It is inevitable that our children will be confronted with sexual images both earlier and more often than we as parents would probably wish. Living in the United States, I had assumed that this was primarily an American problem.
But in 1995 I took my family with me to Holland while I attended some meetings. I concluded that there are portions of Europe where society is even more oriented toward sex than in America. The whole time we were there, I was constantly covering the eyes of my then 9-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter.
One afternoon while walking around in Utrecht with my family, I noticed, to my horror, that there was a man who had "forgotten" to put on any clothes. Since I was the first one in my family to spot this, uh, unusual event, I decided to try to discreetly encourage my wife and children to walk in a different direction.
I almost made it, too, but just before we were out of view of this "Gentleman Godiva," my son said (loudly) to his sister, "Courtney, look!" (Isn't it amazing that your children always seem to see the things you don't want them to see, but they often can't see the things you want them to see?)
How do we give our children a healthy, Christian perspective of sex in a world where an unhealthy, unChristian view seems to dominate?
*As a parent, you must have a healthy, Christian perspective of sex.
You cannot give your children what you yourself do not have. Sex in its right context-involving a husband and a wife in a loving, healthy, happy relationship-is one of God's greatest gifts to humans. If that is what you truly believe and that has been your blessed experience, then communicate that to your children.
Of course, that does not mean that your children actually want to hear that their parents have a happy, healthy sexual experience with each other. My experiences with young people (I was a youth director for 11 years) and with my own children have led me to believe that kids prefer to view their parents as nonsexual beings. Of course, the truth is that, with one very notable exception in Scripture, the only way that parents get to be parents in the first place is for them not to be nonsexual beings.
The point is that there is nothing wrong with letting your children know (without going into personal details) that their parents have given sex, in its right context, their personal approval.
*All conversations with your children about sex have to be age-appropriate.
What you say to your 4-year-old is obviously not the same as what you say to your 14-year-old. You'll need to talk with your children about sex at three main intervals in their lives:
When they are toddlers, to protect them against those who would seek to take advantage of them.
Obviously, when one is dealing with young children, the "sex education" is going to have to be rather limited. Other than telling them that their genital areas are not for random touching, either by others or themselves, and to explain that a pregnant woman is carrying a baby inside her, I am not certain of what else can be told to a 3- or 4-year-old.
Of course, children that age tend to be very curious and don't hesitate to ask lots of questions about whatever is on their minds. So to a large extent you'll know what to tell your 3- and 4-year-old based on what they ask.
But remember, whatever they ask must be answered honestly, even if the honest answer is "You are not quite old enough to understand that right now" or "Mommy [or Daddy] doesn't know how to answer that question right now." And whether or not they ask for it, you have to tell them something about inappropriate touching so they can protect themselves from child molestation.
When they are roughly 9 or 10, to protect them against the misinformation of their friends.
You can be pretty certain that if you don't talk to your children about sex by the time they are about 9 or 10, one of their friends will. If that happens, instead of getting information, your child is more likely to get misinformation.
When they are teenagers, to protect them from, well, themselves.
About the time they begin to discover the opposite sex and have the opportunity to do something about what they have discovered, you need to talk to your children and help them understand that while sex in its proper context is a wonderful thing, when it is taken outside that context, sex is dangerous and (with the advent of AIDS) even deadly.
*I recommend that, if possible, both parents talk to their children about sex. Men and women do not look at sex in exactly the same way, and it is good to have both "perspectives." I would further recommend that these particular talks be held separately, to make it easier for the child to ask one parent those questions they might feel uncomfortable asking the parent of the other gender.
Ultimately, a discussion with your child about Christian sexuality is just another in a series of discussions that you as a parent need to have with your child about life in general. If an open line of communication has already been established between you and your child and you talk regularly, this conversation is not likely to be difficult.
If, on the other hand, you and your child do not communicate easily, I do not think it is ever too late to start trying to do that. Ask God to help you begin that process today.
Dana C. Edmond is the author of Do It Right! Love, Sex, and Relationships God?s Way (available at www.adventistbookcenter.com or by calling 1-800-765-6955). He is executive director of the South Central Conference of Seventh-day Adventists in Nashville, Tennessee. He and his wife, Jill, have been married for 26 years and have two children, Courtney Michelle and Robert James.