Some of us never got “the talk” about sex and were left to figure it out on our own. Others of us got “the talk” but little else, leaving us embarrassed and with a lot of unspoken questions. Usually by the time “the talk” is delivered, a great deal of shame and confusion about sex has already entered a child’s life through the giggles of friends, risqué images, or porn. Silence over sexuality can be very confusing and leave a child ill-equipped to face the challenges in our culture.

It’s not hard to become an ally to your kids but understand that it goes way beyond a “talk.” It will involve your heart, your mouth, and your mind. I’ll show you how to connect with your heart, direct with your words, and protect with smart choices. This week I’ll share what might be the least obvious but certainly just as important as the other two, and that’s the need to connect.

Allies connect with their kids.

For our purposes, connection simply means identifying with a child’s sexuality and the challenges and experiences that go along with it. Many of us have forgotten early sexual encounters or feelings, or maybe we don’t want to remember them. But in order to become approachable and trustworthy we need to connect with our kids at a heart level.

Here are some practical steps you can take starting right now, whether your child is a toddler or a teen:

1. Name, don’t shame body parts.

This is so important. Use the real words starting when your children are little or starting now. It’s not complicated, but you may need to practice! Both parents should talk naturally about bodies with sons and daughters at various times so the topic doesn’t become taboo. As your kids hear you say penis or breasts or vagina, they’ll be more inclined to talk about their parts with you. There are many good books for this at every stage.

2. Realize we all have memories of sexual encounters.

The human brain stores memories of significant things. Because sexuality is a significant and important aspect of the way God designed us, our brains will store memories of sexual encounters. It’s called “imprinting,” and it is totally natural.

What is your first memory of something sexual? It’s different for everyone–perhaps an image or a scene from a novel, or maybe you walked in on your parents having sex. It might be more extreme like viewing hard-core porn or experiencing sexual abuse. For most of us, something sexual was imprinted on our brains long before we heard “the talk” and long before puberty.

I can still remember the first porn image I saw at a sleepover. As I looked at it, brain chemicals released that essentially burned the image into my memory. I didn’t ask to see the image and I certainly didn’t want it to linger, but imprinting was a natural, physiological response that I had no control over.

Your kids will have sexual encounters that will imprint on their brains. This is a normal part of growing up but it can be quite powerful. One man described seeing porn as a child and feeling like something “woke up” inside of him. As an ally, you can answer your children’s questions, guide them through the emotions, and help them find ways to deal with the memories or shameful feelings when they resurface.

3. Remember, we all experience sexual arousal, curiosity, and desire.

The human brain is wired to notice skin and sexual things, and feelings of interest, curiosity, or arousal can naturally result. It’s also normal for both boys and girls to discover masturbation, but it’s important that children not internalize shame over pleasurable feelings they may experience from it. Kids need guidance on managing those feelings. Pray and seek wise counsel as you navigate this topic.

When I was a child, the lingerie section of the Sears catalog gave me a funny feeling. Later I was curious and looked at porn that I saw in a home where I babysat. Feeling curious and aroused did not mean I was a bad person. It meant I was a normal person. But no one ever told me that or explained how to manage the feelings.

4. Realize the common feelings of shame and brokenness.

It’s hard to grow up! And in a broken world we all experience some level of shame and brokenness related to our sexuality. But we are not what we’ve seen or done nor what’s been done to us. We are created in the image of God with intrinsic worth. We can help our kids rise above any hurt or shame they feel related to their sexuality. Find a good counselor to help you with more serious issues or trauma.

5. Realize we all experience sexual temptation.

It’s a struggle to walk in sexual integrity and purity. We’re guarding something very sacred while living in an unholy world, and temptations are to be expected. It’s not a sin to be tempted, and as an ally, you can explain how God provides for us in those moments. You can also teach your children how to guard their eyes and their hearts.

6. Become approachable by being honest and humble.

Your kids probably have you up on a pedestal, so model what it looks like to admit failure, confess, receive forgiveness, repent, and work to restore relationships. If you’ve modeled this, your kids will see you as much more approachable when they fail. And they will fail.

As you work to become an ally to your child, remember that you were once a child becoming more aware of your own sexuality. You had natural brain responses that probably took you by surprise. In Part One we explained some chemicals that release in response to sexual encounters. We asked you to consider what could have helped you in those early years. Pray about what your child needs, and ask God to lead you.

In Parts Four and Five we discussed some obstacles you’ll likely face as you begin to move toward greater authenticity with your loved ones. We shared about discovering God’s healing grace for your own wounds or past sexual sin. Take your time with these posts. Let God transform you as you work to engage more authentically with those you love.

Connecting with your kids in these ways will reap huge rewards as you work to become the ally they need. Through connection, you’ll build bridges of trust over which you can begin to direct them. We will cover this next week.

God blesses what He purposes, and He has purposed for you to lead your children toward a wholesome, God-honoring view of their sacred sexuality. This is a marathon, not a sprint. You’re building a relationship, not just having “the talk.” Keep reading, keep praying, and keep asking God to show you the next step.

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Anne Kerr

Founder and CEO of TrueNorth Freedom Project in Atlanta, Georgia

For great resources on walking authentically in a sexualized culture, check out TrueNorth Freedom Project. We’re a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization. Want to help our message go further? Donate here.

Photo by Allie Milot