Very soon, I’m going to explain the Birds and the Bees to my eldest and I am terrified. Well, to be honest, we’ve had a few talks already. But thus far they have been more in the vein of respect girls and what to do if a girl likes you or you like a girl. He’s going to be 10 this summer, which is a whole other blog I should write about “How having kids makes a decade fly by.” But, even with that comment, I’m stalling. You see, for over most of my 10-year old’s existence, I was a youth pastor. As a youth pastor, there was a lot of talking to kids about sex.
As a result, I’ve done a lot of research on adolescent sexual behavior. I know, for example, that on average young people in the United States have sex for the first time at about age 17, but do not marry until their mid-20s.
In 2011–2013, among unmarried 15–19 year-olds, 44% of girls and 49% of boys had sexual intercourse.
I know that these levels have remained mostly unchanged since 2002. Adolescent sexual activity may include behaviors other than vaginal intercourse. In 2007–2010, about half of adolescents aged 15–19 reported ever having oral sex with an opposite-sex partner and about one in 10 reported ever having anal sex with an opposite-sex partner.
I also know stats on adolescent Internet habits. For example, 90% or (most likely more) of youth between the ages of 12-18 have admitted to viewing sexually explicit material online. Of nearly 1,000 polled, 66% of boys and 39% of girls with an average age of 13.5 years old have seen X-Rated material within the last year.
I’ve read the research on what early exposure to sex and sexually explicit content does to a developing boy’s (and increasingly more girl’s) brains. I know, for example, that even with content guards in place, “unwanted exposure to sexual material occurred in 32% of youth in homes,” as opposed to “43% of households without preventive software installed on the home computer”. “90% of the 8 to 16 year olds who have viewed online porn did so while doing homework.” Yeah, you read that last sentence right: “8-16 year olds.” If you extend the age bracket down and up a year to make it 7-18 the numbers are 70% that have accidentally come across it while researching for a school project.
I also know the devastating and undisputable effect that this material can have on said developing brains.
Though exposure to explicit material affects each individual differently, the overall damage it can cause is sobering to say the least. The truth is that ongoing exposure can lead to sexual addiction, unplanned pregnancies and puts children in a higher risk of being victims of sexual violence. It molds and shapes their values and attitudes towards themselves how they view others around them. This can often lead to a distorted perception of reality, a devaluation towards human life in general, as well as trivializing violent behavior.
So as I prepare to have this conversation with my 10 year old I am terrified, not of the conversation itself, but of learning what he might have already been exposed to.
The Good News!
There is good news in all of this. I don’t want to paint a picture of doom just because somebody saw a nipple. The good news is that I know how to give these talks and I’m going to share my knowledge with you.
Ready? Here goes:
It is not “The Talk” it is many, many talks!
It has to be YOU or they will learn from their ill-informed, often misguided, moronic friends. This is way too complex and difficult a conversation to even contemplate getting it all out in a single sitting. My advice is this: make a plan and have regular check-ins over the course of every year until they get married or join a convent [like my daughter will].
Be frank but not crude.
You will do your child no favors by speaking in riddles or shaded explanations. Euphemisms, while often amusing, will not help the conversation. They will not ease the tension and will just add confusion to what may already be a confusing topic for your child. That said, shortly into this adventure you should definitely go over a list of euphemisms with your child if for no other reason than that they know when an adult is being inappropriate.
Both what it is (physically) and what it is for (relationally). Now this may be difficult for many of you. Many people have had horrible experiences and that is a sentence I write with a heavy heart. Many people read the statistics in the beginning of this post and thought, “that sounds familiar” or “I have those numbers beat.” For them, even the seemingly simple task of explaining what sex is and what it is meant to be can cause pain. For that, and hear me in this, I am truly sorry. But think of this; in your selfless act of informing your child, you will better prepare them for a life filled with positive and healthy sexual experiences.
After you have explained what sex is, you need to, age appropriately, explain what sex is not. This will help your child understand what it means to respect themselves and others in a proper and healthy way.
Guys this is so so so so sosoooooooo important! Our culture is not open and caring. The church in particular has historically been absolutely horrendous in this. People make mistakes. Images get viewed online, relationships move too quickly, too soon. People get hurt, wounded, and upset. You as a parent will do irreparable damage by shaming your child for actions they have committed whether they were intentional or not, and will forever make them hesitant to come to you in the future.
Children are far too often exposed to situations that they are not equipped to handle; that’s just part of growing up. Whether the have been exposed to something online, or experimented with self-pleasuring and masturbation, or something else. Your responsibility as a parent is to be a listening ear and an understanding adult. It is not, I repeat NOT, going to do anyone any good if you add shame to the guilt they may already feel.
A short list of Do’s and Don’ts
- DO NOT GET ANGRY! Anger will only add more guilt and shame.
- DO NOT ASSUME THE WORST! Get the facts and then take calm, measured steps for any and all action that needs to follow.
- DO NOT EXPOSE OR EMPARRASS THEM! Your child needs to KNOW beyond a shadow of a doubt that your conversations will be kept private. The best way for them to know this is to KEEP THE DAMN CONVERSATION PRIVATE.
