5 Ways to Teach Your Kids Shame-Free Sexuality

by | Aug 7, 2020 | Uncategorized | 24 comments

Raising Kids with Healthy Sexuality
Merchandise is Here!

Most of you who read this blog are here because you want to enjoy all God has for us with marriage and sex.

But a lot of times we’ve got roadblocks from our family of origin. Maybe sex wasn’t taught well, or you grew up thinking sex was shameful–or your body was shameful.

Camden Morgante, a licensed clinical psychologist, has written a ton on how the purity culture has negatively impacted women’s sexuality, and I invited her to join us today to talk about how to raise kids with shame-free sexuality!

Sheila

 


Every night when my husband and I bathe our two-year-old daughter, I take the opportunity to teach her about her body.

“Now we’re washing your arm,” I say as I glide the washcloth over her little arms and hands.

“Now your tummy,” I say as she giggles, repeating the words after me.

“Let’s clean your legs.”

“Ok now your bottom…ok, now let’s get your vulva.”

Many of us remember getting “the talk” from our parents when we were teenagers.

My parents gave me a James Dobson book about adolescence, sent me away to read it, and told me to let them know if I had any questions.

Instead, education about sexuality should start at birth and continue into adolescence when we talk more about puberty, romantic relationships, and sexual values. Rather than a one-time event, teaching our children about their bodies and sexuality is an ongoing conversation.

I’m a Christian psychologist who works primarily with women and couples in my private practice. In my work, I see the baggage of shame that many Christians carry. Shame because of the harmful messages they received about their bodies. Shame because of the myths of purity culture they were taught. Shame because sexuality has always been something taboo and sinful, rather than something to be celebrated.

My research focuses on the harmful effects of these Christian teachings about sexuality.

Many of us who were influenced by these messages are now raising children of our own. Before we can teach our children about their bodies and sexuality, we have to be clear about our own beliefs and hang-ups. It’s our responsibility to identify and heal from any toxic beliefs instead of perpetuating them to our children.

My daughter is only two, so I have several years before puberty arrives and these conversations accelerate. I’m sure in the next decade, I will learn more and change some of the ways I plan to teach her about her sexuality.

But whether your children are toddlers or teenagers, there are some guidelines to teach our children a shame-free, healthy view of sexuality:

1. Sexuality is more than just sex.

You don’t have to be married or sexually active to be a sexual being. In fact, Debra Hirsh defines sexuality as:

“the deep desire and longing that drives us beyond ourselves in an attempt to connect with, to understand, that which is other than ourselves.” (p. 26)

Debra Hirsh

Redeeming Sex: Naked Conservations about Sexuality and Spirituality

If healthy sexuality is about more than just sex, then my daughter, even at two-years-old, is a sexual being.

God created all of us with the desire to be known and loved and the capacity for connection. It is natural for a toddler to want to be touched, held, cuddled, and kissed (and ok if they don’t want that). And it is natural for a teenager to desire physical and emotional connection with others. Let’s affirm our children as sexual beings, created for intimacy.

2. Your body is good.

If I believe my daughter was created by God and made in His image as a female, this means that her body, including her genitals, are good (Gen. 1:27; 1:31). I want her to appreciate and celebrate her body, rather than feel shame about it. This starts by using the correct terms for her genitals, like my bath time story illustrated. Using other names just shows our discomfort and shame about private parts. And if we feel discomfort and shame, so will our children. We don’t create “cutesy” names for other parts of the body, like elbows. Why use them for genitals?

3. Your body is beautiful.

We know how important it is to encourage a positive body image in our children, especially our girls. Research has found that 80% of girls have tried to diet by age 10 and girls as young as 5 are influenced by their mother’s attitudes toward food.

Since becoming a mother, I’ve been convicted about my own body image. Playtime with my daughter frequently involves “chases” that end in tummy tickles. I will say, “I love your belly” or “this belly is so sweet” while blowing raspberries on it. If I can’t appreciate my own stomach–despite the lingering effects of pregnancy–how can I teach my daughter to value hers?

I also want to focus more on the function of her body rather than the appearance. My toddler’s belly is not just adorable, it lets her know when she is hungry so she can fill it with good food. Similarly, in marriage, breasts are not just for the pleasure of a woman’s husband, but also may nourish a baby. We can celebrate our whole bodies when we pay attention to what they do for us, not just how they look.

