With so many loud voices coming from worldly sources about what sex and relationships truly are, how can parents teach their children healthy and righteous perspectives about human sexuality? This guide for parents is a scientifically-informed LDS perspective on how to talk with children in an open and faith-based way that will help them build a foundation of communication and trust, understand the physical body, and understand specific sexual issues such as pornography, self-touching and masturbation, same-sex attraction, and dating.
I have two beautiful little girls. Their purity and perfection feel out of place in a sex-saturated culture. In response to sexual confusion and fear, I give you this book: current, well-researched, and Christian.
Here’s what I learned, organized by the questions that it answered. I’m including page numbers and chapters whenever possible on the assumption that you’ll be reading it soon. It’s a game-changer.
Q: I was raised with two rules about sex: abstinence (before marriage) and fidelity (after marriage). But I’m learning that there’s a lot more to healthy sexuality. What’s missing?
“The goal isn’t just abstinence–The goal of this book is children who are both sexually pure and sexually prepared” (vi).
(And this is why, six pages in, I decided to finish the book).
Q: I don’t want my girls to learn about sex from the media, but I’m not sure what or how to educate them. What’s my role as a parent?
The parenting relationship is huge! Research shows that parent-child communication is more effective than school Sex Ed programs. Consistent, open communication is more effective than having ‘the talk’” (p. 33). Don’t attach fear, discomfort, or disapproval to the topic of sex. Listen. Have developmentally reasonable expectations, and be involved in your kid’s life (p. 26-27). Being proactive rather than reactive. Anticipate struggles that they might have and have conversations beforehand. (Chapter 3, Parents are Integral).
Also, quit teaching about sex through fear-based metaphors. Sex IS the metaphor! (p. 12, Ch 1, Sexual Metaphors). Remember sexual wholeness. The soul is both body and spirit, so sex is emotional, physical, and spiritual (Ch 2, Sexual Wholeness).
Q: I have a two year-old; what’s my developmental task NOW?”
- Refer to body parts using correct names.*
- Use a positive upbeat tone when discussing the body.
- Always encourage children to understand how their body works.
- Present happy, healthy, satisfied assessments of your own body (p. 56, Ch 5, Basics of Sexual Anatomy and Puberty).
*See development teaching tasks (by age) on page 85ish.
Q: Masturbation is something that nobody talks about, but even young kids self-touch. Is it bad, and how should I approach the topic with my kids?
Masturbation is the first sexual experience that most of us have and the most common sexual experience before marriage. 40% of adult women and 70% of adult men admit to masturbating in the past 90 days. The same gender ratios exist for toddlers. In both age groups, it’s probably more common than reported (p.117).
The effects of masturbation aren’t really researched, but we do know God’s standard: Any time that we respond to physical urges at the expense of future goals and relationships, we reap unhappiness and distress (p. 113).
For small children, distraction is the best approach to prevent self-touch. Don’t tell them that it is bad or gross. Once they’re verbal, be real: it feels nice. It is appropriate to talk about how Heavenly Father made the vagina, clitoris, and nipples feel very good so that someday we would want our husbands to touch us like that. But for now He wants us to exercise self-control to not touch ourselves or let others touch us in those places (p. 117).
For teenagers, we should normalize, validate, and encourage growth (p. 121). The goal is to practice managing sexual thoughts and feelings without shame and self-hate. “Controlling behavior is not as important as developing an open, caring relationship in which sexual feelings and mistakes can be discussed and support can be received” (p. 127, Ch 9, Self-Touching and Masturbation).
Q: Many of my family members and friends struggle with pornography addiction. How can I prevent pornography exposure and addiction for my girls?
- Prevent early exposure (p. 134). The longer we can delay first exposure, the more developmentally prepared our children will be to process with us (p. 135). So use filters, turn in devices at night, and place screens in public areas. Use accountability software programs maintain an open book policy to view kids’ activities online.
- Encourage internal monitoring. Ultimately, we want our children to see pornography for what it really is and to decide for themselves that that is not how they want to express sexuality (p. 137). We will need the context of sexual wholeness and healthy sexuality to do that. Help kids replace myth with truth. Help them understand that pornography builds unrealistic expectations (p. 138), promotes secrets instead of trust (p. 139), and creates a distorted attraction template (p. 140).
Also, don’t assume that pornography is an addiction. When you discover pornography use, ask how deep the habit is—what and how frequent are his/her viewing behaviors, and what/why are his/her motivations (p. 142-6, Ch 10, Pornography).
Q: Aside from praying that my girls will be homely (which at this point seems unlikely, and a little unkind), how will I help my teenagers navigate sexuality and mixed-gender relationships??
Parents shouldn’t approach this stage by expressing dread, joking about it, or suppressing it. Rather, we should talk about sexual/relational/physical development regularly (p. 65).
Ideally, kids should have boy friends and girl friends before having boyfriends or girlfriends. Encourage non-committal, non-exclusive mixed gender relationships, and share the honest consequences of pairing off too early (Ch 12, Pairing Off & Dating).
Encourage “arousal awareness” (p. 177). “Learning how to appropriately regulate sexual arousal is essential for healthy sexual development.” It’s akin to a toddler learning emotion regulation.
- Arousal simply means a stirring to behavior, and it occurs emotionally, intellectually, physically, and spiritually. Sexual arousal is the steepest kind and leads to sexual climax. We should give space for our teens to talk and think about arousal, to be aware of their sexual feelings without judging them (p. 66). With practice, they will understand their bodies’ arousal response well enough to set their own boundaries (p. 67, Ch 5, Basics of Sexual Anatomy and Puberty).
You might consider creating a coming-of-age ritual to celebrate the transition from girl to woman (or boy to man). It could be anything from a chocolate party to a camping trip. (Ch 6, Discussing and Celebrating Puberty)
Q: I’m a married adult, but a new student of sexuality. Is there anything for me in this book?
- “Neither indulging in our sexual feelings now eliminating our sexual feelings is appropriate” (67). Sexual feelings come from the Giver of Life.
- “The real goal of sex is intimacy, not sexual intercourse or orgasm” (p. 188, Ch 13 Engagement and Honeymoon)
- Be gentle with yourself and others. “There are some aspects of the gospel in which we tend to acknowledge the process of progression, and there are others in which we seem to acknowledge only perfection” (p. 146). We need to be patient and allow growth! We are all still maturing sexually (p. 147). 💕
Note: I didn’t love Chapter 11 on Same-Sex Attraction. The research was confusing and occasionally contradictory; on whole, less prescient than the rest of the book. Open to your wisdom on the topic!
* We’ve been practicing using correct anatomical terms. Consequently, our toddler is brilliantly well informed, and conversations are occasionally embarrassing. She’s pretty proud to share that poop comes from the anus, pee from the urethra, and blood (and babies) come from the vagina. Oh, and boys have penises. If you are recipient of this report, kindly refrain from laughing until she leaves the room.