When I entered a youth group at age twelve we were given a model to follow with our sexuality. That model was essentially, “Keep sexually pure because once you have sex your purity is gone and no decent person will want you.” Maybe that is not exactly what I was told, but that is what my 12-year-old brain interpreted the message to be.
There are lots of problems with this message. First of all, what does “have sex” actually mean? It was quite vague to me what might be considered “crossing the line” and the fact kids in the youth group asked, “How far can you go,” showed me I was not alone in my confusion.
What about things like pornography? Even at 12, I knew that most boys, including those in the youth group, used porn. I also knew girls often read “romance” novels, which I saw little difference from soft porn at age 12. How did all this fit into the idea of purity?
Today pornography use is nearly ubiquitous in teen boys and is growing rapidly in teen girls.
However, as an adult, I realize there are many more ways a child’s sexuality can be impacted besides sex and sexualized media. Kids tease each other about their bodies all the time. Kids sexually objectify each other far more often than parents like to think about. Kids tell each other sexual jokes. Kids touch each other inappropriately, perhaps thinking it is funny, but it may not be funny to the victim. Older kids “teach” younger kids about sex in very inappropriate ways. This does not even consider the effect of adult culture on kids today.
All of these things contaminate a child’s sexuality. In this sense, no child is free of sexual contamination by the time they reach adolescence. No young person is sexually pure.
Purification is the Goal
This does not mean we should throw out the idea of purity. Kids get dirty all the time; both on the outside and on the inside. Parents do not panic to see that their child gets dirty while playing outside, they just send them to the bath or shower. In the same way, parents do not need to panic when they realize their child has been “dirtied” on the inside by the situations they have been exposed to.
Children are cleaned on the outside with a shower or bath. Children are cleaned on the inside with conversation.
That is why I call these conversations “Cleansing Conversations.” You can help clean out the sexual contamination your child is exposed to by asking certain questions. Those questions include:
1. What have you seen and heard lately? Simply ask your child what they have been exposed to. Here are some specific examples of this kind of question:
What have you heard other kids say about sex (or pornography)?
What sexualized images or messages have you seen recently?
This week I saw _____. Have you seen anything like that?
When I was your age a friend showed me pornography, and I was afraid to tell anyone. I don’t want you to be afraid to tell me. Has that happened to you?
This week someone at work said ______. What have you heard people say about sex (or pornography)?
2. What do you think about that? Often times kids do not pause and consider what they think about the messages around them. You can help them by inviting them to think about what they are seeing and hearing.
3. How does that make you feel? If your child did not share how they feel when asking what they think, ask that next. Invite children to share their feelings about what they are being exposed to.
4. Do you have any questions for me? When a child or even teenager is exposed to a sexual situation it usually generates more questions about sex. You want to invite your child to ask you those questions rather than allow them to sit within your child and fester. Unanswered questions about sex are a form of contamination you want to clean out.
5. What could you do next time? Help your child think about a plan in case something similar happens again. What can they do next time? How can you help?
6. Can we pray about this? Don’t forget to invite God into this conversation. Pray with your child for God to clean out their mind after this situation happened. Pray that they will not feel shame. Pray that they will feel safe and protected.
Notice that there is no lecture in these cleansing conversations. These are all questions. You are inviting your child to talk with you, rather than you talking at them.
The example above is about things children have seen or heard. You also need to ask about sexual things that have happened or something your child has done. To do so, replace the first question with:
What have you done or experienced personally? This includes what was done to or toward them as well as things they have done purposefully. Here are some specific examples:
Has anyone tried to touch you inappropriately?
Has anyone asked you to touch them inappropriately?
Has anyone shown you their private parts?
Has anyone asked you to show them your private parts?
When I was your age, someone _______. Has anything like that ever happened to you?
All the other questions, 2-6 above, would be the same. I would not recommend asking both what your child has seen or heard at the same time you ask them what has happened to them or what they did. That is an awful lot all at once. Start with what they have seen and heard and after a few of those conversations move on to what has happened.
Just like a bath, your child needs more than one cleansing conversation during their childhood. How often you have these conversations depends on your child’s personality and how well they react. However, I would recommend having a conversation like this once every few months from ages 7-10, once a month from ages 11-12, and weekly during their teen years.
Obviously, there are deeper conversations to have if your child is exposed to or participates in the more serious examples I have given. The point of this article is not to address every situation but to give a guide to entry-level conversations.
You cannot prevent your child from being exposed to sexualized media and situations. You can help them clean away much of the impact of that exposure. You are used to ensuring your child bathes regularly, and this is no different.
Do not allow yourself to freeze up with fear. Your child is in the right home. You are the right parent. You can have these conversations with your child.