Day 3: The #1 Rule for Talking to Your Kids About Sex

by | Oct 24, 2018 | Parenting Teens | 5 comments

Talking to Your Kids about Sex and Puberty

Want to make talking to your kids about sex the least awkward as possible?

There’s one big rule when you’re talking to them about sex and puberty. And here it is. When you’re talking…. LISTEN. Yep. If you want to encourage your kids to actually come to you with questions, then you have to be willing to listen.

We know these conversations can be difficult. That’s actually why we created The Whole Story: Not-So-Awkward Talks about Sex, Puberty, and Growing Up–because when I was going through these talks with my daughters, I felt utterly lost. The resource I wanted as a parent simply didn’t exist yet. So I know first-hand how awkward these conversations can be!

The Whole Story is an online course to help you talk to your kids about sex, puberty and growing up in a healthy, less-awkward way.

Make talking to your kids about sex and puberty natural, not awkward. You’ve got this!

This week I’m encouraging all of us to get better at talking about this important part of life–especially if you’re a parent of a teen or preteen, but also just for helping change the Christian subculture with how we talk about these things. We’ve already had two challenges so far:

Day One: What Were Your First Memories about Sex? Day Two: What Were Your Emotions Around Puberty?

Today I want to talk about the importance of listening, and figuring out where your children (or whoever else you’re talking to) are coming from. I think sex and puberty are such value-laden topics, that when they come up we almost stop acting like ourselves and start thinking, “Okay, I need to say all the right things now.” And we see our role as giving all of the right answers to the questions. We need to tell them about how sex is meant for marriage. We need them to know that porn is bad. We need to explain all about your period in detail. We need to make sure that they know that they shouldn’t go making out with someone! We panic. We forget about the person who is in front of us, wanting to have a conversation, and we instead think of this checklist of all the things we’re supposed to say.

Have you ever noticed how Jesus never did that when He talked to people?

He tailored His answers–but most especially His questions–to the individual who was sitting in front of Him. When the rich young ruler asked what he had to do to be saved, Jesus told him to sell all he had and give to the poor (Mark 10:17-27). He didn’t tell everyone that; He only told the rich young ruler that, because that was what was holding him up from truly surrendering to God. Other people had other roadblocks. He didn’t go around telling the Pharisees to sell all they had; instead, He sometimes ate in homes with them and had conversations (Luke 7:36-50); He sometimes blasted them as whitewashed tombs (Matthew 3:27-28); or He treated them with respect and asked questions of His own when they approached Him in the middle of the night seeking answers (John 3:1-21). He knew the heart behind the questions, and that’s what He was addressing. He didn’t just tell them everything they should believe; He met them where they were at.

Listening gives people the freedom to explore their thoughts and feelings

Talking to people about sex and puberty and growing up isn’t only about making sure they know all the “right” things. It’s really about helping them learn to think through the issues properly. These are extremely personal things that affect us deeply. We need to guide our kids and help them process it, helping them know that they’re allowed to have weird feelings about all of it. If we just give them the “right” answers, then they don’t feel as if they can talk through their feelings. Or, even worse, they can worry that any feelings or questions or confusion they feel is somehow bad. That cuts off not just conversation, but also cuts off an important part of themselves.

Listening tells others you care about them and you’re a safe place

If you just lecture them on facts, they can fear that their own feelings aren’t important to you, or their questions aren’t important to you. They can feel like you care more about making sure they know the “right” thing rather than making sure you understand where they’re coming from. Because of that, they know you’re not going to run away or react badly if they say something you don’t like; you’re going to give them a chance, because they matter to you. And when you give kids that impression, then they’re far more likely to come and ask you things when they get into a sticky situation, or they’re really confused by something. If they think your main aim is to make sure they just believe all the right way, they’ll be afraid to share any confusion with you.

How do you listen when you’re trying to have the “sex talk”?

Ask questions!

Our tendency, when we’re nervous about something (and it IS awkward talking to your child about sex) is to go to one of two extremes: Either we say very little, or we say way too much. We either say a bit and clam up and hope they don’t ask us anything more; or we keep talking to try to fill the dead space. What I’d recommend doing is saying a little bit, and then asking your child some questions, like:

  • How do you feel about that?
  • Have your friends ever told you anything about this?
  • Do you think your friends are going through this too?
  • Do you have anything you want to ask me?

And you can probably think of more, too! (And there are discussion questions in The Whole Story to help you do that!)

Leave room for silence

Kids often need time to process what they’ve heard before they respond, especially if your child is an introvert. Setting aside some time when it’s safe to continue the conversation, even if it’s not right now, is really helpful. One of the best ways to do that is to talk to them during a “date”, or when there’s something else planned. In The Whole Story, we’ve got suggested mother-daughter or father-son activities that you can do for an afternoon, a day, or a weekend. You can start a conversation in the car, and then if your child is quiet for a little bit, that’s okay. But then, later on, you can revis
it the topic when they’ve had time to process it.

