A New Kind of Sex Talk

I have three little girls.  Little, little girls; the oldest is 4.  I’m not anticipating having the “sex talk” with them for at least 8 years, although we are pretty big fans of Animal shows, and the rhinos have taught them a lot already.  But with my little girl starting Kindergarten in the fall, I am keenly aware of a different kind of sex talk that I think all parents should have. The difference between sex (which is awesome and sacred) and abuse or molestation (which is not the same thing, and not their fault).

Elizabeth Smart spoke at a Sex Trafficking conference at Johns Hopkins a few weeks ago and explained why she didn’t run or shout out for help while surrounded by familiar places and people.  Besides being certain that her captors would carry through with their threats to kill her, she also felt used, unclean and outcast.   “Who would want me now?” The thing that kept her going was realizing that her parents would love her no matter what happened, and she would do whatever she needed to in order to stay alive.  Even if she had to be raped repeatedly, she would endure it and get through to the other side.

The church curriculum (and the scriptures) speak to abstinence before marriage, which I absolutely agree with.  But I think, for my girls, in this time of the world where 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men retrospectively report being sexually abused in some way, we are going to have to break down the sex talk into two pieces. And I think that any chastity lesson in Young Men or Young Women ought to also include an element of the “forced sex” issue.  This plague affects so many people, often beginning before 8 years of age.  (The median age of sexual abuse is 9.) So our talks have to start before that.  Probably when they start school or daycare.

Both Elizabeth Smart and Joanna Brooks in Book of Mormon Girl talked about the fallacy of object lessons when discussing chastity.  I personally never sat through a lesson where a rose was passed around, handled by every girl and ended up wilted and falling apart at the end of the line.  Or a donut, dented and missing chunks of frosting.  Or a board repeatedly filled with nail holes.  But Elizabeth Smart kept thinking of her school lesson about a stick of chewing gum and how if you are chewed too many times, you end up with old gum that gets thrown away.  That idea contributed to her feeling of worthlessness.  I think there actually is a place for that object lesson.  It is in connection with Repentance.  You pass it all around and then say, “Now, what do you think this rose is worth?” And the girls say “not much” and you say, “That’s exactly what Satan wants you to think when you mess up.  He wants you to feel like you aren’t worth saving, that no one would want you now.  But Jesus Christ would still pay $20 for this rose.  He paid for you specifically at these moments, when you were on the wrong side of justice because He knows just how much you are worth.  You have great potential and no mistake or sin will erase your value.  He died for you because you were going to sin.”

wilted rose

Age Appropriate Talks

We make rules about our kids not showing their private parts to other people, which is a good rule.  But we ought to be careful about attaching consequences to it that make them want to hide any infraction.  A friend’s daughter was nervous to tell her mom that someone had peeked in on her in the school bathroom because she didn’t want to get in trouble.  Maybe the best rule would be: Anytime anyone sees your private parts, I want to know about it.  You need to tell me right away.  Not, you’ll be grounded if you ever show anyone your private parts.

As they get older, talk about agency and sin.  Our uncleanness with immorality stems from willfully disobeying God’s commandment.  Just like any other commandment that we disobey on purpose.  It shows that we think we know more than God and we don’t care about His guidance.  The problem with disregarding chastity is that it is such a loaded mistake.  It could potentially alter your entire life and the life of your children if you get pregnant (or get someone pregnant) before you are really ready for marriage and a family. It also means sharing the most sacred, special and personal part of yourself and making it public, mundane and profane.  So it’s very serious.  But it doesn’t detract from our eternal worth.  Being immoral is bad, but it doesn’t take away your divine nature.  So, what if you are forced, against your agency, to immorality?  What if someone gropes you or rapes you or forces you to see something that you don’t want to see?  Are you using your agency to willingly disobey God?  NO!  This is not the same thing as immorality. The sin is not there.  The pain, definitely is, but there is no sin.

This is all just coming together in my mind, and it is probably obvious to everyone else, but being more precise in our “stranger danger” talks with kids is going to be vital in the coming years.  We say “don’t talk to strangers, don’t take presents from them, don’t get in their cars” and we’re thinking “because they will kidnap and molest you” but we usually don’t bring that part up.  Kids have to know what they are up against, what the biology and mechanics are and what the difference is between intended and unwanted sexual experiences.  When they have an older boy ask to see their underwear or what is below it, they have to know what the intention is so that they can protect themselves.  It’s sad to have to take away their innocence earlier and earlier, but if we don’t, someone else probably will.

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9 responses to “A New Kind of Sex Talk

  1. “we’re thinking ‘because they will kidnap and molest you’ but we usually don’t bring that part up. Kids have to know what they are up against”

    I was just reading a novel from the perspective of a young boy last night. His caretaker learns that he had escaped from an organ farm (using orphans as unwilling donors). She keeps the sordid details to herself and he grows in his distrust of her. He knows something is up with his past, but he isn’t allowed to know what and that creates a barrier. Forthrightness may be difficult, but I believe it’s the better way.

