Years ago, a young mother asked me how she should have responded when her 7-year-old son asked her if she and her husband had sex.
"What did you say to him?" I asked.
"I just told him, yes."
"What did he say?"
"He said, oh," she blushed.
She further explained the other children at school had been talking about sex and he just wanted some form of validation that sex was real. I told her that she had answered perfectly.
Her experience brings to light some of the realities of being parents in our day. Children will be exposed to the reality of sex at school, from their friends and from countless images in the media. We want our children to learn from our wisdom and follow our counsel as parents.
Start talking about sex before the teen years
Before ages 12 and 13, children view their parents as the most important people they know.
Once teenagers, the influence of their own peers becomes more important to them than that of their parents. Parents who have already discussed sex with their children before age 12 will find it easier to continue discussing it with them during the teen years.
Stick to the facts
To do this, we as parents have to provide our children with factual information and refrain from spreading fear or making threats about sex. "If you have sex you'll ruin your life or you'll get a disease," are very common messages from parents to children about sex. These messages are true and important, but not enough in and of themselves.
As parents, we have to make sure that our children are resistant to unhealthy messages about sex. Resistance comes when parents empower their children with truth, knowledge and parental values. We can do this in very simple ways.
Use only the medical names of body parts
Avoid euphemisms and slang terms unless you are correcting them with medical ones. Children who know and understand the proper terms have an advantage over those who do not, because the slang terms are vague and confusing.
Allow children to learn in a safe environment that you control - your home
I know one set of parents who loved art, so they bought a book of European classical paintings and sculptures. They left it on the coffee table and allowed their children to view it and ask questions about the art, artists and the bodies portrayed by the artists.
Another family bought a color illustrated medical book that was an encyclopedia of the entire human anatomy. These parents talked to their children about the entire human body and how it worked. When their children asked about the sexual anatomy they explained it the same way they would have explained any other part of the body.
Verbally share your own values with your children
Tell them why they should wait until they are married to have sex. Tell them what sex means to married couples and how important it is for strengthening the marital bond. Tell them what they have to look forward to and without sharing details of your own relationship, how your marriage is better off because of fidelity to one another.
Start talking to your teens about sex before they become teens. Keep talking to them throughout their teen and young adult years. Once the peer pressure begins, they will have the essential knowledge, values and information to stand up for what they believe in.