How to talk to your kids about sex (with as little awkwardness as possible)
Nervous to talk with your kids about sex?
You’re not alone. Especially if faith is important to you.
According to two different sets of data, the more important religion is to parents, the more difficult it is for those parents to talk with their kids about sex.
That’s both sad and ironic. As followers of Christ, we should be at the front of the line to talk with our kids about sex. We know that sex, as something God created, is good—really good. And yet somehow with sex (as well as other controversial topics), our families have been robbed of healthy, balanced, scripturally guided conversations, the type of conversations that foster good decisions and strong faith.
This season, topics of romance, love, and intimacy may end up at the forefront of our teenagers’ minds for a variety of reasons. Furthermore, young people today are inundated with notions and standards that fall short of God’s good intentions for sex—and they need us to help them discern what is true and what isn’t.
So how can we leverage romantic movies, holidays, or other cultural references as springboards for better conversations about sex with our kids? Here are four suggestions to help you have better “sex talks” at home.
1) It’s about listening, not lecturing.
It’s the rare teenager who looks forward to talk to their parents about sex. Not only is talking about sex with parents awkward, it usually devolves into a lecture.
Parents who are best at talking with their kids about sex bite their tongues—sometimes literally—when they feel tempted to lecture their kids. The reality is that your kids probably already have a hunch about what you might say about sex. So do your best to let them do the talking.
2) It’s about asking, not judging.
Wondering how to get them talking? Most teenagers won’t launch into a monologue about sex, so if we’re going to help them do the talking, we have to ask questions. And it’s best if we avoid the “What are you thinking? You must be crazy!” tone of voice when we ask.
In one of the parental interviews we conducted for The Sticky Faith Guide for Your Family, one amazing dad described inventing a family game called “What do you think will happen next?” During car trips, over dinner, or at bedtime, the dad would give a challenging ethical situation, often involving sex. And then ask his kids, “What do you think will happen next?”
So if he wanted to talk to his daughter about date rape drugs, he’d start with, “You go to a party and are handed a cup. You’re not entirely sure what is in the cup and you don’t know the guy who handed it to you very well. What do you think will happen next?”
His daughter would give her best answer. And then he’d follow up with, “Okay. So what do you think will happen next?”
She’d answer. And he’d ask the same question again.
He would do this for as many rounds as his kids would play along because he had one main goal: He wanted his kids to think ahead. And he used questions to help them learn how.
3) It’s about them, not me.
Maybe asking, “What do you think will happen next?” would never work in your family. If so, then take the cue from wise parents who use what’s happening to other people to launch their families into discussions about sex.
The bad news is that sexualization has infiltrated our culture from top to bottom. The good news is that gives us all sorts of conversation fodder.
Valentine’s Day cards. Movies. Music. What’s going on with your kids’ friends. Politicians. YouTube videos. News headlines. Clothing choices. School policies about dating.
If asking kids directly what they are thinking and feeling about sex feels too pointed and all too likely to cause your kids to shut down, start by talking about all of these topics—and other people (whether they are your kids’ friends or media celebrities)—and see if the conversation organically progresses to get more personal.
4) It’s a process, not an event.
Are you gearing up for “the sex talk” with your kids? Looking forward to crossing it off your list? Maybe even planning on having that discussion this month?
Well, it’s not about one sex talk. It’s about lots of them.
With both of our two older kids, and we’re about to do this with our youngest, we’ve bought them a book and read through it with them together—two chapters per week. Dave and I read through it first, underlining the portions we want to discuss with them, and then our child reads it.
We have intentionally made those discussions about book chapters as natural as possible. We’ll have them while we’re talking in our child’s bedroom, or sitting on the couch in our living room after dinner. We want talking about sex to feel as normal as possible.
If you want to do a special weekend away or purity ritual, by all means go ahead. Just don’t view it as a one-time event. It’s more like a series of conversations, because sexuality involves a lifetime of choices.
What other steps have you taken to leverage cultural references for better discussions with your kids about sex?
 Those two data sets are the National Study of Youth and Religion and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. Mark D. Regnerus, Forbidden Fruit (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 60-73.