The Mormon Guide to Teaching Kids About Sex

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Teaching kids about sex can be hard. And if the stories I’ve heard in Gospel Doctrine are any indication, this is a topic that can be especially complicated for Latter-day Saints. Here are seven tips for discussing sex and sexuality with your children that will help make the topic easier.

1. Evaluate Your Own Feelings

Self Evaluation
Before you can talk to your kids about sex, evaluate your own feelings on the subject.

If you still have lingering feelings that sex is immoral, inappropriate, or “gross,” you aren’t really in a position to have a healthy and effective conversation with your children.

For many parents, then, the first step to teaching your children about sex is educating yourself.

Here are a few resources you may find Helpful:

“And They Were Not Ashamed” by Laura Brotherson

“The Intimate Side of Marriage” by Jennifer Finlayson-Fife

“Between Husband and Wife” by Douglas E. Brinley and Stephen E. Lamb

2. Focus on the Positives

Positive Elements of Sexuality
When we think about how to talk to our kids about sex, focus on the good things you want for them.

If you’re going to talk to your children about sex, then you should know what you want to accomplish.

For most Latter-day Saints what we want to accomplish out of sex-ed for our children is avoiding unwanted pregnancy, disease, premarital sex, sexual coercion. Often when we think about our goals they are avoiding the negatives.

Those are worthy goals, of course, but perhaps you should add to them. What do you want for your children? Healthy body image? A happy fulfilling marriage? A meaningful sex life? When we focus on those positives it will change the entire tenor of our conversations.

3. Have Regular Conversations

Teenagers Talking About Sex
Don’t have a sex talk, have many sex talks.

One of the biggest problems with the “sex talk” is we often view it as the sex talk. I have heard some Latter-day Saints suggest that we should move the sex talk earlier and earlier due to increasing problems in the world.

But this approach still puts the pressure on one single long conversation. How many other topics do we decide to talk to our children about once? Instead of having the sex talk, have many sex talks. Have regular sex talks.

From the time children can talk they will have questions about sexuality. By broaching the subject often, whenever it is relevant, and in age-appropriate ways, we can avoid one long awkward talk.

4. Use Proper Vocabulary

Mother talking to toddler boy
As soon as children can understand us, we should use proper language to describe our body.

There are few things that can make adult men and women more squeamish than saying penis or vagina. But when we replace these, and other sexual vocabulary, with euphemisms we create two problems.

First off, everyone’s euphemisms are different. By avoiding using proper terms we are also preventing our children from communicating effectively.

Secondly, there are virtually no other topics we hem and haw about before making up nonsense words to describe them. By refusing to use basic descriptions, our children will quickly learn that there is something inappropriate about their sexual organs.

5. Discuss Emotions

Emotional Teenager
The emotional elements of sex are much more relevant to teens than the physical ones.

When we think about teaching sex, we usually think about the basic anatomical functioning. But for teens, the anatomy of sex is not a huge concern.

Our children don’t really need to know which parts go where immediately, what they need to know is how to understand, contextualize, and manage their sexual feelings.

Just like avoiding all discussion of physical sexuality can create the feeling that something is wrong, talking about the physical nature of sex without discussing the emotions can make our children feel isolated and unable to discuss the emotional issues that are dominating their mind.

6. Never Lie

Don't Lie to your teens
Even small lies can cause long-term problems.

When I was preschool aged, I asked my mother why my father and I had penises while my younger sisters did not. She explained that a salesman had come to the door, and they were very expensive, so they only got two.

I believed this until I was much too old to believe such a thing.

Children actually do listen to their parents about sex. And when we misuse that trust because we are unprepared or unwilling to answer a question it can cause long-term negative effects to the relationship.

Rather than lie, use very general age-appropriate information. If necessary ask to talk about it later when you’ve had some time to formulate a response.

7. Talk Less

Be quiet
Often the best way to have the sex talk is to talk less.

When we imagine what talking to our kids about sex looks like, many parents imagine a one-on-one lecture. This approach can often be unhelpful.

While we should always answer questions, do so succinctly. Then follow up with more questions of your own.

And don’t feel like you always have to wait for your children to initiate the conversation, ask your own question about your child’s life, something in the news, or something from a book, movie, or TV program, you are both reading or watching.

How have you talked to your children about sex? What has and hasn’t worked?

Christopher D. Cunningham, the More Good Foundation content director, loves emphatically celebrating the normal healthy development of his sons Albus and Whitman, writing about the Church of Jesus Christ, finding the middle ground on most controversies, and using Western Family generic brand lip balm. Christopher is a proud graduate of Brigham Young University-Idaho, and a resident of San Antonio, Texas. He is a longtime supporter of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.