Sex Ed: who, when, and what to teach?

[ 17 ] Comments

by Nick Galieti

A friend sent me, a father of five girls, a link to a site which is a detailed sexual education resource for girls hosted by the U.S. Government. My internal conflict surfaced when I considered the idea that the only way this site came into being is because someone somewhere in the government determined that it was the government’s responsibility to teach daughters these important life lessons.

The usual response someone could give to this would be, “Well, they wouldn’t do it if the parents were already doing it or if there wasn’t a notable need.”

Without debating the role of government, I would like to attack this issue at its core by determining who should be teaching sex ed, when the approach is to take place, and what do you teach? Perhaps we can look beyond the obvious answer of “it will be different for every kid” and offer some real life experiences that go beyond theoretical.

17 Responses to Sex Ed: who, when, and what to teach?

  1. dallske says:

    Being willing to talk about my personal problems, I attend either passage groups or SA groups off and on. I have experienced listening to many men and women who were exposed to adult topics very early in life. I think baby steps in discussions need to start early. Establishing a complete lack of shame and a good knowledge base I think is key to help children stay out of trouble because of ignorance.
    No matter the interpretation one has toward a government site, it can be a resource for a parent or a child. We need not get wrapped around the axle just because it says .gov, .edu, .org, .net or .com. I worry about my boys and my girls regarding this topic all the time. I try and be as educational and neutral as possible so they will always want to come to me with questions and issues. I grew up with the guilt and shame that seemed naturally attached to any naked body or sexual subject. So, to be clear, parents are the obvious first choice to teach this with whatever resource they deem appropriate and it should be taught early, in baby steps, and unashamedly, and even though it is broken down into baby steps, a robust, matter-of-fact, respectful approach should be taken so the child isn’t left ignorant. That should be a good start in responses.

  2. Guy Vestal says:

    As a single Father of 8 Daughters, with 4 elementary school age ones still at home. (Mother is mentally ill, and an addict, so she has never been in their lives) I have taught, and still teach them as early as possible, everything possible, starting with the human body and sexual intercourse NOT being dirty, NOT being something to be ashamed or afraid of. They learn early on that Adam and Eve were naked in the garden, and that is the way God intended it, and He does not see the body and Marriage (not sex) as dirty or shameful.

    If you are teaching these girls ALL of Heavenly Father’s covenants, and the importance of ALL of them, then there is no problem with sexuality down the road, because your Daughters Honor their Mother and Father, because you are raising them in the admonition of the Lord.

    When the time comes for baptism, my Daughters are well versed in the Law of Chastity, and every possible topic related to it, from abortion to masturbation, and they are highly respected members of their school community, because of their firm stance on their beliefs. They are girls whose “Word” is something that is kept, and they are Women of trust among their elementary school peers for having a well rounded respect, and a deep appreciation of the value of humility.

  3. Dimples says:

    I have the privilege of running an in-home daycare and specialize in early potty training — children are out of diapers within 8-10 weeks of walking. I have a daughter who is the older than any of the children I’ve ever watched. At the ripe old age of 3, she came to me and said, “Mommy, I know how babies are made. The boy parts go in the girl parts.”
    I was, admittedly, shocked! But, since she was clearly smart enough to figure out that out I went with it and said, “Yup! And we’ll talk more about that when you’re a little older.”
    Fast forward to shortly after she turned six. I sat down with her and we had an in-depth discussion about female body changes (she’s going through puberty EARLY) and a little more about sex.
    I was raised in a family where my parents had an obviously enjoyable intimate relationship. I was taught that sex was both sacred and FUN but only to be engaged in within my marital relationship (when that eventually happened). It is nothing at all to be ashamed of. Our bodies, both male and female, are designed to give and receive pleasure.
    This is the lesson that I will teach my daughter in the next couple of years. I must say that talking about sex with a 6 year old is far easier and less embarrassing than talking to a pre-teen/teen who is already experiencing some of the sexual emotions.
    And, when my daughter finally feels attraction, I want her to recognize it for what it is–a powerful gift given to her by her heavenly parents that should only be acted upon with her spouse.
    For now, understanding the basic mechanics and that it is something that both Mom and Dad enjoy doing is sufficient.
    By the time her school covers these topics, she’ll already have instilled in her the beliefs and understandings we have shared and there should be no surprises. (She asked about men marrying men and women marrying women when she was 4 and saw a couple of girls kissing outside the grocery store.)

  4. Sundy DeGooyer says:

    Just before my daughters made sacred covenants with their Heavenly Father at baptism (read: the week before they turned 8 years old) my husband and I took them on a special date. After the dinner, we gave them an individualized scrapbook I made of the importance of being a woman and the sacredness of being a woman. Part of the scrapbook talked about sex. We felt it was important for them to know about the promises they were going to make (including the promise to be chaste.) It was a wonderful experience with both of my girls. They still have their chastity books and both feel comfortable talking about it with either me or their dad. Both of my girls are now teenagers, and both love the law of chastity but also have a firm knowledge about the importance and sacredness of being sexually pure.
    I have the “text” for my scrapbooks, if anyone is interested. (I also have a text for boys.) Just e-mail me and I’ll e-mail it back.

