I decided as a young mother to teach my kids the basics of sex when they were young–young enough not to be embarrassed, or “grossed out”–young enough that someone else had not stepped in and told them “everything they wanted to know about sex but were afraid to ask.”
Kids come home from school with stories they’ve heard from their friends. And I’ve heard some whoppers. I wanted my kids to know about sex before that happened. I didn’t want them to be surprised or dis-informed by a classmate or friend. My daughter had a young girlfriend tell her babies come out your belly-button — of course my daughter corrected her. Today they hear all kinds of things. Our society will be teaching their opinions.
You may be wondering at what age I chose to disclose the so-called story of the birds and the bees to my children. Since I have a background in the biological sciences, I approached the whole “learning about sex” from that perspective. I think it’s natural to teach your children the parts of their body–eyes, ears, nose, elbow, and not avoid the parts that make us female or male.
Avoid those areas, and they begin to wonder why–because children are so smart. Being too vague, is not a good idea. I think I remember being slightly amused when I heard Mr. Rogers sing the song “Girls are fancy on the inside, boys are fancy on the outside–everybody’s fancy, everybody’s fine, your body’s fancy and so is mine…” At first I didn’t get it, and then I realized what he was saying. That is fine for Mr Rogers, but not for a parent with their child.
Fancy, what does that mean? Vagueness leads to imagining things that may not be true. So I like to teach my two year-olds all the body parts, and that girls are, yes, different than boys, by body parts for sure. I teach them the medical terms, penis and vagina.
However, in addition, I think a mom can choose whatever name she wants for those gender specific parts. I am reminded of an interview with the actress, Andie MacDowell, who shared an embarrassing moment in the grocery store when her little girl, uncomfortable in the shopping cart, loudly announced the problem with her “Vagina”. So, later they decided on a code word instead–“Princess”. I believe that it’s important to know the medical terms for all these body parts, but sometimes it is good to have a substitute, because little kids will say the craziest things in public. So, have fun choosing an alternate name. (that’s a topic on it’s own)
When they are three years old, they seem to have more questions, especially if mom becomes pregnant again. About age four or five I introduce the baby story. Like I said, I don’t want to leave this up to someone else to teach, so I have a book, that shows how babies grow inside the womb, from fertilized egg to full baby. And yes, I say, the “P” word, and “V” word. And in very simple terms, the “P” goes in the “V”. That explains how the sperm and the egg meet, an embryo develops, and a baby grows. The book shows this as well, in a respectful but clear way. And in my opinion, age eight is too late.
When I showed the book to my youngest son, who was about four years old, he looked at me and asked, “Does Hyrum know about this?”–he was ready to run out the door and share the book with his older brother.
It was matter of fact; not funny, not gross, not embarrassing. It is so simple, and a four year old is not embarrassed at all, it is just as if I explained that he has two eyes and a nose, and two legs that are great for walking and running. The door is open when questions arise.
Teaching children about sexuality as a Mormon
Along the way, kids need to understand about morality, dressing modestly, and saving sex for marriage. I used to tell my daughter, when she was young and playing with her Barbie–“Barbie can wear this, but you can’t, not until you are married.” I must confess, I didn’t get this, and dressed too often like Barbie.
I did not want to forbid it, but I wanted to let her know that sexy clothing is for a special time, married time, with your husband. This way, it is not taken away, but postponed.
At a certain time, the forbidden fruit is no longer forbidden, but we are blessed to be fruitful and multiply. There should be no guilt then.
It can be tricky to teach a concept–sexual behavior–that is a sin when you are not married, but not a sin when you are married. Most sins are sins whether you are married or not, such as stealing, cheating, breaking the sabbath, being uncharitable. But sex is tricky. Not married to each other, and it is a sin. Married to each other and it is righteousness, and keeping the commandments. The sexual stirrings are natural and good, but must be kept under wraps until that marriage. One father advised his son about his potential wife — “she should have high morals, but she should barely be able to keep her hands off of you.” That’s a good sign that she has a healthy attitude about sex, but is waiting for marriage.
By the way, I do not schedule some special day to talk about sex–I have memories of the public school teaching us girls the joys of womanhood–not so joyous a memory.
But in our home we talk about sex, morality, dating and marriage as we talk about other things in life. I do not focus on it, but I make sure my kids know the correct principles. Times to talk will unfold as I have been prompted by the Spirit.
We study the Strength of Youth Pamphlet and I impress upon them that it is better to wait to date seriously and exclusively until the age of marriage. Girls need to understand that boys are different than girls. That boys are visual and for this reason it is important to dress modestly, and not look sexy — Save all that sexy stuff for marriage. It’s fun and it’s good, but you need to wait.
It is important for kids to know what is normal as they go through puberty, and what is expected of them. That yes, these changes are good, but must be bridled as we put a bridle on a horse to show it the way to go. But there are times when the passion and feelings are all proper and good, in the bonds of marriage. The Apostle Paul said,
“Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.”I Corinthinans 7:3
Marriage is where we can express our full sexuality and feel good about it.