Don’t freak out if your child says something you disagree with

Because sex and puberty are so value-laden to us (we want them to wait until marriage for sex, for instance, or we want them to avoid porn and masturbation), it’s easy to start to panic if you think your child doesn’t “get it” or isn’t embracing your values. But if your child reacts to something that’s said in The Whole Story videos or in conversations with you negatively, think before you react in kind. Remember, the purpose here is to help your child feel like they can talk to you and process things. You can’t force them to believe a certain way, but you can model to them what a life of believing that way looks like. So let’s say you’re talking to your child, and she says that she really wants to wear make-up when you think it’s not appropriate; or he thinks that you’re overreacting when it comes to what movies you think he can watch. Or maybe your child thinks that your insistence that sex before marriage is wrong is archaic. Reacting angrily will likely push your child away. But here are some ways to keep those lines of communication open:

  • Share your own personal experiences of what happened when you were a teen, and why you believe that way
  • Share your concerns about others who have followed a different path than the one that you travelled
  • Ask your child why he or she believes that way. Keep listening, and keep asking probing questions so that you understand.
  • If necessary, leave it for now and come back to the conversation later. End with, “I’m so glad that we can talk through these things, even if we don’t see things the same way. And I want you to know that you can always come to me and ask me questions.”

Your Challenge: Listen to Your Child

Monday’s and Tuesday’s challenges were about plumbing your own heart and figuring out what you think and feel. Today I challenge you to listen to what your child thinks. If you have a teen or preteen, ask them about the best thing that happened to them this week, or the worst thing that happened to them. And just listen! Ask probing questions if they don’t say much, like “how did that make you feel?” or “what did you decide to do about that?” If you have a smaller child, this lesson is even more important. Teach your child now, while they’re little, that you enjoy listening to them! Get down to their level, look them in the eye, and just listen while they tell you a story. Laugh with them. Hug them. And just listen. Little kids love telling us things, but often we try to rush them or shut them up because they can’t tell a story in order, or they’re more “stream of consciousness” talkers. Let them talk. Show them Mommy or Daddy enjoys them. That’s how you set the stage for talking to them about the hard things later!

Don’t Have Kids Right Now?

Practice your listening skills on each other! Try the 50 Conversation Starters for Couples

And if you have do have kids–take advantage of  The Whole Story! Let’s make the commitment to guide our kids through puberty WITHOUT shame.

Did your parents listen to you? What did they do (or not do) to give you the impression that your thoughts and feelings mattered? Let’s talk in the comments!

Read the rest of the Healthy Sex Conversations Series:


Written by

Sheila Wray Gregoire


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Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

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  1. Flambeaux

    Sheila, any suggestions for when kids ask no questions and express no curiosity?
    We have several kids ranging from teenagers to toddlers but not one of them has ever seemed at all curious.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Rebecca did that! I always assumed that I would just talk to her when she asked me things, but then she never did.
      So I had to bite the bullet and take her away for a weekend and talk to her about it all, because she was going to get her period soon.
      I think sometimes you just have to do that. But then, even if you are the one telling them things, you can still ask questions to see that they’re processing it, or to figure out what they’re thinking. But absolutely. Sometimes you need to start the conversation. And I hope that The Whole Story helps!

  2. Samantha

    This post gives a lot of great pointers for good communication. I think people are pretty poor communicators these days thanks to texting and just being generally distracted by devices and being too caught up in themselves. This is not only a great guide for how to talk and listen to your kids, but others as well.
    My mother specifically really failed us girls when it came to being open and honest about herself. My sisters and I, on more than one occasion, asked questions about my mom’s dating experiences (specifically about the boys of course) and she would constantly clam up and tell us not to ask her about that stuff. To this day I have no clue how many boyfriends my mom had. And I have no clue whether my parents were virgins when they got married or not. My mother’s (and father’s) lack of transparency really bit them in the butt when me and two of my sisters all ended up dating at least one guy they didn’t feel was right for us. In our eyes what did they know? They never bothered to share any of their own experiences or mistakes with us. They both definitely dated other people before they met. That much we knew. How did that qualify them to tell us when a guy didn’t seem right for us? Especially since my parents weren’t exactly the model of a super happy and healthy marriage. My mom’s strategy was to give us her opinion constantly and make a lot of sarcastic remarks and eye rolls when we were getting ready for dates. And when she REALLY didn’t like a guy she was cold and just barely civil to them. My mom could write a book on how to keep your daughter in a relationship with the wrong guy for as long as possible. Deep down we all knew when a particular guy wasn’t right for us, but as young women in our late teens and early twenties (I was 22 when I started dating my first boyfriend) we weren’t particularly fond of being made to feel like we were stupid and wrong so we all fought for those relationships way harder and for way longer than we would have if we weren’t trying to prove to our parents that they were wrong and we were right.

    • Samantha

      That was more the result of how they handled communication when we were going through puberty. They were actually pretty good when it came to spiritual questions and questions about the Bible. But when it came to personal questions, my mother never wanted to talk about who she was or what she was like when she was a young woman. We never got to know her on a deeply personal level. When you don’t feel like a person is willing to be open and honest with you about themselves, you aren’t likely to be open and honest with them about yourself or what’s on your mind either.

    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, dear! That’s so true that many parents do that. And it would be so much better if they could just be honest with their kids instead of acting out of fear.


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