How to Teach Children about Sexual Intimacy
Contributed By Marianne Holman Prescott, Church News staff writer
- The new family home evening lesson, published on overcomingpornography.org, helps parents teach children about healthy sexuality.
- Ideally, the lesson will help parents shift from the “big talk” approach to an ongoing conversation that will come up in small ways continuously.
“It is not just a talk about sexuality; it’s a conversation about our God-given feelings and our aspirations of what we can become as families.” —Lee Gibbons, product manager
Talking to children about healthy sexuality can be a difficult—and sometimes daunting—task for parents to address. The sensitive nature of the topic causes many parents to avoid or delay speaking to their children because they feel they are ill qualified to give “the talk” or they envision an awkward conversation. Some fear awakening their child’s curiosity.
Despite those fears, parents have the responsibility to teach their children about sexual intimacy within the proper framework of God’s plan.
“Misunderstanding healthy sexuality can have negative impacts on every other aspect of our lives, including our relationship with God,” said Howard Bangerter, product manager with Welfare Services who works on the Church’s Overcoming Pornography website.
Opposite of that, proper understanding can lead to joy and happiness in marriage and creating eternal families.
“If we understand healthy sexuality in the context of it being divine, we are tying into our divine identity and our divine potential and the divine potential of our spouse and of our eternal family,” said Lee Gibbons, product manager with the Priesthood Department.
In an effort to help parents teach their children, the Church recently published an outline for family home evening that helps parents address the topic of sexual intimacy.
“Whatever your hesitations or fears, it is vital that you discuss sexual intimacy with your children on an ongoing basis,” the lesson states. “Children and teenagers are regularly bombarded with damaging ideas about sex, and you have the opportunity to help them create a positive, gospel-driven understanding of sexual intimacy.”
The outline includes resources—more than a dozen scriptures and talks from Church leaders as well as links to Church resources—that aid their understanding and ideas of how to address sensitive topics.
The family home evening lesson is meant to be a resource used to begin an “ongoing conversation”—a conversation that is crucial to an appropriate understanding of sex and how it fits into Heavenly Father’s divine plan—rather than a “one and done” talk. The lesson is broken up into four topics—prepare spiritually, introduce the doctrine, learn together, and invite to act. Each section has activities and topics for discussion.
“Ideally, parents will learn to shift from the ‘big talk’ mentality to that of an ongoing conversation,” said Brother Gibbons. “Not that you dwell on it all the time or become casual about it—it is sacred—but it will come up in small ways continuously. It is not just a talk about sexuality; it’s a conversation about our God-given feelings and our aspirations of what we can become as families.”
For many parents, sexual intimacy is a topic their parents never spoke to them about, leaving questions as to how, when, and what age they should talk with their own children. The guide gives parents topics and teaching tools to help them explain divine doctrines at age-appropriate levels. It is important for parents to follow the guidance of the Spirit as they select the activities and topics that will work best in their family.
“Parents who proactively prepare their children have this conversation in appropriate ways starting very young,” said Brother Gibbons.
Rather than allowing the media to teach children what is appropriate, parents can start teaching about bodies being blessings from Heavenly Father. From there, parents can teach in more detail according to the direction of the Spirit and their family’s needs. Rather than waiting for children to learn at school or other outside influences, parents can broach the topic at home, in a positive atmosphere.
“There are things you can do that are age appropriate along the way so children are inoculated and prepared rather than just reacting to things they see in the media or hear from friends,” said Brother Gibbons. “When you proactively prepare them, you set the stage for them to be able to handle those instances when they inevitably encounter it.”
An ongoing conversation allows parents to talk candidly with their children as inappropriate commercials on television or inappropriate content appears elsewhere—giving parents a starting point to talk about what children saw and how it made them feel.
Some children receive mixed messages from their parents and leaders, oftentimes hearing that “sex is bad, so you should save it for someone you are married to and love.”
That mixed message can lead to confusion.
“Some parents unintentionally omit positive discussions about sex with their youth, fearing that doing such might pique their interest in the subject,” said Kevin Theriot, a clinical social worker who works for LDS Family Services. “Research has shown us that just the opposite is true. The more healthy sexuality is discussed in the home the more likely youth are to remain virtuous.”
The Church put the information together as a family home evening lesson because the home is the most important place for children to be taught that “sex is about healthy, happy families,” said Brother Gibbons. Although the lessons are in a family home evening format, the information can also be used in lessons and activities at a ward and stake level.
“Your ability to have these discussions with your children will have a long-lasting effect on their lives,” the lesson states. “Help your children recognize that much of what the world teaches about sex is incorrect and that Father in Heaven has given them these powerful feelings to bring them unity and joy in their marriage.”
By creating an honest and open atmosphere for children to discuss sacred topics, parents are allowing them to be taught by the Spirit, in the right framework, and with the appropriate context.
“Acknowledge that they will probably have more questions, and invite them to come to you whenever they have questions,” the lesson states. “They should not only feel welcome to discuss their questions and concerns with you, but they should also expect you to follow up regularly with them. When you discuss these topics, be sure to create an environment where your children can be honest and receive clear, direct answers.”
This lesson is one part of a five-part series of lessons meant to help parents teach their children about the sacred nature of sexual intimacy and the harmful effects of pornography.
To find the lesson visit the website overcomingpornography.orgor do a search on ChurchofJesusChrist.org with the terms “fhe, sexual intimacy.”