  5. Cheryl says:

    I have had many opportunities to each my kids about sexuality, and most of it has to do with their own questions. I never shame them for any question, either.

    Honestly? The best resource I’ve had to teach about sex and babies is by simply having many children! During my last pregnancy, our kids had a LOT of questions about how babies are made. For the littler kids, we simply talked about how a daddy seed and a mommy egg are needed to grow a baby inside a mother’s womb. When they asked how it gets out, I told them simply that it comes out of my vagina. They asked if it hurts and we talked about what labor and delivery is like. My older kids were more interested in knowing how the seed got together with the egg, and so we discussed it simply (and because you wanted real application I said: “the dad puts his penis into the mom’s vagina” and one of my kids about died: “that’s the grossest thing, ever!”) and that it is called “sex.” And I always, always, always ended the discussion with gospel application (“Can you imagine how hard it would be for me to have this baby without your dad?” and “Isn’t it great that we have a good way to create babies between two people who have committed to each other?” “Do you see why Heavenly Father has asked us to be modest and to save sex for marriage?”)

    And then the biggest part of all: My 11 year old daughter watched me give birth (it was at home). Not only did she see exactly what childbirth is REALLY like, but she watched her father give me and her newborn brother Priesthood blessings. She saw the way he and I interacted and she knew exactly what was the result of sex. (Well, the biggest reason for sex.) I asked her later if she regretted seeing the baby being born and she said, “I thought it was awesome! Seeing the baby come out was like, whoah!” 🙂

    I also nurse in front of my kids without shame. My sons ask me why the baby is nursing on my breast and I explain it very logically.

    When my sons have concerns about erections (they are all under the age of 9 right now), we’re able to talk about it without it being shaming. They ask why they shouldn’t play with themselves in public and we talk about respect and modesty and that a penis is a good thing because it will make them a dad one day.

    My girls knew all about periods and sex and changes happening to their bodies before they went to maturation at school (like, years before).

    They know that every time they have a question, they can ask me or my husband.

    I do remember one time our son was doing some inappropriate jokes and gestures at school (that was fun, whoo.) and so my husband sat down with our son to explain respect for women and for himself. It was REALLY good.

    I think parents should teach the kids. I think they should teach it all the time –not just some big “talk” that happens when they turn a certain age. I think it should be a normal flow of conversation as they grow up and ask questions. And the truth is, because of our society and the pervasive sex that is broadcast to the world (including p*rn), they need to know these things earlier. Not “adult” things –just the gospel application to why we have sexuality in the first place.

    • Liz C says:

      Love this! We’ve done the same with our kids, and the matter-of-fact information given in age-appropriate chunks has been really helpful. Our littler kids hear more than we might expect, since they’re around for the discussions with older kids, too.

      One funny: we had been discussing a bunch of “growing up” stuff with the big kids, and the conversations had mostly taken place during dinner. Finally, our middle girl put down her fork and said, “Can we please have ONE dinner with no sex? I’m just a little five-year-old girl over here!”

  6. Paul says:

    I’m happy for as much reliable information as possible. In our family, we’ve tried to stay ahead of the public school curve, pre-emptively teaching our kids before the school does. Of course we’ve responded to kids’ questions as they ask, with as much detail as we feel appropriate at a given age.

    Our experience has been that our kids have begun talking about sex-related things with their friends by late elementary school / early middle school, so by then we want to be sure our baseline is clear — both a factual baseline, and also our family’s morality as it relates to sexual things.

    The comments above about avoiding shame are so important. If we want any hope for open conversation over time with our kids on these important matters, we need to make those conversations as gentle as possible.

    My observation is the our girls have spoken more readily about these things with their mom than our boys have with me. That probably says something about both our kids and their parents. I’ll also observe that our family morality discussions about sex are part of a much larger and more comprehensive picture — it’s way more than staying chaste before marriage; it’s about respect and kindness, and those are lessons we began to teach as soon as our kids could communicate with us. The sexual morality issues have grown naturally out of those discussions over the years.

