My friend’s child came home from kindergarten and asked her mother, “Mom, what’s sex?” My friend had a moment of panic. This was her oldest child, and that topic was not on her list to teach quite yet. Many parents find that they have to confront sexuality with their children much earlier than expected.
When do we teach children about intimacy? Given all the secular advice available on worldly sexuality in relationships, here are a few suggestions about how to teach your children about physical intimacy within a spiritual context.
Have a Plan
First, know that any discussion about the body requires sacredness. I find it interesting that as the Lord describes our physical form, He declares, “Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you” (1 Corinthians 6:19). Our bodies don’t just have properties similar to a temple; our bodies are temples.
Your child’s body is a temple. Anytime we are speaking with our children about their bodies, we are standing on holy ground. The feelings, words, tone, and spirit should reflect the ground upon which we stand.
Second, plan ahead. When a child asks a question, it helps to already have an idea of how to answer, even if you don’t know what they are going to ask. Here are a few tips:
Plan to answer honestly and clearly.
Plan to ask your child a question or gain information before you begin to answer their question. Ask calm, clarifying questions like, “What do you know about that?” Sometimes children are asking for something different than you think.
Plan to say less, rather than more.
Children need a complete but simple answer. Once they understand that answer, they may come back with another question. They need little bits of information given over time, line upon line. Each new bit of information should build upon something you said previously.
Plan to postpone a discussion if the time is inappropriate.
Set a time with your child to come back and talk with them later, and then do it. If you don’t, they will turn to other sources for information, or feel uncomfortable or hesitant to ask in the future.
For more tips like these, don’t miss Teaching Children About Sex Using the Temple As Your Guide by Cherri Brooks.
This informative and enlightening book addresses all the hot-button issues and taboo topics that have become so prevalent in our society, including things like gender identity, same-sex attraction, and the definition of marriage.
By using the temple as a metaphor, this book gives you all the tools you need to have "the talk" in a way that's clear, direct, and loving. Available at deseretbook.com.
Plan to not answer a question right away if you don’t feel you can answer it adequately.
You can say, “Great question. Can I think about that for a little while so I can give you a better answer?”
Plan to repeat information.
Children often repeat questions multiple times because they don’t remember everything. Answer them with patience and consistency.
Plan to not laugh at a child’s question.
Sometimes, children ask questions we think are funny. But if a child’s question is laughed at, they are less likely to come to us with more questions. They are also more likely to feel ashamed, stupid, or embarrassed. Sexuality is sacred. Even if a child asks a funny question, it deserves to be answered in the spirit of sacredness.
What To Say
Now that you have a plan, here are guidelines for what you should teach your young children about their body and sexuality:
Label body parts correctly.
Our spiritual leaders have taught us that we need to talk with our children “frankly but reverently” and use anatomically correct names for body parts and how the body works. This will help children mature with less shame for their body and its functions. Slang terms for body parts and functions disrespect this temple that houses our spirit and is made in the image of God.
Teach about appropriate and inappropriate touching.
Teach your children that when or if someone touches them in any way that makes them uncomfortable (this doesn’t have to be sexual or in a private area), they should tell a trusted adult. Then, listen when your child tells you they didn’t like the way someone was touching them, even if it was just a dislike for tickling or pinching cheeks.
This builds trust. Your child knows you will listen if they tell you about something bigger that may have truly been inappropriate. Learning that it’s okay to report abuse is an essential skill for young children because prevention is very difficult.
Teach children to respect other people’s bodies.
Playing doctor is a common activity in childhood with both same- and opposite-gender children. If you find children engaged in this type of play, remain calm. Remember, you are discussing bodies, and they are holy ground. You might say, “What game is this? You’re both smiling, so it must be fun. It’s time to put your clothes on and come in the kitchen.”
Children sometimes play a game to see other children naked because they are curious. Explain that it is okay to be curious about other people’s bodies, but bodies are private. We need to respect other people’s bodies and play with our clothes on. Remind the children that their body belongs to them, and only certain people should look at it and touch it.
Consider what privacy means to your child.
Young children do not understand the concept of privacy. Parents of young children are constantly being interrupted in places like the bathroom. It is not damaging for a young child to see a parent naked.
Parents should decide when they begin to feel uncomfortable having their child see them naked, or when their child gets giggly or uncomfortable about seeing a parent naked (this also goes for bathing opposite gender children together). This is the time to begin establishing more privacy. Also note that children naturally desire more privacy around ages 4–7.
Teach your child about proper clothing.
Clothing is also related to privacy. You can connect clothing, privacy, and modesty for young children. For example, clothing is there to give privacy and show respect for special body parts. We wear certain types of clothing to be modest and keep our bodies sacred.
This is also a good time to begin teaching about pornography (a discussion that should occur around ages 7–9). When children understand modesty, they understand why they should avoid looking at pictures of people not wearing clothing.
Teach the process of pregnancy and birth.
Children do not understand things as adults do, and the process of birth is not scary, disgusting, or embarrassing yet, as it might become for older children. To them, it is fascinating. They love to learn about their temple and all the abilities Heavenly Father has given their body. Start by focusing on how a baby grows before teaching the birth process.