highly sexualised world. It’s not sensationalising to make that observation, it’s just how it is. In fact, it is so sexualised we can often be immune to the various ways overt or distorted sexuality permeates our culture.

Rising proliferation and exposure to pornography has changed the water line and we are now soaking in a highly ‘pornified’ environment that requires our intentional identification and rejection. In sociological circles, pornography is considered to be the number one sexual educator of our children. Young people are being exposed to pornography often before they’ve had their first crush or their first kiss. Pornography has continued to become more and more violent and aggressive and less and less (if it ever were at all) reflective of intimate, romantic, private expressions of love.

This article draws attention to the pornography inspired images that are common-place in marketing and advertising. A walk through a shopping centre or a flick through a mainstream magazine will see multiple examples of these images. This website Collective Shout promotes advocacy around issues of objectification – it’s useful for raising your awareness as well as empowering you to be part of the response.

We need to help our children reflect on the things they see around them and to decipher the messages they are being sent and whether or not they are to be accepted or rejected. At age appropriate levels it may be as simple as wondering aloud with your child as to why a lady might look so unhappy in a picture – do you think she is having fun, do you think she is liking what is happening to her? To observing in more mature ways the submission-dominance interplay, the perception of a model as an object more than a person, the idiocy of a promotional picture that has no point of reference to the product or service it is purporting to promote.

***

This is a teaspoon of thought from an ocean of ideas, understandings and considerations that we need to continue to drink from – but it’s a start.

ASK THE QUESTIONS … what do you struggle to help your children understand? What approaches have you tried that you’ve found successful? What resources have you found useful?