Young children are naked and unashamed, quite often literally. They are fascinated with their bodies—who has what, why one child is a girl and another a boy. They have observations to share and questions to ask. Young children are ready to be primed, through needed conversation, for what it means to experience themselves as sexual beings who will one day be capable of sexual intimacy as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.
Awkwardness often silences this conversation before it can begin. The vocabulary is off-putting. Do you use anatomical terminology for physical identification or slang terms? What if you introduce the words penis and vulva to your young children and they actual use them in public? The conversation is emotional. Many parents had no conversation with their own parents, or a bad one they do not care to repeat. Reality is our young children will not be young forever. They will grow up to be men and women with a capacity and desire for sexual intimacy. A conversation is needed to prepare them well. So how do we begin?
Choose Your Terms
It is important to decide the language for the conversation. Anatomical terminology models normalcy and encourages open communication. A boy has a penis and scrotum. A girl has a vulva and vagina. This reality is as normal as our having legs and arms. Anatomical terms encourage communication with caregivers, grandparents, doctors, and others who need to understand your child. Slang terms may be more comfortable, but may also lead to confusion of identification because there are so many. Choose your terms thoughtfully and purposefully because names have meaning and purpose.
Seek Out Support
Few parents have good models for this conversation. Support is available through books and articles. Before They Ask is a great resource for parents. The series God’s Design for Sex is a wonderful read for parents and families. Want face-to-face support? Form a group of parents in your church who are committed to raising children who are naked and unashamed with the prayer that they will use their body to the glory of God. Do you have questions? Maybe we can help. Above all, pray for knowledge and wisdom. God will equip a willing spirit for the task.
Start Where You Are
No one is ever ready for the full-blown conversation, but no one ever has to have “the full-blown conversation” at once if you make human sexuality an ongoing conversation, a natural part of life. We began with naming genitalia when our sons were just babies. You are in the middle of changing a diaper and your daughter touches her vulva. You simply name the body part she is in contact with, just like you would say “nose” when she grabs your nose. By the time she can ask questions, the conversation is already underway. Maybe you are potty training—perfect. Name his body parts used in the process as you encourage and instruct your little one. Are your children past all that? Get an age appropriate book to introduce the conversation. God’s Design for Sex offers The Story of Me and Before I was Born. Maybe you are pregnant or someone you know is. That is another great way to begin the conversation with your child.
Embrace the Questions
Your son finds a tampon or pad, and asks, “What’s this?” No need to re-direct or distract. Simply name the item in question. If your child is curious and asks for further explanation, briefly explain. “God made a special place in mommy’s body to grow a baby. Every month, a home is ready just in case a baby needs it. If there is no baby for the home, then the home is not needed. The home falls apart and leaves my body. This catches the home.”
Remember the Goal
The goal is not to name genitalia or be experts in human sexuality, but rather to encourage your children to live as they were created, naked and unashamed, with the hope that they will use their bodies throughout their lives to the glory of God. If you want this for your child, but experience emotions of discomfort or shame in regards to human sexuality, sort through your own emotions so you might be free to guide your child into the truth with love. This may be accomplished by an honest conversation with your spouse or, if you are single, a close friend. You might choose to work with a trained counselor. Whatever support or resources are involved, the goal remains the same—to know that we were created male and female, and God says it is good.
Lord, grant us wisdom and courage to help our children claim the goodness of Your creation as male and female. May we raise children in the truth of your design, so that they may be free from sexual shame and confusion. Help us begin this needed conversation, so that it will continue from generation to generation bringing purity to Your children and glory to Your name. Amen.
Ellen Martin graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity and Master of Arts in Christian Education. She is passionate about thoughtful instruction on human sexuality.