Remind yourself that self-exploration is normal and okay.
Beginning in infancy, children like to touch themselves. They touch their whole body and want to know the purpose of all their body parts. This kind of touching is normal exploration, without the goal of sexual stimulation. It may be unnerving to find your child rubbing a private area.
For infants, you can say, “Touching your body all over feels good.” For toddlers, you can say, “It feels nice to touch yourself there, but it’s not appropriate to do it where there are lots of people.” For preschoolers, you can say, “I know it feels good to touch yourself in that way; these parts of your body are special.” Then, you can redirect their attention to another activity.
Self-exploration may become a problem if it continues beyond ages 6–8. This is when it becomes more purposeful and can transition into masturbation during puberty. If you find your older child rubbing themselves, you can say, “Your body is a temple. Our bodies need to stay pure and clean like the temple. We wait for sexual touches until the proper time and place.”
Explain that these parts of the body are made for feeling good. However, there is a time when our spirits are ready for sexual experiences. That time is in marriage.
Talk to your child about physical intimacy before they learn about it through an inappropriate or inaccurate source.
Children ages 6–8 are ready to know the definition of sex. It makes sense that children should learn about sex when they are still innocent and Satan does not have power to cloud their judgment.
Socially, they are separating into same gender groups and are not interested in “experimenting” with sexual behaviors yet. They are not embarrassed, cynical, or unapproachable yet, though they are beginning to naturally want privacy. They believe you, the parent, more than any other person at this age.
In addition, Satan does not have power to cloud their judgment with the “mists of darkness.” President Eyring explains, “The family has an advantage in the first eight years of a child’s life. In those protected years, because of the Atonement of Jesus Christ, Satan’s use of the mists of darkness to hide the path to return home is blocked.”
It makes sense that children should learn about sex when they are still innocent and Satan does not have power to cloud their judgment. They may still have some incorrect ideas and make mistakes, but when you teach them the things of Christ, they will be naturally drawn to Him and feel what is right.
This is the time to teach them righteousness and morality and expect them to live it! These are the teachings that will stay with them in later years.
Teach your child that physical intimacy is an important part of marital relationships.
One of the purposes of intimacy in a marital relationship is to have children. However, there is more reason for it than just to create a child. Your own child needs to know this. Some parents might forget that children don’t necessarily understand that intimacy has more place in a marriage than creating babies, or perhaps they are uncomfortable talking about reasons for intimacy outside of procreation.
Many parents gloss over these positive intimacy messages and get right to the “don’t do it until you’re married” part. Relationship messages are about love, intimacy, respect, and communication within a union. Physical intimacy bonds a couple in ways that no other action of love can replace. Sex is for creating babies, and for enjoyment and bonding in a marriage.
Be an example
Show children what good, responsible, loving parents look like. They learn a lot about intimacy, love, and respect by observing the way their parents interact with one other.
When you discuss the temple with your child, you’re naturally mindful of the language you use. You don’t want to use negative phrases like, “Don’t go there until you’re older,” or “Only sinful people can’t go to the temple.” Because you want your child to look forward to going inside the holy temple one day, you set their sights on the temple by using encouraging words and phrases like, “You will be able to go there someday.”
We look to the future and focus on what our children will experience in the beauty and sacredness of the temple. Set your child’s sights on the beauty and sacredness of their body as well. Sexual intercourse is an exquisite part of a marital relationship. Let your children look forward to it! Encourage them to channel their energy into preparing for a proper time to benefit from sexual experiences in marriage. They will be more likely to want to wait if they understand the positive, spiritual power of sexual experiences in marriage, beyond what the world teaches them.
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.