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

trump, leadership & the language of abuse


When I was 13 years old, there was a boy in my Year 8 classes at school who would often grab me in my crotch. 

I would get to class quickly and try to position myself between two occupied seats but he was that guy with enough social clout to tap the person next to me on the shoulder and tell them to move or even get that done with just the flick of his head. 

I would sit my school books or pencil case on my lap as a deterrent. 

I remember him laughing. I remember feeling so unsafe. I remember not understanding why – what was he trying to communicate, how was I supposed to feel or respond?

Maybe he didn’t really know either? Where had he got the idea? What goal was he trying to achieve? What did his actions reflect of his understanding of sexuality or intimacy or respect for women? 

And then, then you hear the recording of Donald Trump – a 59 year old man (at the time), successful in business, of high social profile, educated, and relationally and sexually experienced. He is clearly heard to say about women, “when you’re a star …you can do anything. You can grab them in the p—y. You can do anything.” 

So, it’s just because you can? It’s just because no one tells you not to? 

Why is HE doing it? Does he think it’s sexy? Has it worked as a pick up measure in the past? Does he think women like it? Does he consider it foreplay? Does it feel like a conquest?

Whatever the motive and whatever the personal justification, he has ultimately given voice to the misguided behaviour of a 13 year old boy – and males of all ages – that ‘because you can’ supersedes all other filters for choosing a behaviour or action. The lack of respect for others (particularly women), the obscene level of narcissism, the depraved distortion of sexual intimacy and honour of another’s sexuality, the right of another to feel safe in their person – free from the expectation that someone might just grope their genitals at any time …all that and more just falls away. 

This is the fertile soil that nurtures abuse and entitlement and this man has just put language to it. 

This IS leadership. It is terrible leadership – but it is leadership. It is a person of influence using language of permissiveness and dishonour to shape the culture they are leading. 

This really is not okay. 

Our young men need to hear a different narrative and be called to champion a higher standard. Our women need men who will esteem and protect them – for everything they are – including their sexuality and physicality but extending deeper to their mind, their soul; their hearts. Our countries need leadership that embodies respect for every human and renders unacceptable anything that demeans or diminishes. 

Trump’s profoundly inappropriate attitude and words (including his lame charade of an apology) and the response they’ve received ought to be a wake up call for us all. A call to check our language, check our privilege, and check our leadership. 

We can do so much better than this. We must. 

how far can I go?


“How far can I go?” Easily the number one question – spoken or not – of Christian dating couples in relation to physical intimacy. “How far is too far?” Or asked another way, “What is the absolute most we can get away with without actually sinning?”

I’ve heard all manner of answers to it, from the ‘click and whistle’ approach (cause you can’t get up to too much if you’re hands are clicking and your lips are whistling!) all the way through to justifying everything outside of vaginal intercourse (which leaves a whole lot of options!).

It reflects the natural bent of the human heart – but particularly the young person as they explore their emerging independence and self-governance – to know where the boundary is so that we can run right up close to it. How close to the fire can we stand without getting burnt? How far can I go?

It’s the wrong question. 

We don’t ask it with some other boundaries.

When standing on the edge of a very tall building we’re more likely to ask ‘how far BACK from the edge do I need to stand to be safe?’ And only the brave (or stupid) would venture too close. Because we know that the consequences of finding out where ‘too far’ is would be dire!

We need a better understanding of sexual intimacy. 

While they may be true, ‘God says’ or ‘the Bible says’ are not adequate boundaries. They’re a good start but ultimately unsustainable without a greater sense of purpose and intent. An understanding of why God wants us to honour our own and one another’s sexuality (including His intended design for us to experience and explore our sexuality in covenanted marriage, the preciousness of our physical person and His desire to keep us from heart-wounding) is needed to carry beyond the legalism to a deeply held desire for God’s best for us and for the other.

Externally imposed rules and boundaries are no match for internally determined desires, goals and intentions. A deeply held understanding of and a conviction around God’s best is needed to make good personal choices and also to process any sense of falling short. 

God desires that we would not be wounded sexually through abuse, rejection, confusion or manipulation. He doesn’t intend for sexual intimacy to be a thing of comparison or competition. God doesn’t want us to carry the heart burden of sexual regret or remorse as well as other potential physical consequences.

God designed us as sexual beings and, as with everything He made, it works best when experienced as He intended for us. God’s love for us compels Him to draw a boundary around our sexual exploration and engagement.

Honour as a boundary. 

Whilst boundaries around the where, what and when of physical intimacy are helpful and accountability to them necessary – the greater value of honour will ultimately fuel the kind of self-control and determination required to succeed. Honour of God’s will and heart for us, honour of our own sexuality and the gift it is intended to be in its created context and honour for one another – a deeply held sense of protection and preservation of the other’s dignity, purity and heart. 

