Most of the parenting blogs here at Be Broken are about some aspect of talking with your child about sex. This time will be different! In this blog, I will discuss things you should do before you talk with your kids about sex.
If parents jump into conversations about sex with their children before the parents are ready to do that, the conversation will not go well. We will look at a couple of things you can do to help you be more prepared when the time comes for a conversation about sex.
The Baggage You Carry
Everyone has some level of baggage related to sex from their past. I’ve never met anyone who did not. Baggage from your youth or childhood can come in a lot of different forms.
Some examples include:
Hearing other kids talk about sex and you didn’t understand
Hearing a sexual joke from a friend or peer
Seeing a nude or partially nude image in a book or media
Being called a sexual name or being made fun of in a sexualized way
Unwanted sexual touch
Exposure to pornography
Reading an erotic story
Sexual experimentation or behavior
Such experiences can result in a mixture of confusing emotions, including confusion, fear, disgust, excitement, arousal, and alarm. When excitement or arousal occurs at the same time you experience fear, disgust, or confusion, the result is almost always to feel shame. To experience excitement and disgust at the same event can make a person feel broken and ashamed of themselves.
Baggage and Parent Reactions
As I’ve mentioned in other posts (see Responding to Children in Anger) when you or I carry baggage related to our sexuality it can make it hard to react calmly to our children’s questions about sex.
Trying to teach a child about sex when the parent has unresolved sexual baggage is a recipe for chaos. A parent cannot be expected to talk calmly with their child about sex when they see themselves in their child and recall their own past sexual baggage. This is an unfair situation to place a parent—or yourself—in.
Children need parents to remain calm during discussions about sex and sexuality. Fortunately, there are things parents can do to make that possible!
Processing the Past
There are lots of things you could do to make discussions about sex feel less threatening, but I will list just two here.
1. Talk with Someone Close
Pick someone to talk with. This may be your spouse or another friend, preferably one who is a parent themselves. Set some ground rules to make the conversation feel safe, which may include:
This is a two way conversation. Both parties must share their own past.
No details. Whatever you share, share in general, not graphic detail. That is not necessary and can even be unhelpful.
Share one experience related to sexuality from your childhood. Look at the list above for ideas.
Share how old you were, what happened, and how it made you feel.
Agree not to “fix” each other or give advice. Remember, you are talking about childhood experiences. None of us made great decisions as children.
If you feel this is going well you may choose to share another past experience, or wait and come back to discuss more later.
By sharing past experiences you bring them into the light. Assuming the person you share with is loving, this will be a positive and affirming experience. It will take away some of the sting and shame from those memories. This will make your past less likely to cause problems when it is time to talk with your kids about sex.
2. Getting Help with Trauma
Some readers may need more help than just talking to a friend or spouse. Talking with a friend will still help, but some readers have more trauma in their past than just a conversation alone can heal.
I was a parent in this category. I tried to tell myself that my past was not traumatic and that I did not need help from a counselor. It was a matter of pride to me. However, when things started falling apart I realized I did need professional-level help with my past.
Before seeing a counselor I viewed my childhood to include sexual experimentation, which I considered entirely my fault. However, a counselor helped me see that I was sexually abused. My counselor and I spent months going over my past and realigning my feelings about my past. This helped me let go of a lot of lies I had come to believe about myself, my sexuality, and the safety of other people. I was able to let go of a tremendous amount of shame.
Seeking professional help made me a better parent than before. I was increasingly able to talk to my children about sex in a calm and rational manner. My own past did not need to make me feel ashamed and I could better focus on my children.
I strongly suggest talking with your spouse or a close friend about your own past before you talk with your children about sex. Seek professional help as well if you think that would be helpful.
This will make having conversations with your kids about sex much easier. You will react better. You will remain calm and help your children feel safe.
But this requires practice! You probably need to talk with a friend or your spouse more than one time for this to feel safe for you. Perhaps just share a little at a time and come back to the conversation once a week or so.
This not only helps you react better to your children but it makes the task of teaching your children God’s design for sex easier to do. Your children will benefit greatly if you are willing to practice talking with an adult first.