Christian Parents and "The Talk"

Interesting article out today in Time by Alice Park entitled Parents' Sex Talk with Kids: Too Little, Too Late.

The article reviews recent research that suggestss that parents, if they ever do have "the talk" with their children, often do it too late. From the article:

The sex talk is never easy. It's not comfortable for anyone involved — parents are afraid of it, children are mortified by it — which is probably why the talk so often comes after the fact. In the latest study on parent-child talks about sex and sexuality, researchers found that more than 40% of adolescents had had intercourse before talking to their parents about safe sex, birth control or sexually transmitted diseases.

That trend is troublesome, say experts, since teens who talk to their parents about sex are more likely to delay their first sexual encounter and to practice safe sex when they do become sexually active.
I wonder if Christian parents struggle with this more than others? I lecture over human sexuality every semester and before the lecture I ask 400 undergraduates how many of them had never had "the talk" with their parents. Every semester about 50% of the students raise their hands.

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5 thoughts on “Christian Parents and "The Talk"”

  1. We recently viewed Marty Stoffer's 1st 6 seasons of "Wild America." We had the talk. My girls are 8 and 9.
    After living in the inner city where oral sex was reported among children as young as 6 years old, we always knew we would have to be upfront about these issues. This, and of course, we read Genesis to our kids. Few books are more X rated.
    Finally, the content of the talk matters. It will change over time, and there should not be just one "talk."
    One talk should be somewhat scientific: here's how sex works, here are some dangers, here are the benefits, etc. Consequentialist.
    The other talk should be religious: Here's what sex MEANS. Here's why we, as Christians adopt a peculiar attitude and treatment of sex.
    Too often we rely on schools to handle the first talk, and church to provide the second. But the youth groups primarily exist to keep the good kids good, prevent making purple, etc. and so they also emphasize the consequentialist arguments for abstinence.
    The church must emphasize the MEANING of sex, and perhaps we really ought to go back to calling it a sacrement.
    Nathanael Snow

  2. I agree with Juris Naturalist--I think there should never be just one "talk" but rather a series of talks. I've been talking to my two daughters about sex, love, marriage and babies for a very long time--always in an age appropriate way and always with an eye to answering their questions in a way that is satisfying without being overwhelming.

    My own attitude towards sex, especially pre-marital (though not post marital) sex is very different from either Christian or Jewish teachings on the matter. I expect that both my daughters will have pre-marital sex and I hope that they will make good, thoughtful, choices about when and with whom. Just as I expect them to have many different kinds of friendships in their lives and I hope to teach them how to make good, thoughtful, choices about all the people with whom they spend significant amounts of time or with whom they have significant relationships.

    As for sex, as distinct from love, I've always taken the attitude that every girl is entitled to a full and complete understanding of the mechanics of her own body--an "owner's manual" approach, as it were. Its way easier, I think, to talk seriously to a teenager about sex and love if you've always been perfectly matter of fact about her body and its needs/desires/physical capabilities.

    The one thing I don't want for my daughters is for them to get their information, moral or immoral, from other kids--hastily, furtively, in fear or in passion. Sex, love, marriage, babies--these are all normal parts of life and shouldn't be handled as something shameful or embarrassing.


  3. Christian parents struggle with this more because of unrealistic expectations about their children. I can't tell you how many parents I have talked with who said, "not my child." Those same parents look scared when I ask them if they have talked with their teen sons about masturbation or wet dreams.

    This was my dissertation topic, and one of continued interest and research. It is a topic of great importance, changing our understanding of sexuality from just "sex" to our relational selves. Our congregrations would look so much different.

  4. Jennifer Gorham,
    Tell me more about your research, this idea of our "relational selves" and how you think it would change christian congregations? It sounds fascinating.


  5. There are several authors out in the last few years who propose discussing sexuality in the broader sense of our femaleness/maleness. That our sexuality is expressed in our relating to one another as males and females rather than simply in our Darwinian exploits of finding a mate and being sexual in the reproductive way. That our sexuality is an expression of our desire to be known and know others intimately, an expression of the core of ourselves that desires to know God. It is defined by our relational interactions rather than our sexual advances. Sex then takes its proper place within that realm rather than the inordinate primacy it has been given by our culture, and in our rebellion against that, the church. What I mean by that is that the church gives sex as an act primacy by treating it as the proverbial cookie jar, rather than setting it in a sacred relational context that is more about us honoring God in all our interactions with the opposite sex and not as marriage as the pinultimate expression of life with God. The idea that marriage is the ultimate expression undermines the glory God can be given in healthy interactions between men and women. How could this change churches? Wow, think of what life would be like for singles in our churches if we weren't always seeing interactions in light of sexual potential. My mother was a single mother who was never invited to people's homes because she was viewed as a threat, rather than as a woman who needed healthy, God-honoring interaction with men as well as with women. This is just one example of how things would be changed.

    I evaluated a program designed by a pastor to educate parents on communicating about sexuality to their children. I learned so much, it's hard to be succinct. What stood out is that educating ourselves and our children is more about it taking place in the context of relationship; over time as others have mentioned here. But the parents that were in my seminar needed some debriefing of their own experiences before they had the courage to face their children. They needed space to actually practice what they would say, so that when the moments arose they could enter into them with confidence. What typically happens in these moments is parents think they communicate more than they actually do, and they are typically more mechanical and dictatorial than emotional/social and dialogical. The latter of which is what kids need more than the former.

    I never know how much people are looking for, so I will stop there. I could go on and on!

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