Children come into the world as sexual beings, but they have no concept of what it means to be a sexual being. Obviously a toddler or a child isn’t physically or emotionally mature enough for sex, but kids are born with sexual body parts and can experience sexual type feelings. One couple shared the story of their young son who began covering his penis when he changed clothes in the same room with his sister. When his parents asked him why he did this, he said, “It pops up when it sees a girl!”
Young children start to become more aware of their sexuality in subtle ways typically long before any “talk” from mom or dad. They see, hear, or experience things that evoke a “tingling” or “funny feeling.” Toddler girls and boys typically discover the soothing pleasure of touching their genitals. This is totally natural. As they mature, they hear friends joke about body parts or sexual things, which can be both confusing yet intriguing.
I remember seeing naked Africans in the National Geographic magazines and wondering about the funny feeling I got. I didn’t understand why I wanted to go back and see them again. You can probably relate to some of these things from your own experiences growing up.
We are born as sexual beings into a world where sexual themes abound and we can’t help but encounter many of them. Most of these are outside of our control. They come into our lives; we don’t seek them out, at least not initially.
In today’s sexualized culture we all encounter various things related to sexuality. For example, ads for erectile dysfunction, risqué images, peers dressed in revealing attire, sexual situations in media or marketing, or suggested internet content that is sexual (like the sidebar of YouTube or at the end of an internet article).
There are other sexual themes that we or our kids may encounter such as a classmate with two mommies, a friend who’s female and believes she’s male, a nude photo sent via text, nudity on social media apps, erotic literature, porn, etc.
We can also experience issues related to sexuality that are more personal or internal — sexual thoughts, feelings, memories, unanswered questions, shame, sexual abuse (including child-on-child abuse and sibling abuse), sexual violence, sexual promiscuity, porn use, body shame, gender dysphoria, or same-sex attraction.
Even one of these sexual topics or encounters could be quite confusing or traumatic in the life of a child or teen. In our sexualized world, children need a safe place in which to process their experiences and get answers for their questions.
Our sexuality is shaped in large part by our experiences but it can also be impacted by what’s not said or by a lack of information. Perhaps a child’s questions are met with an awkward silence or a parent’s response makes him feel ashamed for asking, inhibiting further conversation on the topic.
To a child, perception is reality. If a child perceives sexual topics to be taboo in your home, then to her they are. Outside of your home and within culture, sexual topics are generally not taboo. If a child doesn’t feel comfortable asking a parent about sexual topics, he will likely seek answers elsewhere making him quite vulnerable to the world’s messaging, misinformation, or unwanted sexual experiences.
Sadly, Christians and the Christian church are relatively silent on issues related to sexuality, not because we don’t care, but because we don’t know what to say, or we struggle with our own sexual shame, wounds, or sin, or we don’t know how to present God’s truth on sexuality.
Sexual issues are tender topics for our times. They can be difficult for adults to face and for children even more so. We need to approach them with compassion.
When Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan, He said the man had “compassion” for the bruised, naked, and wounded man he found on the road. Compassion in the Greek breaks down into two words: “passion,” which means to feel deeply or suffer, and “com,” which means with.
Today’s kids are growing up in an increasingly toxic, sexualized culture. To have compassion around sexual topics with your kids means to identify with the struggles related to living as sexual beings in a sexualized world, to in a sense “suffer with” your kids. This will mean so much more than a few talks about sex.
It will mean identifying with the struggles by remembering back to your childhood. It will mean intentionally creating an atmosphere in your home where there is freedom and safety to discuss topics related to bodies, porn, sex, and culture at every stage. It will mean fewer lectures and more of you asking good questions of your kids. It will mean becoming more comfortable with your own sexuality and your unique stories. It will mean trusting the Lord to give you wisdom and direction and to provide for your family.
If you’d like guidance on becoming an ally to your child in today’s culture, we have resources for you on our website. If you’d like to bring my talk Allies: Parents & Kids Navigating a Sexualized Culture to your church, school, or parent group, email me at email@example.com. If you’re feeling uncertain or fearful, read some of our earlier posts.
Let us know how we can encourage or equip you! Share topics you’re curious about. We’d love to hear from you. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Founder and CEO, TrueNorth Freedom Project, Atlanta, GA.
PS – We’re helping host the Sexual Integrity Leadership Summit May 2-4, 2019, at Johnson Ferry Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA. Plenary speakers include Dr. Juli Slattery, Dr. Crawford Loritts, Jay Stringer, and Pastor Jason Dees. The summit will offer 23 breakout sessions over 4 tracks. You can find more information here.
Want to help us bring the good news of sexuality to a hurting and broken world? Find ways to give here. TrueNorth is a 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organizations. Donations are tax deductible. Our EIN is 46-5767272.
Photo by Ana Francisconi