Over the past decade, I have physically stood in front of more than 100,000 people to teach on sexuality. It is literally my job to talk about sex. But here’s a little secret. The most difficult conversations I have had about sex have been with my own children. It has been easier for me to stand in front of thousands of strangers than to talk to my own children about this topic.

You keep hearing that you need to talk to your kids about sex. With each passing day the issues become more pressing. Yet there are understandable reasons why you have procrastinated or stuttered your way through awkward conversations with your children.

While talking about sex with kids is not easy for most parents, it is perhaps one of the most crucial elements of discipleship in this generation. It’s time to name and overcome the barriers that keep you from engaging in the conversation.

In this article, we will look at five of the most common barriers to healthy parent-child conversations about sexuality. Hopefully, even reading them will help you realize that you are not alone!

#1 – The problem: You don’t know how.

Even if you have been married and sexually active for decades, talking about sex is different than doing it. Unfortunately, we don’t often hear sex discussed in a helpful, honest, and edifying way. The words you have been taught to use when talking about sex tend to be either overly scientific or crass. If you’ve never (or rarely) engaged in healthy conversations about sex, it’s understandably difficult to initiate them.

Most of us avoid doing things we don’t think we can do well. This is why barrier #1 is perhaps the most common one.

The solution:

I wish you could have seen me twenty years ago the first time I spoke publicly about sex. I had hives on my neck, sweat poured down my armpits, and my voice shook. Now, I can address the most sensitive or vulnerable sexual issue without any anxiety. Why? Lots of practice.

As obvious as it sounds, you learn to talk about sex by talking about sex. No, you don’t have to become a public speaker or podcaster. Here are a few practical ways you can become comfortable talking about sex:

  • Listen to podcasts that model healthy conversations about sex (see resources below).
  • Read informative and sound Christian books on sexuality outloud. Why is it important to read them outloud? Because you get used to saying words and phrases that would normally make you blush. Even reading a children’s book about babies, bodies, and sex can help with this.
  • Rely on external resources as tools to begin conversations with your kids. The resource initiates and guides the conversation for you. You will find a list of recommended resources in the first blog in this series.
  • Don’t wait until you are an expert. It’s okay if you don’t have the perfect response to every question or always use the right words. We always walk before we run, and some things are so important, they are worth doing imperfectly.

#2 – The problem: You’re afraid of hurting them.

Many Christian parents today grew up learning about God and sex in the framework of only abstinence education and purity culture. Throughout the past decade, we have learned how incomplete teaching on God and sex can lead to shame, unrealistic expectations, and sexual dysfunction. Even if you want to teach your children that God has a design for sexuality, you may struggle to do that in a way that doesn’t come out as “just save sex for marriage.”

The questions and struggles facing today’s children require parents to tackle significant issues around gender, identity, sin, and grace. At stake here is more than just sexual choices, but how a child understands and develops their identity and broader worldview. How do you accomplish this without repeating the harm you may have experienced growing up or getting it wrong in some other way?

The solution:

Ask God for wisdom. While we might be caught by surprise with what’s happening in our world, God is not. He loves your child and intimately knows the struggles he or she is facing. Many times as I was on my knees praying for one of my children, the Lord gave me words for a conversation or brought my attention to something I needed to address. God loves to give us wisdom when we ask Him for it!

Stay in a posture of learning. Part of how God answers our prayers is by providing resources through His people. Seek a community of other parents who are asking the same questions. Take advantage of books, podcasts, and ministries that are on the front lines of tackling sexual issues. Remember, if (and when) you say the wrong thing, humility is one of the most powerful traits we can model for our children. I know parents who are having healing conversations with their adult children, correcting and apologizing for things they said or didn’t say when their children were young.

#3 – The problem: You don’t want to see your child as sexual.

Most of us are not conscious of this reason for avoiding sexual conversation, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real! There is a natural barrier for most parents in thinking of their children as sexual creatures. I’ve heard from hundreds of moms over the years who panic when their daughter rubs against a pillow to fall asleep or their four-year-old son has an erection.

While these are not the same expressions of sexuality as teenagers experiencing those sensations, your young child has sexual organs that respond to touch. That’s a horrifying thought for some parents. And so we make up names for a child’s genitals instead of using anatomically correct terms not to spare our children, but because we can’t bring ourselves to think of our children as sexual.

Add to that, parents understandably want to keep their children’s innocence as long as possible.  As one parent said, “I’m afraid that if I tell my twelve year old what sex is, that will put ideas in her head.” Another mom told me, “If I tell my son about sex, I’m terrified that he will figure out what we are doing when we lock our bedroom door!”

