I don’t remember ever having the talk. I think my pops tried to bring it up once. I vaguely remember it happening as the yellow VW Rabbit pulled up our driveway – early teen years, maybe? I bailed at the first sign of awkwardness with a quick, “got it dad.” I was out of the car and into the house as fast as possible.
A few years earlier, I remember watching an unexpected pregnancy unfolded during NBC’s Thursday night line-up. In the middle of the awkward humor, mom said, “boys,” to my brother and I, “that’s why you keep your pecker in your pocket!” Seriously? Yep, she said "pecker."
Outside of a high school health class & clueless friends, that was my sex education.
Today, as dad to two sons and a daughter, I’m wondering how to shepherd my own kids through an understanding of the birds and the bees.
The cliché holds true – these sex talk waters are murkier than when I was learning the ropes. Gender fluidity, open relationships, experimentation, and instant access to pornography all color the conversation.
Our culture is super-saturated with sex – from ED pharma commercials penetrating sports broadcasts to Victoria Secrets “angels” peppering sitcoms in 30-second spots. And don’t forget, erotic fantasies are a just click, app, or hashtag away.
Does our flippant approach to sex have consequences? Research suggests, yes. Here’s a sampling:
Yep. It's a big deal.
How do we give our sons a fighting chance?
How do we talk our daughters out of athleisurewear?
Who knows a good Jiu Jitsu teacher?
What’s the waiting period on shotguns?
Good advice is just a paragraph away. I won’t be signing off with a quip about living in a broken world. I asked smarter folks for advice, and I’m passing it on to you.
5 sex talk suggestions for us dads from people smarter than me:
You can do this. You can do this differently than your parents did. It’ll be challenging, but most good stuff is. So, get your head on straight, get your wife on board, rope in a few dad friends so you don’t feel alone, and take the rest of these steps seriously. Intentional parenting is hard work, but it’s what you signed up for when you decided to love your family. Pep talk over – on to suggestion 2.
2. Start early
When I said, “Help! How do I have the sex talk with my kids,” they laughed at me. It was the wrong question, they said, “ask when, not how.”
“Sooner than you think!”
Turns out it’s not about having “the talk.” It’s about talking normally about stuff that we often treat as taboo. When my 5-year old is running around naked, with a rock-solid erection, my wife blushes and I laugh. When that same erection makes wearing a seatbelt uncomfortable, I get teach him to swipe it upright for comfort sake (thanks to Rod for that brilliant tip).
The point is, it’s not ever too early to help our kids understand their bodies. If we want to be the go-to Q&A coach for puberty, we need to start talking about bodies – without shaming – as early as possible.
If your kids are under 3, breathe easy. This journey is just around the corner.
If they’re 3 or older, it’s time to get in the game.
If your kids are already teens, remember that it’s never too late to start, or hit the reset button.
The big idea here is start. Once you’ve had an initial conversation, move on to suggestion 3.
3. Talk Regularly
Did you catch that? It’s not "the sex talk," it’s sex talks.
This notion of having one ultimate birds-and-bees conversation is high pressure and way too awkward to consider. Instead of viewing it as a trip to the dentist, have lots of small talks along the way – like brushing your teeth. It keeps your mouth clean, and makes the 6-month checkup easier.
Have regular conversations with your sons. Help them identify (and appreciate) what is cool, unique, and special about being a boy. Don’t forget peeing standing up, growing a cop stache, and chest hair (if they eat their veggies).
Have regular conversations with your daughters. Help them identify (and appreciate) what is cool, unique, and special about being a girl. My daughter thinks having a womb is the coolest thing ever, and she can’t wait to grow breasts. I, on the other hand, am happy to wait.
Have these conversations as frequently as possible. Be intentional about casually bringing things up. Be intentional about answering questions when they come up – or promising to answer them when the environment is right or after you’ve decided how you want to answer.
Openly answering questions has been really fun.
