Talking to Kids about Sex

Rev. Deb Koster

March 16, 2017

Sooner or later, your kids will ask someone about the birds and the bees. Conversations with children about sex can be uncomfortable, but we can’t leave this job undone. Sex education is not the job of the school or the church, it is the responsibility of the parents. When our kids look for answers, we parents need to be the first, best, safest place they go for answers. When children lack answers, they'll Google it elsewhere and our culture will fill that gap with it's own answers. It is best to step up, early and lightly, and have these conversations from the beginning, even if they make us uneasy.

Biblical guidelines

Scripture knows that children sponge up answers and encourages parents to constantly remind their children of how they fit in God's world. Deuteronomy 6:7 tells us to speak of God's instructions all day long. “Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” God's design includes sexuality, so it's a topic for exploration at age-appropriate levels at all ages. In our family, we’ve tried to have these conversations with our kids in simple and relaxed ways at young ages so the pressure for the "BIG TALK" never has a chance to build up. That way we create an environment where they feel comfortable coming to us with questions and we can be their source of information.

Tackling the tough questions

Direct questions require direct answers. I’m reminded of a postcard we received from camp one summer. Our pre-teen daughter sent a note describing that she got to hold snakes and rabbits in the nature shack, swim out to the floating dock in the lake, and play capture the flag in the forest. She said her bunk mates were nice and her counselor was great. Then she wrote, “Please write me right away and tell me what 'getting raped' means.” We read this postcard through several times asking ourselves, “Did she really ask that?” We were also worried about what the context was for asking such a question. We wrote back to her with an honest answer and we also privately wrote her counselor so she knew this was being discussed. It turned out that another girl in her cabin had a school friend who was raped and she mentioned it to the girls in the cabin. My daughter did not know what it meant and did not want to appear foolish so she asked her parents instead. We were just grateful that when the topic came up, she felt comfortable to come to us first with this question.

Creating comfortable dialogue

Part of the trick of avoiding awkward conversations is to be honest but simple, answering enough of the questions to satisfy the child without over-explaining out of anxiety. Talking regularly about their questions is a good way to foster healthy dialogue. You don't need to wait for children to bring up a topic, you can guide ongoing conversation about things they may wonder about. Lots of regular conversations can create a rhythm of trust and establish your expertise as someone to come to for answers.

Handling the inopportune moments

Another part of the trick is to remain calm and not appear anxious, freaked out, or embarrassed. The question is innocent and honest enough, so don't scare off further questions by overreacting. Getting flustered only tells the child you don't want to talk with them about this. All too often the most intimate comments happen at inopportune times. A comment gets made in the grocery store, or in front of company at the dinner table. You might give a simple answer if you can, and it's okay to suggest that you can talk more about the question later when you can have more time to talk. Be careful not to embarrass or shame your child for asking a question--it is important that they feel comfortable coming to you with their concerns.

Guidelines for answering hard questions

So how should you respond when your kids ask uncomfortable questions?

  • Do not freak out. Answer questions about sex in a relaxed way, without translating anxiety onto our kids.
  • Do answer truthfully, if simply. Talk honestly to your kids when they are asking questions.
  • Do not feel the need to explain everything you know. Let your answer be as simple or complex as the child is at this age. 
  • Do seize these teachable moments without shying away from the issue. It shows you're invested and interested in what your child is thinking. 
  • Do give a brief answer when the question comes at an inopportune setting, and postpone if needed. Be sure to circle back to the question at the first opportunity. It is okay to defer as long as you come back to it.
  • Do keep God as the hero in the story. Sexuality is a gift from God. He has lordship over this area of life as well.

Remember the framework

God created sex as a good thing--don't let the culture make it anything less than God's gift for married couples! You don’t have to talk about being found under a cabbage leaf or dropped off by the stork. We can give them straight answers without excessive detail. On all topics, be the source of answers for your kids, so they don't seek answers elsewhere!

About the author — Rev. Deb Koster

Deb Koster is a producer, writer, and speaker for Family Fire. She is also an Innkeeper at The Parsonage Inn in Grand Rapids, MI where she leads marriage retreat on weekends. After over 20 years as a Registered Nurse, she completed a Master of Divinity degree and was ordained as a pastor in the Christian Reformed Church. Deb and her husband Steven enjoy doing ministry together and they are the parents of three awesome young adults.

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