    • It’s true–I don’t know why we all operate on this “need to know” basis. Transparency is definitely the best, most respectful and trusting way to handle these delicate issues.

  2. I taught the law of chastity lesson from the gospel essentials manual in Relief Society a couple of years ago and in preparation for the lesson, I called Sister Lawrence to ask her a few questions. One thing she brought up was the importance of teaching our kids about sex and the law of chastity before the age of 8. I knew I wanted to talk to my kids about these things at a young age but I hadn’t thought of the importance of bringing it up before baptism.

    Our public schools here teach “sex ed” starting in preschool to help identify and prevent child molestation. I know for a fact I want that conversation to start in my home LONG before they hear it in school no matter how simple the details. And even if a school doesn’t have a “sex ed” program, it should be talked about at home anyway. If kids don’t hear it from a teacher they will certainly hear it at some point from a peer.

    • I’m so jealous that you got to talk to Sister Lawrence. What a gold mine. I bet your lesson went fantastic.

  3. It is such a difficult balance between wanting to protect a child’s innocence and not giving them too much information too soon, but still providing them with the knowledge they need when they need it. Each child and situation is different, though I agree that these conversations have to happen earlier than ever before. One comfort to me is that we are entitled to revelation regarding our children, and this is certainly a topic where I will need all the inspiration I can get regarding timing, approach, specificity, etc.

    I remember watching some program where a sociologist or therapist or something said, regarding when to talk to kids about sex, that parents should talk about it about two years before they think they’ll need to, and then they’ll probably only be a year late.

    I also wonder how to teach a child to be wary and wise but to not live in fear of every stranger or every male that they meet. I liked this article that was going around Pinterest a while ago about strangers vs. “tricky” people (I might use a different term than “tricky” but I liked the idea) http://www.checklistmommy.com/2012/02/09/tricky-people-are-the-new-strangers/

    I also think that one of the best things we can do for our children is teach them, like Elizabeth Smart said, their value and do everything we can to boost their confidence and self-image. I have no data to back this up, but my impression is that those who have a healthy view of themselves are less likely to be victims (maybe not from random-abduction type crimes–which are extremely rare anyway–but from abusive types). I hope that’s true anyway.

    • Dani, thanks so much for those links. I love the idea of Tricky Strangers. And definitely the Mom with Kids being a safe stranger. And before I took Clark’s class on the field trip to the zoo, I thought we still had a little time before we had to talk about these things. Then I met his classmates. We are already behind.
      And your assumption about self-confident kids is right on the money, according to the website I got my stats from, predators look for kids who are outcast, lonely, shy and from broken homes to “groom” for their nastiness. Outspoken, friendly and confident kids seem to be more safe. Of course, no one is totally safe.
      Thanks for commenting. 🙂

  4. The other danger is freaking the little people out, so that they are suspicious of everyone and everything, not a very fun way to live.

  5. Hi Jan. I love your new blog! And this has been my favorite post since I’ve started reading. Because I work, I’ve had these types of discussions with my boys since they were very little. Everytime we change a sitter, start a new year at school, or have an addition to our family (like a new in-law or something) we have an age appropriate discussion about sexual abuse. It was very difficult for me to talk to Little Sal, at 2 years of age, about something like this. It was so hard for me to believe that someone would actually want to do something terrible to my little boy. But I can’t control his environment 100 percent of the time, and I wanted him to be prepared, to know that I loved him, and to feel as if he could tell me what was going on when I wasn’t around.
    It is still a little scary for me to bring this subject up, but at least once a year we dedicate an FHE to this very topic. Just as you said, if I don’t teach them about it, someone else just might.

  6. Again, your insight is so true and inspiring.

    Our children are also too young for the specifics of sex. But all children are never too young to understand that they are special, divine, and the bosses of their bodies.

    Our basis for every discussion we have with our children is to operate out of love. The message we repeat to our precious babies is, “I’ll stand by you / Nothing you confess / Could make me love you less.”

    We let our children know that although the world isn’t always a safe place, our family is their safe place. I, as their mother, am their safe place. The Lord even more so. There are no secrets in our family. We know we’re imperfect and we’re not ashamed to admit it. We tell our children that they were born with The Light of Christ in them and the only person that can take that away from them is themselves. And there’s nothing – no indiscretion, no sin, no tragedy, intentional or not on their part – that would or could ever cause us to think that they are anything less beautiful or cause them actually be anything less, regardless of what we think.

    Our hope is that by enveloping our children with this unconditional love, they will have the confidence and sense of security to always know that they are worth everything, no matter what unthinkable things may befall them (though we would die to protect them from all harm).

    Of course, we talk to our children about the basics of staying safe, and those conversations will get more specific as they get older. We will definitely incorporate your insightful advice and methods. I just love all the points you made here and thank you for giving us more talking points to help keep our children safe, aware, happy, and resilient.

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