Talking to Children About Sex

by Ricky Chelette, Executive Director

I am often asked, “At what age and exactly how should we go about talking to our child about homosexuality?”  I’m not sure there is a definitive answer to that question and in all honesty, I think it is probably the wrong question to ask.  Homosexuality, like all other variations of sexual expression, is a subset of a bigger question of human sexuality.  As a Christian, I think  a better question is at what age and when should we talk to our children about God’s view of sexuality?

The fact is our culture is saturated with sexual messages, many of which we don’t even realize because they have become so commonplace:  Song lyrics piping through the airways, videos on the television and YouTube, innuendo and double entendre even in children’s cartoons and videos, chats with friends on Xbox or other gaming devices, text messages, etc.[1] If parents don’t take the initiative to give context to the discussion of sexuality, our culture surely will.

As I have sat and talked with young men and women about their sexuality for three decades now, I have often asked the questions, “What do you remember as your first exposure to sexual information?”  Without hesitation most folks can clearly and vividly remember the incident and rarely does it involve parents. Why is that? I suspect it is because we as adults are uncomfortable with “sex talk.” Somehow we believe it is a talk and we have to “say it all just right.” Others may fear they will be asked something they don’t quite know how to explain.  Still others haven’t worked through their own sexual hang-ups and feel sex is something rather “dirty” that we simply “do,” but don’t “talk about.”

Sexuality is God’s idea and it is awesome![2] I think the first step in helping children understand healthy sexuality is letting them know sex is beautiful, natural and created by God for a purpose.  Sex is not something that happens on soap opera or by overly hormonal teens in the back seats of cars (though it unfortunately does), but a beautiful gift God created for the pleasure of a man and his wife in a committed, monogamous relationship, and for the purpose of procreation.  Furthermore, this union of man and woman in marriage creates family and helps us to understand the relationship of God with his children and Christ and His Church.[3]  Sex really isn’t just “sex,” it is a beautiful life-long lesson of community, love, Kingdom living, fidelity, commitment and redemption. [4] It involves not just man and woman physically coming together, but the union of emotions, spirit, soul and even physiological changes in the brain. [5]

Discussions of sexuality must take place in the context of Christian family.  Talking to children about sexuality should never be a one-and-done experience.  Yes, we need to answer appropriately the questions they raise when they raise them, but more importantly, we need to create an environment in which sexual questions are welcomed and encouraged.  Parents do this by living out healthy sexuality before their children on a day-to-day basis.  Children learn most powerfully by observing the love mom and dad have for one another.  The way dad honors mom and mom honors dad will communicate volumes about healthy sexual expression.  Children also learn about sexuality in the tender ways they are cared for by mom and dad, touched appropriately, celebrated as different than their opposite sex parent and/or sibling, and affirmed in the created gender God has purposefully designed them to be.

In a world where males can become females and females, males children need to know there is a God-ordained expression of sexuality and gender.   God’s design is only between one biologically born male, presenting himself as a man, to one biologically born woman presenting herself as a woman, in a married, monogamous, and committed relationship for life. Though other forms of unions can exist, God’s design is our best hope for human flourishing.

Conversations about sexuality should be both frequent and progressive.  When a 5 year old boy asks why he is different than his sister or mother we might tell him, “because God made you a man and your sister a woman.  Our bodies help us know who we are and how we are different.”

When that little boy is 10, however, if we have not talked with him about the difference in men and women and the basics of sexuality between men and women, he will be caught off guard and confused at school when other children talk about sex. At about 8-10 he needs to know the “big story” of sexuality and its importance to God. He needs to know that it is a sacred trust God has given to humans to protect until marriage.  He needs to know it is good, pleasurable, connecting, and intimate.  He needs to know his body is the temple of God and is to be protected.  By the time he is 11-13 he needs to know more specifics of how his body works and what actually takes place to create a life.   Of course, any of these ages are approximations and parents have to be ready to say more should questions become more specific.  Again, parents must be the conveyers of information about sexuality from a Christian perspective.  Sexuality must be shared in the context of God’s bigger plan for redemption, procreation, and communication of the Gospel to the world.

Communicate that your identity is not in your sexuality, but in Christ alone.  In a day when marketers convince young men and women that their worth is tied to their sex appeal, it is difficult for a young person to be modest.  When dad’s only positive comments are about how pretty his daughter is rather than how beautiful she is inside and out, she may confuse his flattery with misplaced worth on appearance alone.  When dad seeks to live vicariously through his teenage son and cheers his son’s conquest with women like the rising score in a basketball game, we communicate a wrong message.  When we affirm a person’s identity by their sexual attractions rather than by God’s design, we call them to be less than God created them to be.[6]

Communicate that following Jesus has a cost and it is a cost worth paying.[7]  Christ calls us to sexual purity – to be holy.  Because we are Christ-followers we sometimes must stand alone.   Not everyone will have a Christian worldview.  Some of our children’s friends may already be engaging in sexual activities that go against God’s teaching.  We have to teach our children to exercise grace and forgiveness towards their friends, but be willing to be different for Jesus because He was willing to die for us.

Don’t avoid the difficult questions.  Questions about gay, lesbian, bisexual, transsexual, queer, intersexed and asexuality may come up and you need to be honest about sharing God’s truth about those sexual expressions. Though people may choose to express their sexual interest a myriad of ways, God has ordained only one way – heterosexual, committed, monogamy for life.  Your child will likely be attending school with someone who has two mommies or daddies.  It will be important for you to teach your child to express love and compassion for all people, while continuing to maintain an orthodox, Christian belief in the validity of God’s teaching on sexual expression. Just because people live a particular way and society blesses those actions, does not mean it is right in the sight of God.[8] Our love for people and the inherent value of each human person is not contingent upon them living according to our understanding of revealed truth in Scripture, but upon our recognition that we are all created in the image of God and are, therefore, inherently valuable.

As parents create an environment where open discussion, inquiry, and questions are met with encouragement and affirmation rather than disdain and shame, children will feel safe exploring difficult sexual questions with the most significant influencers in their lives – their parents!

[1] “GMA: Children Overly-Exposed to Sex,” Good Morning America, ABC News, New York, April 9,  accessed April 30, 2014.

[5] “Your Brain on Sex,” Reuniting Healing With Sexual Relationships, June 24, 2005,  accessed April 29, 2014.

[8] Passages in scripture addressing homosexual expression are: Genesis 2:19-25Leviticus 18:2220:13Romans 1:22-291 Corinthians 6:9-111 Timothy 1:10Jude 1:7.