The solution:

One of the reasons we have such difficulty thinking of our children as sexual is that for most of us, sexuality represents something shameful. God designed our sexuality as a beautiful part of our humanity with the capacity to experience deep intimacy and connection.

Your child can be both sexual and innocent.

The book of Song of Solomon repeats this phrase, “Do not awaken love before it is time.” The assumption is that our sexuality is in a dormant stage until it is aroused or awakened. We have a culture that constantly aims at awakening a child or teen’s sexuality. As a parent, you want to do everything you can to delay this type of arousal or awakening. But the reality is that sexuality is awakened in our day and age far before marriage is even a possibility. Like it or not, your goal is to help your child steward, not deny, their sexuality. You do this by helping your child understand the beauty of the gift of sexuality and giving guidance on how to respond when they experience that awakening too soon.

#4 – The problem: It’s too personal.

There are very few places that feel appropriate talking about sexuality. One of my biggest hurdles to overcome as a marriage counselor was learning to ask couples about their sex life. It just felt voyeuristic or wrong. Yet, how could I help couples in this particular area of marriage if I was too reserved to talk about it?

You might avoid talking to your kids about sex because it feels like it is violating an invisible boundary. There absolutely should be boundaries in how we honor sexuality in families. As children grow, it’s appropriate to have respect for each other’s bodies and how we talk to one another. But that is not the same thing as avoiding honest conversations about sexual things.

The solution:

Imagine what life was like 150 years ago (and still is today in many parts of the world). People lived on farms where animals copulated, and having babies was a normal part of life. Families lived in a one or two room house where there was very little privacy. A husband and wife might be separated by a burlap curtain from the rest of the family. Sex was understood as a natural part of life, but it still could be considered private and sacred.

We live in a society today where sex is everywhere, but presented in a sordid pursuit of self-fulfillment. Never or rarely do children learn about sex being something beautiful between a husband and wife. They don’t witness sex as a normal part of creation or an element of our humanity that can be discussed with honesty, candor, and dignity.

A recent study revealed that over seventy percent of couples struggle to talk about sex. The roots of that struggle for most people go back to a childhood filled with silence, awkwardness, and shame. While you may have grown up with sex being something too private or embarrassing to talk about, you don’t have to pass that message to your children. You can have very honest and regular conversations with your children without compromising the privacy and sacredness of sex.

#5 – The problem: You have your own baggage.

Helping your child navigate sexuality is going to bring up your own sexual journey… your questions, your fears, your regrets, and potentially your shame. Even reading through this blog, you may feel a knot in your stomach or a tightness in your shoulders.

Many of us avoid sexual conversations with our children because we don’t want to acknowledge our current struggles or revisit our own sexual history. The vast majority of adults harbor deep questions and wounds surrounding sexuality. Pain from trauma and betrayal. Shame from secret struggles, past experiences, or unbalanced religious teaching. Nagging questions about God’s goodness and whether or not the Bible is a trustworthy guide on sexual issues. Maybe you fear your daughter will ask you about your own sexual past or that your son will ask a question that you haven’t yet sorted through.

If any of this describes you, you are not alone! As a whole, the Church has not historically been a safe place for people to bring sexual questions, struggles, and wounds. As a result, many of us are trying to disciple our children without ever getting the help and insights we need in our own discipleship journey.

The solution:

The pressing importance of talking to your kids about sex could actually be a catalyst for you to grow in your own journey. In truth, we can’t walk with our children further than we ourselves have gone. If there are wounds or shame that you’ve buried for years, now may be the time to pursue healing. If sex within your marriage is a sore point, get the help you need. If you are unsure of what God’s heart is for struggles like masturbation, pornography, or gender confusion, don’t avoid the conversation. Dig into resources that can help you gain wisdom.

A sexual education model makes us believe that we no longer need to learn about sex as adults. However, a discipleship model reminds us that we are always on a journey in pursuit of truth and deeper surrender to the life-changing love of God. We as parents should also be in learning mode as we navigate the challenges of our current age and as we sort through our own sexual stories.

Our children will need to be courageous in navigating the sexual climate of this generation. To equip them, we also must have courage… the courage to break past the barriers that silence us.

Read the previous blog in this series.

Read the next blog in this series.

Java with Juli: #460 How To Have Mini and Many Conversations About Sexuality With Your Kids

Java with Juli: #449 How to Guide Your Kids Through Confusing Messages About Gender

Java with Juli: #404: How To Help Your Kids Think About Sex From a Christian Worldview

Mama Bear Apologetics Podcast

Heaven in Your Home Podcast