From the Homefront: From the Homefront: A better way to teach kids about sex

Published: Tuesday, April 12 2011 6:30 a.m. MDT

This weekend, my husband and I sat down with our 8-year-old and gave him the Big Talk.

And guess what? It wasn’t uncomfortable, embarrassing or rushed.

In fact, I would say it was one of the most tender and special moments we’ve ever had with one of our children. It was a discussion filled with love. It also included ice cream, which is always a good idea when you’re teaching a boy who enjoys a good dessert.

Because this child is our oldest, I had no idea how it would all shake down. We used as our launching pad the excellent book by Linda and Richard Eyre "How to Talk to Your Child About Sex." They have a whole system for how to present the topic of intimacy. It starts a few weeks before, when you prep your child by saying that you’re going to have a special talk about “the most wonderful and beautiful thing in the world.”

In the book, they recommend having the talk on or near your child’s eighth birthday. Because our oldest is pretty innocent, we thought we’d wait until he was a little older. I’ve had all the books on hand, but we didn’t think he was quite ready.

Then he approached me the other day and asked, “Mom, I just watched a church video that talked about avoiding bad things on the Internet. What are they talking about?”

This is a boy fascinated by technology. If it has a button or a light-up screen, he is there. I knew it was time for the talk. In fact, I realized I probably should have done exactly what the Eyres suggested and had the talk several months ago. Even though we are strict about media, we recognize that our kids are growing up with a lot more available to them, and they need to be aware of what’s out there and how to avoid it.

More than that, we really want our kids to grow up with a healthy attitude toward sex. My husband and I grew up in an era when sex wasn’t really talked about, except during Youth Standards Night, and then it was portrayed as bad. You weren’t to think about it, wonder about it and certainly never desire it. We both did all we could to avoid temptations. I skipped the sex scenes in books I read and covered the TV with a pillow during inappropriate times. I never read about it in magazines or talked about it with my friends. My husband and I kept ourselves worthy to get married in the temple.

Then we got married, and suddenly sex was fine. It was encouraged, important and vital to a strong marriage.

That was a challenging transition to make. I never had an open dialogue with anyone about the joy and beauty of intimacy in a marriage to prep me for that side of sex.

Hence the Eyre approach, which is all about developing a healthy attitude toward sex from an early age.

As someone who grew up involved in theater, I love when someone hands me a script, and the Eyres do just that in their book. They give a suggested outline of exactly what to say to your child. They also give recommendations of good books to have on hand so you can read together with your child. Our son is a huge visual learner, so this method was perfect for him.

Along the way we encouraged him to ask questions. He is 100 percent scientist, so all of his questions were very technical in nature. And truthfully, I think he was a bit overwhelmed by the whole thing. It’s a lot of information to absorb in one night.

What surprised me in the whole experience was the change that came over him. We had delayed the talk because we thought he wasn’t mature enough for such a heavy topic. However, as he learned about intimacy and our procreative power, I saw the maturity come over him as a result of our discussion. It was something I hadn’t expected but showed me quite clearly that we were doing the right thing.

I say this because I have a surprising number of friends who put off having the talk until their children are 10 or 11. They don’t want to rob kids of their innocence. What happens then is the child comes to them to ask questions, and it all plays out in an unrehearsed, awkward way — or the child is old enough that the topic really has become embarrassing and a bit shameful.

When you come to your child first on a planned date with a lot of preparation, you send a message to your child: “This is important. This is special. You can always talk to us about this, and we are here to answer your questions.”

Our kids are growing up in a world quite different from the one we knew at their age. They are getting bombarded with sex messages on all sides. As parents, it is our privilege and duty to share with them, at the right age and right time, the beauty of intimacy.

Tiffany Gee Lewis writes humorous and thoughtful commentary on the life of a stay-at-home mother in her column, From the Homefront, which appears on MormonTimes.com on Tuesdays.

Follow her blog, "The Tiffany Window," at http://thetiffanywindow.wordpress.com.

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