  7. templegoer says:

    Without falling into saying exactly what the poster disinvited it would be impossible to say that we have three kids and three completely different results. I worked in sex ed in the community before we had them, and during, and anticipated few problems. Big mistake.
    On reflection this does not work according to input in, input out. As it turns out, individual kids hear the same words in very different ways, and there is very great difficulty in controlling that. One of our kids, as we review the life story , probably has had autistic/aspergers but is very intelligent and gifted and so it has been well disguised to us as parents and others. Poor darling has been quite at sea with the world of relating to others, and has internalised a very dim view of sex, not helped by our ward’s narrative at the time she was in the young women’s program. Our others are really quite different and are very frank and open about their queries and relationships.
    Fortunately their attitudes have fed into the family dynamic and our more conflicted child can see that there are better things, and we have been able to have some constructive conversations around this over time. It has been very challenging to be undefended, and not be completely destroyed by misunderstandings that have arisen (‘you taught me not to have sex before marriage so I had to, didn’t I?’). It has been tough, and we’re not out of the woods yet by a long way. The consequences are heartrending for us all.
    The attitudes and values that we brought to the table worked fine for the others, but not for that child. And what concerns me is that I’m none the wiser as to what we should have done differently. We were, and are , simply incapable of understanding the ways in which we we were misconstrued. What actually goes on in a child’s head may be a mystery, and take a lifetime of work to sort through. But we’re still here for this child, and doing battle with our own inadequacies, and that’s the best we can offer, along with access to professional advice.

    So my experience is, do your best, they make choices, then do your best some more but better.

    • jendoop says:

      The really great thing about your comment and your parenting is that you haven’t dropped the issue and said, “We failed.” Because it’s not over, and you’re hanging in there with her to try and work it out. We can’t take back what we’ve done that was misconstrued, but we can learn from it and move on and that’s what you’re doing. I think it’s great, especially on such a sensitive topic. Don’t be down on yourself. I think it was Pres. Faust that said as long as you don’t give up you aren’t a failure as a parent.

  8. Cowgirl says:

    My daughter was 2 and had a new baby brother when she first noticed that her body and my body are somehow similar while her daddy’s body and her brother’s body are somehow similar. After she made this discovery she started asking questions. I explained where babies grow and how they come out and that someday her body could do that. She was naked in the tub during this explanation. Her eyes got wide and she looked down at her body and up at me and back down and then back up. She couldn’t have looked more shocked or thrilled if I told her she could shoot lasers with her fingertips. She was completely ecstatic and immediately asked if we could put her brother in her belly so she could make him come out. This conversation was the start of her sex-ed and one of my all time favorite parenting moments. I think it is healthy and good that she is so excited about what her body will become. However, I also think that’s just due to her personality, not my parenting. For her, openly answering questions about sex and her body will probably be enough parenting intervention for some years to come. But my son may be a totally different matter.

    • jendoop says:

      Thanks for sharing that vignette with your daughter. So sweet! Wouldn’t it be great if we could all retain that wonder and excitement about our bodies?

  9. jendoop says:

    I’m at a point where I’ve spoken fairly openly with my daughters but now my son is getting older and I’m not sure what to do. My husband has a hands off approach, but I’d like to better prepare our son. As I’ve been taking a Psychology of Sex and Gender course I’ve learned a few things that I didn’t know about male puberty and sexuality which makes me feel woefully unprepared to talk to my son. (It takes some courage to admit that as a woman who has birthed 4 children and been married more than 20 years.) I haven’t had good role models for this and while I’ve improved, I still have a long way to go.

  10. Ray says:

    Matter of fact, clinical, simple, not embarrassed, as early as necessary, etc. Iow, just like everyone has said.

    I flirt with my wife shamelessly and openly in front of our kids. They all know their births were planned carefully. They all know we use birth control – and why. They all know they can ask us anything and get an honest answer.

    A funny story:

    A man I know stepped out of the shower one day to see his four-year old daughter standing right in front of him. She pointed and said, “Daddy, what’s that?” He told her it was his penis. She walked away without another word.

    That weekend, they were at a daddy-daughter event and his Priest came over to talk with him. His daughter walked up at that exact moment and said, “Daddy, will you show me your penis again?”

    Out of the mouths of babes . . .

    If anyone wants to read something I wrote about this general topic and why I don’t like the default that is used by too many religious people, the following is from my personal blog:

    “We Can’t Teach ‘Abstinence Only'” ( – It should have been titled, “We Can’t Teach Only Abstinence” – since the title made a couple of people misunderstand what I was saying.

  11. Joseph M says:

    I think it’s very instructive that a lot of the advice given shows up in this article from last October’s Ensign

    1. Teaching and learning should begin early.
    2. Teaching and learning should occur often.
    3. Effective learning and teaching hinges on the relationship between the teacher and learner.
    4. Teaching and learning are most effective when the subject is relevant and real.
    5. Learners learn best when they understand what teachers are teaching.
    6. Learners are converted when teachers connect the message with everlasting principles and standards

  12. Tiffany W says:

    A few years ago I wrote three posts on my blog about this subject because I think it is very important. I was hearing dirty jokes when I was 5 on the playground at school. This was 30 years ago in a small conservative town in Wyoming. I deeply wished my parents had taught me more directly rather then getting my information from other kids at school. I’ve been very proactive with my own children and feel that we need to teach our kids or else the world will do it for us, with disastrous results.

  13. Liz C says:

    Addressing the topic, here’s something I wrote a while back on it:

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