How to Answer the Dreaded Question: “What is Sex?”

WhatisSexMom, what is sex? It’s the question that makes parents queasy. They hope it is never asked. Maybe their children will just figure out the answer. Although, that might not be a great idea either…

Once our children began to communicate, my husband and I had to decide how to handle this question. Would we hope that our children never asked the dreaded question, would we grit our teeth in agony if it was asked, or would we answer this question as if our child asked, What is a cloud? or What is a skateboarding?

We decided that we wanted our children to learn about sex from us, not from a movie, from a friend, or from a boyfriend/girlfriend. So, we have applied the following principles.:

  • What’s Your View?: As Christians, we follow the teaching of Jesus in the mom daughterNew Testament. He said that sex is okay in only one relationship: between a woman and man who are married (see Matthew 19). Your view will of sexuality will have great impact on how you teach your children about sex.
  • It’s Not a Joke: We don’t giggle when we discuss the purpose of our internal organs, so why giggle when we discuss the purpose of our sexual organs? Take a deep breath and use this time to be your child’s real-life search engine.
  • The Earlier, The Better: Body part identification is a great way to begin to answer the dreaded sex question. We teach babies to identify the nose, leg, etc. We also have other body parts that we cover (since they are private). So, reference these body parts, too.
  • Names Mean Something: We teach our children about functions of their teeth (how to brush, not to bite, etc.), so why not teach them about other body parts? Since we call teeth by their given name, we use the proper names to distinguish one gender from the other.
  • Good, Not Evil: Hands Are Not For Hitting (Martine Agassi, Ph. D.) is one of my favorite Preschool books. Although it teaches what hands should not do, it also describes what hands are made to do.  In the same way, our sexual body parts are meant for good and not for evil. These body parts are not gross or dirty. They have a clear purpose, and that is for a healthy sexual relationship between a married couple.
  • Off-Limits: Children must have limits, and this includes limits on their body parts. They should be told that no one should should look at their private parts or touch their private parts, unless it is a parent helping them to get clean or if it is a doctor (and the parent is in the room). This conversation should happen often.
  • Avoid Danger: If you speak openly about sexual body parts, then your children understand that concerns or questions about their private areas can be discussed with you. Think about it: Do you want your child to avoid telling you if someone touches him/her inappropriately? If conversations about sexual body parts are off-limits, then your child may feel the need to keep this dreaded secret.
  • Develop as Children Develop: People learn in developmentally appropriate stages. So, we should teach them as such. As they grow in height, we buy new pants and talk about how tall they are getting. As they develop sexually, we can discuss body changes, as well.
  • What Was the Question?: Think about what your child asked and his/her capacity to understand your answer. Don’t give too much information, but don’t give too little information.

So, this is how it happened for me. My Elementary-age daughter asked, “Mom, what is sex?” on the way home from school one day. I took a deep breath and said something like this:

Sex is something that God created so that Mommies and Daddies [who are married]  could be very close to show how much they love each other. They fit together like a puzzle.

My daughter was satisfied with my brief answer, and the conversation was over…for now.

There is not just one “birds and the bees” talk. It’s a talk that evolves over time. Since my husband and I want to be the ones who answer our children’s questions,  we cannot have topics that are off-limits.

So, with each conversation, the answer develops. And, one day, within a loving marriage, our children will be able to answer the same question for their own children.

One thought on “How to Answer the Dreaded Question: “What is Sex?””

  1. Great advice! I’m afraid I probably gave too much information when my then four-year-old asked “Exactly HOW do sperm get to the egg?” (blame the question on my husband, who mentioned that tadpoles look like sperm and showed them photos for comparison purposes and mentioned what function said tadpole-like organism served). I should have just said, “They swim.” But no. I went into way too much detail, using the correct names and all the rhetoric about ‘Something God created us to do as an expression of love in a marriage between a man and a woman.” etc. etc. After a minute or two, I heard a giggle from the back seat and the little one asked, “What room in the doctor’s office do parents do THAT in?”

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