Instead of “how far can I go?” other questions to ask …

What do I hope for in a potential future marriage relationship – how can I protect that now? How do I best honour the other person? Is this in line with God’s design for my sexuality and for sexual intimacy? How can I manage my own lust and desires? How far back from ‘the edge’ should I stay to keep from falling? What decisions do I need to make and practices should I put in place that will set me up to win?

 

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?

How far can I go?

When it comes to the topics of “Sexuality and Relationships” and youth and young adults the two most frequently asked questions are “How will I find ‘the one’?” (refer last week’s post on making decisions) and the big one “How far can I go?”

How far can I go? It seems like a pretty reasonable question. “Where is the boundary? Where is the line that I shouldn’t cross? Tell me what I can and can’t do – define it for me and then I can manage my behaviour accordingly.” Continue reading

Just say “no”?

There’s a movement in the States called “The Abstinence Movement”. It’s generated out of Christian churches who are wanting to elevate a Godly perspective of sexual purity and honour in a sex-soaked culture that de-values sexual purity and promotes the sexualisation of women, children and … well … pretty much everyone and everything!

The heart behind the movement is to encourage young people to make a commitment to abstain from sexual intercourse prior to marriage. In some cases, young people participate in “purity ceremonies” where, before their parents and members of their church, they pledge abstinence – inclusive of putting a ring on their wedding finger – until they get their actualwedding ring.

This movement receives government funding as a social health strategy.

In recent times, the government has been reassessing their funding of the movement after research conducted indicated no discernible difference in the sexual activity (loss of virginity, promiscuity, sexual regret or transmitted diseases) of those who were IN the program when compared to those who weren’t.

Clearly the message of “just say no” – even if accompanied by a piece of jewellery! – is not enough on its own. We need a sound understanding of sexuality and sexual purity rather than reducing it to a simple statement or a once-off pledge.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 gives us something of God’s perspective on this area of our personal discipleship.

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; … learn to control your body in a way that is holy and honourable … no one should wrong a brother or sister or take advantage of them.” (condensed)

As leaders, parents and ‘adults’ in the worlds of our young people it falls to us to help them grasp a full awareness of God’s design for our sexuality – that within a covenanted married relationship the full expression and exploration of sexual intimacy would bring a couple to unity and an incredible depth of relationship.

We all need to establish a firm grounding in the truths of this beautiful gift God gives to us in order to equip us to navigate a world that distorts and detracts from what He designed us to experience. The “no” we would encourage our young people to say is to the counterfeit joy and satisfaction that is offered in our sexually broken culture. God has a bigger and better “yes” that needs to be before us always.

What about … Intimacy?

At iGnite 2 weeks ago I brought a message titled “What about … Intimacy?” – addressing issues of sexuality, relationship and intimacy from a Biblical perspective and with a heart to see a healthy culture in our church family at WBC around these issues. The link to that message is here.

I am regularly asked to speak to different churches, youth groups, parent nights and leadership teams on these issues as the Church continues to try and ‘reclaim’ a Biblical understanding of our sexuality and design for intimacy amidst the brokenness we experience in our search for love and in a world that values very little in respect to purity and honour.

Here is an excerpt from an article out of the Fuller Youth Institute in the States that gives some tips for parents looking to address these issues with their teens …

If you’re a leader or parent who finds it challenging to talk to young people about sex, try some of the following tips that have worked for me:

  1. Start by asking about friends’ behaviours and attitudes. If it feels too challenging to ask a young person about their own practices or attitudes, ask about “other kids at school” as a way to start the conversation.
  2. Use media, current events, or other resources as a springboard. Maybe even start the conversation by using the content of this blog as a door-opener.
  3. Choose the right time. Much of conversation with teenagers boils down to timing.
  4. Share about your own experiences. One of the themes in our Sticky Faith research is that wise parents share (not lecture!) about their own experiences in natural and organic ways. Without divulging every detail of your sexual past, perhaps your young person is ready to hear a bit about mistakes you made, or what you wish you’d done differently.
  5. Invite your young person to talk to another adult. If you’re a parent and it’s just too challenging to talk with your young person about sex, then figure out with your kid who they might be able to talk to.

Often there’s more happening sexually in young people’s lives and thoughts than we might realize. May this new study be a catalyst for better conversations about tough topics.

The full article can be accessed here.

We desire to be a support and resource to your families as you seek to navigate these tricky issues with your young people. Please do not hesitate to engage us in any way that is useful to you – pointing you in the direction of other resources, connecting your young person with a leader or mentor, chatting things out with you, connecting you with other parents who are a little ahead of you on the journey … however we can assist.