Question: My child is on the verge of puberty, and I'm beginning to think that it's time we had "the talk" about sexuality and "the facts of life." Can you give me any pointers or guidelines to make this conversation as smooth and painless as possible?


It’s good to hear that you’ve been thinking about tackling this important responsibility. Too many children learn about sex from everyone but their parents. Playground slang and obscenity, a distorted description of intercourse from the tough kid up the street or, worst of all, a look at pornographic material, often provides a child’s first jarring glimpse of sex. To make things worse, efforts by public schools to correct misinformation often leave out a critical ingredient: the moral framework within which the facts about reproduction should be presented.

For all these reasons, we believe that the best place for a child to learn about sexuality is at home with those who care most about him. In the school of sex education, the faculty should be you.

Principles to keep in mind

Anyone can teach the basic facts about reproduction in an hour or two (or they can be read in any of several reference books), but you are in the best position to put this information in the proper context and give it the right perspective over a period of time. There are no cut-and-dried formulas for carrying out this assignment, but we suggest that you keep the following principles in mind:

  1. Giving a child facts about reproduction, including details about intercourse, does not rob him of innocence. Innocence is a function of attitude, not information. A school-age child who understands the specifics of sex, while seeing it as an act that, in the proper context, both expresses love and begins new life, retains his innocence. But a child who knows very little about sex can already have a corrupt mind-set if he has been exposed to it in a degrading, mocking or abusive context.

  2. If you feel squeamish or inhibited about broaching this subject with your child, reflect for a moment on your own attitudes. Do you harbour any feelings that sexual activity, even within the context of marriage, is somehow base or something that God really doesn’t approve of? If so, it’s never too late to address such issues with an individual who has training and experience in this field. Focus on the Family Canada’s counsellors can provide you with a list of qualified therapists practicing in your area. You can reach one of them Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Pacific time at 1.800.661.9800. They’ll be pleased to assist you in any way they can.

  3. Don’t wait to tell your child everything you know about sex during a single, intense marathon session. Details should be released gradually during many conversations over a period of several years. In most cases, you’ll be dispensing information on a need-to-know basis.

  4. If your child asks questions you can’t answer, don’t become flustered. Be honest, and then do some research. You gain far more stature in your child’s eyes by showing candour than by bluffing.

The importance of respect

The overarching theme of your discussions about sex should be the importance of respect – respect for our bodies, for the wonders of reproduction, for privacy in sexual matters, for the present and future well-being of others and for marriage as the appropriate context for sexual expression. The specific content of these discussions should emerge naturally as you progress.

Along with pinning down the correct names and addresses of body parts, the mechanics of intercourse and the process whereby the egg and the sperm unite, you will want to emphasize the point that the Designer of human beings laid down some rules about sex for good reasons – not to be a killjoy but to maximize our enjoyment of it and to prevent painful consequences. Sex experienced within those boundaries – between one man and one woman, maintained within a marriage relationship to which both are committed for the rest of their lives – it is not only right but the safest and most pleasurable.

Excerpted from The Complete Book of Baby and Child Care published by Tyndale House Publishers. © 1997, 2007, Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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