This past Monday was Halloween. And to be honest, I like the holiday, but I’m not in love with it. It’s kind of a take it or leave it type of thing. That said, there is some fun in handing out candy to all the kids who visit our house and seeing the variety of costumes out there.
Some are funny.
Some are weird.
Some are “cute.”
And some are scary. But not really.
Because generally speaking you know that the kid wearing the costume isn’t scary at all. It’s just a mask and that mask doesn’t carry with it any real sense of uncertainty or possible doom.
But when it comes to talking to your kids about sex, porn, and those sorts of things, the fear you may feel is legitimate because unlike the snotty-nosed kid behind the mask standing on your porch, you have no idea what danger lies behind the sensitive conversations you face with your children.
So what often happens is we just don’t open the door to those talks. We turn off the metaphorical porch light and just wait it out hoping we never have to cross that uncomfortable bridge.
I can tell you this confidently because almost every time I talk to a guy who struggles with unwanted sexual behavior one commonality almost always comes up – their parents never talked to them about sex or sexuality.
Or if they did, it was a brief talk that sounded something like this:
“Sex is bad. Don’t do it. Porn is bad. Don’t watch it. Masturbation is bad. Don’t touch it. And oh yeah, about that sex thing… when you get married it’s ok so just wait – you’ll figure it out.”
Trust me. That is not a coincidence.
When a child or teen is struggling with sexual questions and/or curiosity, the one thing they need desperately is someone they love and trust to take the time to talk those things out with them. Because if not, they’ll get the information somewhere else, and that’s not something you ever want as a parent.
Worse yet, your lack of willingness to engage with them implies a sense of shame around the subjects of sex and sexuality which worsens their situation if they do struggle with sexual identity or health.
That said, again… yes, it’s kinda scary. Here are three common subjects that usually spook parents out and why.
1) The sex conversation, also known as “the birds and bees” talk.
This particular conversation is a rite of passage for any parent. It’s the most elementary of all the sexual talks you will face with your kids, but it’s fundamental to everything else. Of course, explaining what a penis and vagina are (nonetheless how they work together) with your eight-year-old is a daunting task.
There’s no denying that it may feel a little awkward and uncomfortable, but you need to enter that conversation confidently.
Realize there is no “sex talk.” There are many sex talks, and you don’t need to cram everything into your first chat. But for that first foray into the sex conversation realm, stick with the basics.
Acknowledge the humor they might find in certain terms, but also reinforce that sex is a beautiful and natural thing and there’s nothing weird, icky, or strange about it. Basically focus on the mechanics and miracle of birth.
As they get older and more emotionally mature, slowly introduce new topics including God’s design for sex and why it’s so special and beautiful when approached in a healthy way. As you go deeper into your conversations, try to avoid “sin” and “danger” messaging rather focusing on what’s healthy, not healthy, and why.
This is not to say you should avoid talking about the spiritual significance of sex. But, you should also explain some practical elements of abstinence and the like.
2) Masturbation and self-exploration
Again, timing is everything. You don’t want to wait until your child is 16 years old to talk about masturbation, but you most likely don’t need to explain the concept of masturbation to your 5-year-old.
That said, no child is the same and so you need to exercise wisdom and gauge when you feel they are mature enough to have that conversation. I talk about my exact conversation with my son in my book When Shame Gets Real, but that’s not to say my way is the best way.
However you bridge that topic, just be sure to not talk about masturbation or self-exploration as a dirty or naughty thing.
It’s just a thing. In fact, it’s a pretty natural thing if left to one’s own devices.
But it’s not the healthiest thing. Especially for a child or teen whose brain is still developing and will most likely chemically bond to the subject of their affection.
That said, regardless of what they do or don’t do, assure them that you are a safe person to come to with their questions, curiosities, or even mistakes. This way you can be there should they make an unwise choice and need some course correction or guidance.
This one is terrifying. Let’s be real. Simply put, there is no getting around the possibility that your child may seek out the “forbidden fruit” once you point out the tree. The logic is pretty solid at face value.
If I point out danger to my child, they may be more inclined to investigate it. And so maybe I’m better off just not saying anything. Ignorance is bliss, right?
Not exactly. That’s not reality.
Yet so many parents operate on this flawed conclusion.
That said, even if you do decide to bring up the topic of porn, you need to do more than simply acknowledge its presence in the world and tell them to not look at it. Porn is not a hot stove. You can’t just leave things at, “Danger, keep away!”
Most kids are exposed to porn through no fault of their own. And even when they do seek it out initially, it’s more out of a curiosity than a willful intent to disobey God and their parents.
Consequently, rather than leaning on all the “porn is bad” talk, explain to them that porn is a warped version of what God intended sex to be. Go back to God’s beautiful design for sex and let them know that porn wants to serve them something far inferior. If they are old enough to understand, explain its impact on their brain and how consistent exposure can impact their sexual and emotional health.
In the end, focus on their wellbeing and betterment and most importantly, remind them that you are always there for them whatever the choices they make, good or bad.
Because, unlike Halloween, the realities of sex, porn, and masturbation never go away. Your kids will have to face all these things and in most cases, a lot sooner than you might first think.
So you have an important choice to make.
Engage in these “scary” conversations or avoid them.
If you engage, you gain the benefit of building trust and getting the first say in their “sex education.” My wife and I have been very proactive in these areas of our kid’s lives, and we’ve never had reason to regret that decision.
If you avoid, they will explore these matters on their own without the help of your guidance. Chances are, that won’t end very well. And if your parents did the same with you, my guess is you already know that.