- DO reassure them that they are loved by you, and most importantly, by God. Cover them in love. Have you been to a wedding in the last 2,000 years? Then you have probably heard 1 Corinthians 13 which says: v1 “If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.” It goes on to say in v7 “It [love] always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Make sure your tone, attitude, and body language all convey love to your child or your words will sound like someone banging on a garbage can lid.
- DO be open and ready for questions. Answer every question they have. Some answers may need to be toned down for age appropriateness but I would err on the side of medical/anatomical correctness rather than evasiveness or vagueness.
Here’s the thing
This conversation will be a bit awkward and embarrassing for the both of us, but the cost of not having it is too high. I would rather have many uncomfortable conversations than have my son learn about sex from an unknowing friend filled with bluster and bravado and, in all likelihood, outright lies of his experiences. Or, perhaps even worse, a young lady who has the confidence built from actual experience.
I went to a private church school in kindergarten where one recess we sat around in a circle and everyone shared what they knew. No one knew very much but piecing it all together gave us the general idea, albeit a fumbling and groping in the dark sense, of sex. Private Christian school was supposed to curb exactly this sort of thing, but instead this became is the formula for my sexual education for many years. I would say that the earlier that you begin to haves these conversations with your child, the better off they will be able to handle the misinformation that they will be receiving.
Start them Young
Sarah and I started with our children as toddlers just naming body parts so that they would have the vernacular to use as a base to grow from. Later came talks about where babies come from, that babies aren’t brought by a stork like the movies, but are grown in mommy’s tummy, and so on. This conversation came on the heels of watching the movie Storks. (2016 Warner Bros. Animation) My advice is this: look for opportunities to have these conversations naturally. They don’t need to be large-scale productions involving props and diagrams. Later on, props and/or diagrams may be helpful, but for most of these ongoing conversations simply seizing on an opportunity that comes naturally will make up for any deficiencies in preparedness.
Nowadays of course, many children will be informed of the process in sex-ed. but I caution you, don’t let this substitute your own conversation with your child. Sex education, while helpful, is not going to be able to inform your child in a loving environment like you can provide. Your child may be embarrassed to ask questions if front of classmates, or not want to look like they don’t grasp the subject fully in front of the group. Embarrassment or distraction can lead to partial learning of key concepts or misunderstandings of crucial elements. You know your child better than any teacher. You can read his or her face to find understanding of the concepts or if further explanation is needed. Additionally, you can approach the subject from your own personal convictions instead of a school-board-approved-state-mandated-curriculum.
I remember my sex-ed. in high school, was taught by Mr. G and the only thing I learned was that if you have sex horrible things will happen from open sores to peeing fire to straight up death, “so just don’t have sex.” This is sadly the most in-depth most sex-ed classes will get, not for lack of desire or incompetence but due to the limited training that most schools give their teachers in this area. Often Sex-Education is offloaded onto whoever is available for the class, not the most trained, according to Ben Guthrie, Professor of Human Sexuality at the University of Indianapolis.
Although this conversation will most likely be awkward, and for some of you it may even be painful, it still needs to happen. When handled well, it will bring you closer. And, I promise, after the first few conversations it will get easier and less self-conscious.
One final note.
I am sharing this with you to give you the benefit of my experience, which I am happy to do. That said, some of you may know or one day come in contact with my kids. I would simply ask that you not speak of this, hint at it, or even obliquely reference it as this will undoubtedly cause them embarrassment and break the trust and confidence I am working so hard for. Additionally, if you do, I will most likely punch you in the head.
That said, I would personally love to chat with you about this or any fatherly duties so be sure to drop me a note in the comments or send an email.
I will post some links of resources I have found helpful and true with the caveat that I cherry pick from multiple resources and cannot endorse all of the content on any of these website exhaustively.
Resources and links.
 Finer LB and Philbin JM, Trends in ages at key reproductive transitions in the United States, 1951–2010, Women’s Health Issues, 2014, 24(3):e271–e279, doi:10.1016/j.whi.2014.02.002.
 Martinez GM and Abma JC, Sexual activity, contraceptive use, and childbearing of teenagers aged 15–19 in the United States, NCHS Data Brief, 2015, No. 209, https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/products/databriefs/db209.htm.
 Copen CE, Chandra A and Martinez G, Prevalence and timing of oral sex with opposite-sex partners among females and males aged 15–24 years: United States, 2007–2010, National Health Statistics Reports, 2012, No. 56,
 X-Rated: Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors Associated With U.S. Early Adolescents’ Exposure to Sexually Explicit Media
Jane D. Brown, Kelly
L. L’Engle Communication Research Vol 36, Issue 1, pp. 129 – 151 First Published February 1, 2009 https://doi.org/10.1177/0093650208326465
 Exposure to pornography among youth in Australia
Michael Flood Journal of Sociology Vol 43, Issue 1, pp. 45 – 60 First Published March 1, 2007 https://doi.org/10.1177/1440783307073934
 Covenant Eyes, internetsafety101.org/pornographystatistics, growing wireless.com