As a parent, I seek to be the first and primary source of information my children turn to regarding sexual matters. I believe sexual education is foremost the responsibility of a child's parents, but far too many parents struggle with teaching their children about it.
Encouraging our children to approach us with questions about sex and talking with them about a delicate and complex topic can be daunting but it is important, even critical, to establish good patterns of communication and to provide our kids with a solid moral foundation. Our children are growing up in a world where they will be exposed to many ideas, but rather than trying to shut out the ideas that don't match our own values, we need to purposefully and vigilantly educate our children about what these values are and why they are important. Because parental education unfortunately falls short for many, we need a better sex-ed curriculum in our schools, including teaching about sex in its proper context of intimacy, explaining how the media use sex, and teaching facts about contraceptives. Rather than focusing on "safe sex", I'm advocating for teaching "intimate sex", at home and in our schools.
The LDS church has provided us with multiple resources for teaching about sex in our homes. The Gospel Principles Manual has the following note on chapter 39:
Parents can begin teaching children to have proper attitudes toward their bodies when children are very young. Talking to children frankly but reverently and using the correct names for the parts and functions of their bodies will help them grow up without unnecessary embarrassment about their bodies.Children are naturally curious. They want to know how their bodies work. They want to know where babies come from. If parents answer all such questions immediately and clearly so children can understand, children will continue to take their questions to their parents. However, if parents answer questions so that children feel embarrassed, rejected, or dissatisfied, they will probably go to someone else with their questions and perhaps get incorrect ideas and improper attitudes.
It is not wise or necessary, however, to tell children everything at once. Parents need only give them the information they have asked for and can understand. While answering these questions, parents can teach children the importance of respecting their bodies and the bodies of others.
Another book I found helpful is "Talk To Me First" by Deborah Roffman. She explains prior to the age of eight children will mostly be interested in anatomy and the mechanics of reproduction, so be careful not to read too much into their questions. Ms. Roffman also recommends purchasing anatomy books that allow them to see drawings of both genders, and how a fetus grows(my daughter loves learning about babies growing). When potty training your children, make sure you use appropriate medical vocabulary, there's no reason to teach them slang. Since most of us have had little experience talking about sex outside of our marriages you may want to practice what you will say, and the terms you will use in your head or with your spouse. You probably won't be prepared for everything, but do overs are allowed.
Around the age of eight, you will want to broach the subject of sexuality with your children. By this age or soon after they'll begin to recognize the subject in advertising, music, and other media. Let them know that sex isn't just about creating children but also about intimacy, vulnerability and being close to someone. As For The Strength of Youth puts it:
Physical intimacy between husband and wife is beautiful and sacred. It is ordained of God for the creation of children and for the expression of love between husband and wife. God has commanded that sexual intimacy be reserved for marriage.
Make sure you give a clear definition of sexual activity that includes more than just reproductive sex. In For The Strength of Youth behavior that should be avoided before marriage is listed as:
passionate kissing, lie on top of another person, or touch the private, sacred parts of another person's body, with or without clothing. Do not do anything else that arouses sexual feelings.
For The Strength of Youth also explains
The Spirit of the Lord will withdraw from one who is in sexual transgression. The only way to restore the spirit in one's life will be through the application of the atonement. We need to be careful of messages and object lessons that would deny the atonement. We should teach our children that they are in control of their bodies, and that they need to feel comfortable expressing to others that they need to respect their decisions. In some cases they may have someone else's will forced on them, For The Strength of Youth teaches
Victims of sexual abuse are not guilty of sin and do not need to repent.. Prior to talking to you children I encourage you to read what Elizabeth Smart says about self worth and sex abuse.
As they get older it is likely that your children will hear about lesbian, gays, bisexuals, and transsexuals. If you have established the proper ground work they will come to yo with questions about these traits. The LDS churches recognizes
individuals do not choose to have such attractions. Those who are born with those traits and act on them deserve our love and kindness. As members of the church it is not our place to bring about conformity through mocking, belittling, or harassing.
When children take an interest in media that isn't to a parents liking the parent often respond with hostility and by banning the media. As parents our role is to teach our children to choose the right, that can best be accomplished by explaining why the depictions in the offending media are wrong. We can not shield our children from all displays of iniquity in the world, but we can help them understand those iniquities in the context of our eternal path.
Talking to your children about sex is not a one time activity. It is an on going conversation as they mature and become capable of understanding more. Line upon line.
I believe sexual education is foremost the responsibility of a child's parents, but far too many parents struggle with teaching their children about it. These reasons include discomfort, lack of experience discussing it with their own parents, and too little parental involvement overall. As such we need to advocate for better sex education curriculum in our schools which includes placing sex in the proper context of intimacy, explains media's usage of sex, and teaches the facts about contraceptives. An effective curriculum will reinforce what we as LDS parents are already teaching in our homes, and will also provide a foundation for children who have received minimal or no information at home.
An important area where the curriculum can reinforce what is being taught at home is in regards to media's usage of sex. Sex is used by the media to sell us everything from hamburgers to cars. We need to make sure our children understand that advertiser are exploiting are desires for sex to try to trick us into thinking we desire their product as well. In the process of doing so they are also normalizing the public display of what are normally intimate activities. Songs, TV shows, and movies are full of suggestive material in order to entice consumers into watching, buying, or renting them. The behavior that is portrayed in these songs, TV shows, and movies is not normal or even generally considered healthy, but children who grow up even seeing them advertised will come to see them as normal if we don't push back. We can push back on these depictions in our sexual education classes.
It is important that we teach our children that they are empowered to control their intimate behavior. Our students need to know that they should not allow an intimate partner to bully them into intimate activities that they are not ready for. A recent NPR story discusses programs being tested in other states where students role play telling a controlling partner "no". So far these programs are proving to be far more effective in lowering rates of pregnancy and STDs.
Most women, ninety-eight percent, will use some form of birth control in their lives. That's a much higher percentage than will ever use calculus. Yet we're OK teaching calculus, and practically ban the teaching of contraceptives in our school. According to state statute:
The following may not be taught in Utah public schools through the use of instructional materials, direct instruction, or online instruction:
(1) the intricacies of intercourse, sexual stimulation or erotic behavior;
(2) the advocacy of homosexuality;
(3) the advocacy or encouragement of the use of contraceptive methods or devices; or
(4) the advocacy of sexual activity outside of marriage.
Due to prohibition (3) most school districts will not allow ANY discussion about contraceptives. Students do not learn about the effectiveness or side effects of different types of contraceptives, or the side effects. Enabling our teachers to provide up to date balanced information about contraceptives will allow Utahns to make smarter decisions when they do decide to have sex.
Our children are entering a world where they will be exposed to many ideas, we do not need to, and we can not shut out the ideas that don't match our values. We need to talk to them first and give them a firm foundation so that when they encounter those other values, they will already know what is right. Due to many parents not being able to provide a proper context for their children we need to improve our state sex-ed curriculum in a way that reinforces our values. Utah children need better information about sex in the context of intimacy.