It is very common for parents to tell us during workshops on talking with kids about sex, “I’m worried I will ruin my child’s innocence.” In fact, this is one of the more common fears parents have related to talking with their kids about sex. Since this concern comes up so frequently it is worth talking about.
Does talking with our children about sex or pornography ruin their innocence?
What Do We Really Fear?
When I ask parents to explain this fear they often respond with a concern that they would put dangerous ideas in their child’s head. They worry it might make their child curious about sex and go look online for answers. They worry it might put ideas in their child’s head to go experiment with on their own. Other parents worry about traumatizing their child with information they didn’t expect and were not ready to hear.
In other words, parents are worried that talking honestly with their children about sex will either traumatize their child or entice them to seek out some form of sexuality to interact with. These are fears about unintentionally putting our child in some kind of danger.
It is easy to understand wanting to protect our children from danger. The question then becomes, does talking to our children about sex and sexuality put them in danger?
The Real Danger for Children
The real danger children face is not hearing from their parents how God designed human sexuality to work.
Danger comes when a child is exposed to sexualized content while unprepared and ignorant about sex.
All children will come in contact with sexualized media or information outside of a parents’ control. The only question is, will they be ready and will they know what to do when this happens?
Children learn about sex from each other. Learning about sex for the first time can feel a bit world-altering for a child, no matter how old they are. A whole new reality has just been revealed to them, although they still barely understand it. Children process new and important information the same way adults do—they want to tell others what they just found out. Very often children will tell all their friends everything they just learned, even friends much younger than they are.
Children learn about sex from pornography. One of the most common stories we hear about first exposures to pornography is when a child clicks on an ad that looked interesting while doing homework or playing a video game. In many cases the child had no idea what pornography was or that anything like it existed. This is a particularly dangerous scenario today as first exposure to Internet porn often consists of hundreds of videos of deviant sex acts appearing on the screen at once.
Children learn about sex from non-pornographic sources. In my case, I found my mothers nursing books on the family bookshelf, which contained many photos of naked people. Their eyes were blanked out, but that is all that was blanked out. These were not images of sex, but my parents had never talked to me about nudity or body parts and I didn’t quite know what to think. I was only eight or nine at the time but I went to my friends, not my parents, to talk about what I’d seen.
When we as parents refrain from talking with our kids about body parts, sexuality, and even pornography, we leave them vulnerable, unprepared, and unprotected for when they do come across that information. Talking with our kids about sex is a way to protect them, not ruin them
When Do I Talk?
Knowing when to talk to our children about sexuality is perhaps the harder question. It is easier when we approach such conversations as a means of protection instead of just education.
Several counselors, authors, and speakers who focus on helping parents talk with their children about sex met in 2020 to discuss this very issue; when do we talk with our children about sex?
Here is the advice that came out of that meeting:
That might seem really young! However, we as parents typically view our children as younger and more immature than they really are. They are often ready for conversations long before we think they are.
In addition, children today are exposed to information about sex much younger than we realize. It does not matter if a child goes to a Christian school or even is homeschooled, they probably have been introduced to more ideas about sex than a parent will realize.
A homeschool boy came up to me after a presentation and volunteered this information, “My dad didn’t talk with me about porn until three years after I first saw it. I was already kinda hooked by that time.”
We cannot give a definitive roadmap for when to have what conversation with your child. Each child is different and there is no “best age” to have a conversation that works for every child. However, here are some very rough guidelines:
Take Your Next Step
What age is your child? Which of the conversations above have you not had with your child? Our suggested next step for you is to pick one conversation and set a date when you plan to have it with your child.
Need help? Honest Talk: A New Perspective on Talking to Your Kids About Sex has conversation guides to walk you through many of these conversations.
For even more resources, visit our
Family Care Resources page