The first time I had a conversation about sex with my son, he was five. Still married at the time, I had attended a family discipleship conference in which the keynote speaker suggested first addressing topics around sex as early as kindergarten.
I froze. My son was already in kindergarten. Ever the over-achiever, I felt so behind the curve. How had I missed this? After the seminar concluded, I marched straight to the lobby and purchased the set of recommended guidebooks, in all their anatomically correct, water-colored splendor.
The following weekend, I followed the speaker’s suggestions, step by step. Comfy and quiet spot? Check. Favorite snack? Check.
As my son and I poured over the books, he was engaged, even curious. “This is going so well!” I thought to myself. “Why are parents so hesitant to talk to their kids about sex? It’s really not so bad.”
A Personal Example of Talking to your Kids about Sex
Fast forward, 5 years later. I’m divorced. My now 10-year-old son bounded in the door one day after school. He asked me about a sexually explicit term he heard on the playground that day. I expected this would happen eventually. Unfazed, I asked him if he remembered what we talked about when we last sat down to read what my children have now termed, “The Books.”
He responded, “Yes. Um, well, I think so.” As I pried a little further to discover what he did remember, it became clear the answer was “not much.” While we’d read the books a few times over the previous half-decade, I suddenly realized there was a huge gap between “The Books” and his application of them to what was going on in real life.
I repeated the process as I’d done before. I grabbed “The Books.” Check. We found a comfy and quiet spot. Check. And of course, the favorite snack. Check.
But this time as my son and I read through the materials, he had so many more questions. Big questions. He began asking questions about his own physiology, questions I couldn’t completely answer without having had experienced life in the body of a young male.
I got out a pencil and a sheet of paper and sketched out the most awful diagrams (which suddenly gave me heaps of compassion for my fourth-grade teacher who’d done the same thing back in 1992). He then asked me about relationship cues he’d noticed between boys and girls at school, which I could scarcely comment on having been a completely bookworm-ish and mostly oblivious girl back when I was his age.
And then there were the questions about God’s design for sex and marriage, and why our family hadn’t followed them. Suddenly, what was supposed to be a conversation about sex became a full-scale treatise on the theology of divorce.
A Single Parent’s Perspective
When you’re a single parent, talking to your kids about sex has extra layers of complexity. It’s impossible to talk about God’s beautiful design for sex and relationships without also confronting the fact that sometimes our lives don’t match that design.
As Dr. Juli Slattery says, sex is not just about a physical act. Rather it is about emotional intimacy between a husband and wife that reflects mysteries of the divine. Loss, betrayal, abuse, addiction, and disappointment all mar that reflection. In a sense, the result is that sex and relationships in this world are not as they should be. Often, the outcome is a brokenness mired in deep pain and sorrow, and very often shame.
For many of us, this brokenness is still at the forefront of our minds. And we may feel as though everyone can see it on our un-ringed fingers. But as Dr. Slattery says, “we are all sexually broken.” Regardless of how you arrived in this single parent season, we must all confront the suffering of life lived out in this fallen world, while striving to pass on something better to our children.
Single parents often find themselves entrenched in the middle of it all and knowing where to begin can feel overwhelming and frustrating. What’s a single parent to do when facing talking to your kids about sex?
Strategies for Talking to your Kids about Sex
- How will you handle discussions around anatomy and mechanics?
- How will you address God’s design for intimacy and sex in marriage?
- When sexual sin arises, how will you talk about the consequences?
If you’re not sure what the Bible says about sex (or if some of these words I just said made you uncomfortable), you’re not alone. Get curious. Find a trusted pastor or mentor who can guide you in your own discipleship process. From there you can craft your conversation about sex with your kids.
More than what you say, your example will show your kids what they should copy. You will be most successful talking with your children about sex and relationships when your own heart, mind, and life align with God’s intentions for these things.
2. Enlist Help
As a male or a female, there will be some great insights you can offer. But there are just some things you won’t be much help with. For many single parents, enlisting the help of the child’s other parent is either not possible or not safe. Choose mentors for your children of the same sex who are role models of godly living, who can be voices of wisdom through their adolescent, teen, and young adult years.
- Allow opportunities for your child to regularly spend times with these individuals to cultivate a relationship of trust that is the foundation of good discipleship.
- Perhaps your child can grab a burger with a certain mentor and their family, or a couple of mentors can gather to play a game or teach your child a skill or craft.
- Use discretion and sound judgment as to whether it is prudent for your child to be alone with this person – most often, time completely alone is unnecessary.
- Always prepare your child with an awareness of safe and unsafe behaviors when it comes to dealing with adults.
You may have experienced brokenness around your sexual experiences and relationships, but that’s not the end of the story. God heals the wounds of brokenness, and the result is always the scars of triumph. He is not ashamed of you, and He desires to give you a crown of beauty for your head in place of the ashes of mourning you have been covered in.
Commit to your own healing journey, and you’ll see that as you are healed, you are transformed. Through this transformation, God will empower you to be candid with your kids about your life experiences with the benefit of wisdom to impart to them.
As you share your journey in age-appropriate ways, it will allow them to see the real-life implications of living apart from God’s design, whether by our own hand or by the hand of others. But greater still, your life will also become a shining beacon of God’s restorative power and healing grace. Take the time– it’s worth it.
This list is by no means the end all, be all on the subject of talking to your kids about sex. Conversations with our kids about sex shift as our lives change, but a foundation rooted in Christ always withstands every season of life.