4. Consent belongs to you.

The topic of consent has recently gained considerable attention in the #MeToo movement. Consent with our children means respecting their bodily autonomy—their right to make decisions about what’s best for their bodies. Of course, there are challenges to consent in childhood. I still have to change my daughter’s dirty diaper and suction her snotty nose even when she protests! But unless health and safety are at risk, I respect her boundaries. She doesn’t have to give me or anyone else a hug and kiss if she doesn’t want to.

In adolescence, we want to give our teenagers increasing amounts of freedom and privacy. We also want to teach teens that no one should demand to touch their bodies or force them to do something that makes them uncomfortable. This reinforces the autonomy and consent we instilled in our teens since childhood.

5. Sexual purity is God’s best for you.

Because many of us grew up with purity culture messages about sexuality, we may feel lost when it comes to how to instil biblical sexual morals in our children. How do we teach purity without the myths of purity culture?

I believe we first need to pay attention to which purity culture myths affected us and banish this talk with our children. We want to avoid the extremes of either demonizing sex, or idolizing it. Sexuality is a gift—a blessing to enjoy but also a responsibility to steward. Instead of offering false promises or using scare tactics to teach purity, let’s emphasize obedience to God, faithful submission, and integrity. Let’s teach our children that purity is a life-long spiritual discipline that is God’s best for us.

As part of my ongoing conversation with my daughter, I hope to say to her,

You were created in the image of God and your body is good and beautiful. Sexuality is a gift, and we believe God asks us in the Bible to save sex only for your spouse when you are married. We want to honor and obey God with our bodies. We hope that as you grow older, you will talk to us, ask questions, read the Bible, and pray and ask Jesus what He wants you to do and what decisions he wants you to make with your body and your sexuality.”


Thanks so much, Camden, for sharing today! And be sure to take Dr. Camden’s quiz “Which Purity Culture Myth Affects You?

So what do you all think? I’m intrigued by the idea that we are all sexual beings in some way. What do you think? Did anything else resonate with you? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Psychologist, Writer and Speaker

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. Be sure to take Camden's free quiz "Which Purity Culture Myth Affected You?"

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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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24 Comments

  1. Becky

    I do worry often about passing a negative view of sex on to my kids, especially my daughter, since what’s so great about sex is something that I know intellectually (mainly from this blog), but not from experience. Thank you for such a practical list to help. Hopefully I’ll get this sorted out sometime before she hits puberty.

    Reply
  2. Ina

    This is so good! I’d add this, vocally disavow negative messages in your church or consider leaving your church all together if it teaches a shame based view. My parents did not have a shame based view. My mom is incredibly opened and tried hard to facilite conversations with me, but I was very private and just shut down. But, what was vocal was church. People in our church were 100 hundred percent behind the purity/modesty myths and very vocal about endorsing it. Even though my parents weren’t and tried to teach otherwise at home, because they didn’t really come straight out and say that the other teachings were wrong, I internalized more of those teachings than my parent’s beliefs. My mother was flabbergasted when I broke down my issues with sexuality and even womanhood as an adult. She was absolutely floored that I had internalized these negative messages instead of just internalizing the wonderful relationship between my father and her. So teach all the things above and. Find. Healthy. Church. Groups.

    Reply
    • Mb

      I love this point!! Very very valid. My messages came from the church too and not from home. It’s been a nightmare to try to untangle it all even now in my mid thirties and having been married over a decade. I never realized how much of my identity was shame hidden and how much that affected me.

      Reply
      • Sheila Wray Gregoire

        This is actually something we’re dealing with in our upcoming book The Great Sex Rescue–how often the teachings that affect us are from our churches, not just our families. And often the churches are far more conservative and shaming than our families were.

        Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Ina, I’d say Rebecca and Katie had similar experiences to you. They weren’t taught the purity culture at home, but they sure heard it at church (and in Brio magazine, which I never realized was as damaging as it was at the time!). Maybe she can chime in here!

      Reply
      • Camden Morgante

        Sheila, I was definitely influenced by Brio magazine too. Purity culture teachings and shame came less from my parents and church, and more from Christian books!

        Reply
      • allison

        We have enjoyed Brio – what specifically can be damaging in them?