For example, one afternoon, about 4 years ago, our oldest asked why women in commercials didn’t wear more clothes. We had a great conversation wherein I suggested maybe the women didn’t know they needed more privacy. Now, our son looks away from immodestly dressed women as his way of respecting them and their privacy. He’s nine, and it works for now. We’ll see how his approach changes over time.
Be ready to challenge too. What happens when you catch your son (or daughter) viewing pornography, or trolling inappropriate hashtags on instagram? All the normal, casual, regular conversations you've been having will create a context for that conversation too.
In each of these moments – as we talk with our kids – we have opportunities to remind them that God has created them uniquely, and individually, as his own children. Sexuality can be confusing, but we (moms and dads) get to be the sounding board our kids engage when they process their fears, questions, and concerns.
That leads to suggestion 4.
4. Be There
We’ve got to find ways to be real, safe, and accessible. Our kids are facing a tough road, and their friends certainly aren’t the experts we want giving direction. This can be especially challenging if we’re starting late in the game (but not impossible).
Want to be there for your kids? Pray for them. Pray specific prayers.
Want to get crazy? Pray with them. Bless them. Put a hand on them and speak blessing over their lives. Tell them you love them.
The more we build up our relational equity, the more likely it is they will turn to us when they need support, questions answered, and on.
And when they come with questions, well, that brings us to suggestion 5.
5. Utilize Resources
While the first 4 steps are great reminders, some of us need a more specific plan, or script. If that’s you, here are some resources folks recommended to me (that I actually use):
This overtly Christian series does a great job of creating context for easy conversations about bodies, sexuality, and procreation. Even if you don't agree with everything the books suggest, you'll have a platform for meaningful discussion:
Book 1 (The Story of Me, for ages 3-5) talks about being created by God, and introduces concepts like womb, uterus, umbilical cords, breasts, gender, and privacy.
Book 2 (Before I Was Born, for ages 5-8) introduces gender specific body parts, changes in adult bodies, love, marriage, sex, pregnancy, and birth.
Book 3 (What’s the Big Deal: Why God Cares About Sex, for ages 8-11) addresses twelve relevant questions, like “Why do people have sex?”, “What happens during puberty?”, “What’s a period?”, “What is sexual abuse?, and on.
Book 4 (Facing the Facts: the truth about sex and you, for ages 11-14) covers more specifics for puberty, how pregnancy and birth work, thoughts on dating, and saving sex for marriage.
Books 1 and 2 are designed to be read to your kids, while books 3 and 4 can be read together, or independently. In either case, they set the stage for excellent discussion.
Anecdotally, we’ve used books 1 and 2 with all our kids and are working through book 3 with our oldest. While I don’t find myself in-step with everything the books say, I have found them to be invaluable tools for starting the conversation. The shared reading format of Book 3 is a hit with our oldest. I recommend them highly to anyone ready to start the “sex talks” process.
This short picture book was developed by two PhDs, and it offers a clear strategy for preparing kids to avoid pornography. The book defines pornography and addiction. It talks about the two brains each of us have – a thinking brain, and a feeling brain. By encouraging the thinking brain with their “CAN DO” plan, we can avoid the poison of addiction to pornography.
This book is simply, but genius. It presents a clear picture of addiction, while simultaneously equipping our kids with a simple process for avoiding porn. The “CAN DO” plan – an acronym for their 5-step plan to redirect – is simple, and memorable. I highly recommend this resource.
So, to recap…
We have to do better than our parents. They did their best, but as Dylan mused, “these times, they are a-changin’.” Our kids need us to parent intentionally, especially when it comes to understanding the birds and the bees.
Terrified? Nervous? Before you throw in the towel, imagine what happens if you don’t take action.
Imagine not being able to process this stuff with your kids. Remember all the bad advice you got, and consider how much murkier the water is for your kids today.
Commit today to intentional parenting.
Start early (if you can). If you can’t, start today.
Create space for regular conversations.
Be real, safe, and accessible.
And, when you feel stuck, lean on resources – you’re not alone.
You can endure the awkwardness because you know it opens doors to fruitful relationship with your kids.