Although I do not talk about religion in the TALK workshops, parents often ask about how to reconcile their religious beliefs with talking openly to their children about sex and sexual safety. My answer is that parents must find a way to include their own beliefs in the discussion. I offer a few suggestions here.
Most of us know, whether through our own sense of what is right, or from religious teachings, that children, perhaps because of their innocence, are special, and that it is our responsibility to protect them from harm. We want to protect them, while letting them also remain innocent. Rest assured that when we talk to our children about “keeping privates private”, children will understand this in a child’s simple way, without learning notions of sex and sexual activity that are more adult. When a child asks questions about “Where babies come from” they are thinking about planets and seeds and the weather, asking really “How does the world work?” We can answer their questions honestly, and factually, without sharing any notions about “sex” as adults think of it. Children who understand the basic science of human reproduction are less vulnerable to sexual exploitation by those who would take advantage of their unmet curiosity. Openly sharing information with children also protects them by laying the foundation for honest and easy communication with you. It helps break the silence that comes from shame.
Here is an example of a non-religious approach to the discussion. (Some families emphasize science and evolution in their discussion of sex.): Everything that is alive on our planet has an amazing ability to make more life! This is true for plants and animals, including people. In animals it is called mating, in people, we call it sex. It’s pretty amazing how two grown up people can come together to make another person. Human bodies evolved so that when people become grown ups, their bodies are ready to make more persons, and their bodies want to make more persons. Bodies evolved so that it also feels good when two people come together to make a new person. That’s important so that people keep making people! [Teenagers can understand that their bodies are “getting ready”, and they will feel evolutionary drives, well before they are ready emotionally for sex or parenthood. The early age of physical development probably results from the fact that humans used to have a much shorter life span, of only about 30 years.] Sex is for adults only, and grown ups have the job of making sure no one is every sexual with kids. This lets kids be free to just be kids!
Here is one approach to including a belief in God in your discussion of sexual safety and the Privates Rule: Because He loves us so much, God wants us to live in families, so we can take care of each other. Grown ups make families lots of ways, and one way is by having babies. God wanted babies to be born of love, so He made it feel good when two people make a baby (which is called sex). So, that can get complicated, and cause some problems, because people can forget that sex is supposed to be about love. So we have rules about sexual touching that say sexual touching can only happen between grown ups who love each other [extend this in the way that fits with your own values].
And, ALL grown ups know the Privates Rule, which is that grown ups can never share privates with kids. Grown ups cannot show their privates to kids, or ask to see kids privates, no touching of anyone’s privates, and no pictures of privates. These rules are for grown ups, and the only thing a kid has to do is TELL if someone needs to be reminded about the privates rules. Telling is the right thing to do, no matter what!