        Reply
        • Sheila Wray Gregoire

          I honestly don’t know what they’re like now, but in the 2000s they were very focused on purity culture, and telling girls that they could too easily make boys lust and things like that. I hope they’re better now.

          Reply
          • Rebecca Lindenbach

            I will add that even if they are better now, I can’t find a single apology for the damaging messages they perpetuated earlier. So if they really have changed their message, kudos to them. But they also need to be clear that they do not believe that anymore because it was SO heavily promoted for so long, and it’s still rampant in many circles.

  3. A

    This was really good and really helpful

    Reply
  4. Natalie

    Wow!! SUCH a good article! I think all of us who grew up in the purity culture and have seen the damage it did in our own lives are worried we’ll pass that on to our kids. I’ve been doing what she writes of above with my 3 & 1yo sons, but I often wonder if I’m doing enough or if I’m doing it “right”. I think understanding as an adult that sexuality isn’t just about sex is really the pivotal part. That was something I didn’t fully understand till only a couple years ago when I started healing from the purity teachings of my youth. Now I see how sexuality – while it does extend to sex itself with my husband or with myself – encompasses our deeper longing to be known and seen and loved, and that’s beautiful! I’m so glad God crested us with that part of our being! That’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of! It’s what gives us our humanity and draws us closer to Him.

    Reply
    • Natalie

      created*

      Reply
    • Camden Morgante

      Natalie, that’s great to hear that you have started healing from purity culture teachings so you do not pass those on to your kids. I hope you take my quiz “Which purity culture myth affects you?” to see which of the 5 myths I’ve identified might still affect you.

      Reply
      • Natalie

        Just took your quiz & WOW I’ve never felt so seen & understood from a quiz alone lol. I answered “agree” to practically every one. Oh man! So much to unlearn!

        Reply
        • Camden Morgante

          Natalie, I’m touched to hear that you felt seen and understood by taking my quiz. I understand agreeing with almost all of them. I know I did at one point too! I hope you’ll continue your journey of “unlearning” the myths of purity culture with me. As I continue my writing and research, I plan to share more on my blog!

          Reply
  5. Bethany Persons

    In addition to consent and honoring God, I plan to tell my daughters (currently 6, 2, and 11 mo) that beauty is a form of strength, but to share it makes you vulnerable, so be sure that you share it with someone who honors that strength and protects your vulnerability. A woman’s ability to have children is amazing and good, but since having children is life changing, let that be something you save for someone who is also putting his life on the line with you and for you, ie in marriage.

    Reply
  6. Wild Honey

    Living for a time in South Korea, where public bathhouses/saunas (segregated by gender) are a very normal thing, helped me in the process of overcoming the stigma of my own body. So I am very open about changing/bathing/taking care of bodily functions in front of my young daughters, so they can see what a normal (not Photoshopped) female body looks like without shame.
    My question is, how do you do this with children of the opposite gender? So, if I were to have a son? Or for my husband around our daughters?

    Reply
    • T

      I don’t personally see it as any different. I have 3 sons (5, 2 and 2 months) and they still shower with me and see me taking care of biological functions. I still nurse my 2 yo and the 5 yo only stopped about 6 months ago and still sees me nursing the other two so he knows the function of breasts. We talk about penis and testicles and vagina and vulva in the context of body parts. And they know where babies come from they watched their newest brother be born. They will understand menstruation and the female cycle as well as the changes that happen to boys bodies as they age. It’s all part and parcel. I have no shame in my body. My boys can see that. They can see the proPer function Of the body. And treat women as human beings not body parts because it’s all normalized in their world.
      This is how I view it anyway.

      Reply
  7. Arwen

    This is great! I also love your family articles even though i’m single. But i always pin them for my future family if the Lord wills and if not for my nieces and nephews and other people i can pass on to.

    Reply
  8. Andrea

    One way in which parents can teach their kids shame-free sexuality is to teach them that “boys have a penis and girls have a clitoris” (instead of the old “penis and vagina”). Make sure your kids know that the vagina is where babies come from, whereas the clitoris is where orgasms happen. This will ensure that your daughters know where their pleasure center is and that your sons don’t feel entitled to penetration (and that they also know the real source of female pleasure).

    Reply
    • