Latter-day Saint Life

Why Teaching Morality Isn’t Enough: How to Teach Children Healthy Sexuality


Often, in my field of mental health counseling, I am asked by parents, “How do I teach my children about sex as well as morality?” to which I respond, “You don’t.”  To such a statement I usually get bewildered looks.  I quickly reply, “You teach them healthy sexuality, which is morality.”

  For far too long, especially in our faith-based culture, there has been a tradition to talk and lecture our teens on morality with a desire to keep them from engaging in premature sexual relations outside the bond of matrimony, while implying that sex is bad, dirty, wrong, and something one should not do.

Such teachings have left a number of brides and even some grooms running for the hills, petrified of their honeymoon night. This form of morality instruction and teaching also has created difficulties in marital relationships as women (more often than men) tend to internalize the morality lessons and then struggle in the marital bedroom to be comfortable with their own sexuality and healthy sexual desires. Such a tide can be changed, and marital bedrooms can be more satisfying and engaging for both men and women if, instead of seeking to teach morality, we as parents and leaders teach our youth healthy sexuality. Through the teaching of healthy sexuality, youth can learn the importance of why they should wait to participate in sexual relations within the bonds of marriage.

Teaching healthy sexuality means we focus on helping youth understand how beautiful and amazing individual sexuality is. We teach primary-age children how amazing their bodies are and that it is okay to talk about how they feel both emotionally and physically in regards to their bodies; we introduce the conversations of keeping themselves safe from inappropriate touching while at the same time explaining the reasons and purposes for sexuality and sexual identity. Such communication, when offered in a loving and informative way, opens the door for children to feel comfortable in talking with their parents regarding sexual things they will see at school, on the computer, and with friends. This allows both parents and children to focus on healthy sexual development without shame. We teach our young women that they can celebrate being women who want, need, and feel sexual desires differently than men. We teach young men to celebrate being men, with the understanding that men and women who are married can learn to enjoy their sexual differences. Married couples can then create exciting, beautiful, and erotic sexual experiences that will allow both the man and the woman to be fulfilled while creating the desire to share such experiences with only the person they are married to. 

When leaders and parents talk to their youth about healthy sexuality, it opens the door for such discussion as why one should wait to engage in sexual relations within the bonds of marriage, why sexual relations are such an important part of a healthy marriage, how healthy sexual relations strengthen and complete a marriage, why engaging in sex prior to marriage can affect future marital sexual relations and create emotional damage when those involved in such sexual relations are not at the maturity level and committed level to do so, why sexuality is such a sacred gift from Heavenly Father for the purpose of unification and for pleasure when the time is right, that sexuality is not taboo nor is it wrong but it carries great responsibility which is to be protected and explored within marital relationships.

Mothers and fathers both need to talk to their children about the beauty of healthy sexuality. Oftentimes, right before marriage, the father will talk to the son who is about to get married, and the mother will talk to the daughter who is about to get married. I recommend that both parents take time to talk to the son/daughter about to be married. For example, the mother can help her soon-to-be-married son understand that a female body is different than that of a male and that a female needs different physical stimulation to reach sexual climax. She can help her son know that women typically desire an emotional connection before they reach the desire for sexual physical contact. A father can explain to the son who is about to marry what his role should be in the marital bedroom. He can explain that his son should protect his new wife, respect her, and never force her to do anything in the bedroom she is uncomfortable with. A father can explain to his daughter that she can expect to be protected by her husband and that at no time should she be forced to do anything she is uncomfortable with. 

A father can similarly explain to his daughter what healthy sexuality means to a man. He can teach that part of a husband’s way of connecting with his wife is through physical relations. A mother can explain to her daughter that she is indeed a sexual person and that healthy sexuality is just as important for her as it is to her soon-to-be husband. A mother can emphasize that it is okay to have sexual feelings, to desire sexual exploration, and to learn together what both a husband and wife enjoy sexually in the marital bedroom. Parents can explain that together, with mutual respect, a bride and groom can both enjoy this wonderful and beautiful gift reserved for a man and wife who are married and desire to be one.

The teaching of healthy sexuality naturally needs to be intertwined with the beautiful blessing of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. It is so important for youth to know that the beautiful, amazing Atonement of Jesus Christ affords them the privilege of complete forgiveness in the area of sexual transgressions and sexual sin. When youth understand and embrace this truth, that they can and are forgiven of sexual relations outside the bonds of marriage through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, then shame is removed, which allows youth to feel true remorse for their actions while engaged in the important steps of the repentance process. As parents and leaders, we can help youth understand the process of complete repentance and forgiveness is a beautiful, cleansing, and healing journey which will draw them closer to their Savior Jesus Christ. It is He who offers to them, through His Atonement, love, acceptance, and the removal of shame while allowing for accountability through love and the process of personal repentance.

Teaching healthy sexuality means teaching our children about how amazing the gift of sexuality is in our lives. We should teach from an early age that:

  • Sexuality is meant to be explored and experienced at the right time with the right person. 
  • There is no shame in healthy sexuality.  
  • Sexuality is a natural and beautiful part of life. It is not secret.   
  • Healthy sexuality is meant to be prepared for and participated in when such a sexual experience can be emotionally processed, explored, and enjoyed within the bonds of marriage.

Heavenly Father gave His children the gift of sexuality not only to procreate but also to unify a husband and wife and for the purpose of pleasing and lifting each other in sacred and beautiful ways which are to be protected, nurtured, and responded to. We have the unique opportunity and responsibility as parents to teach correct principles about healthy sexuality to our children and to help them prepare themselves for the day they experience this beautiful gift from God within the bonds of holy matrimony.

Lead image from Getty Images

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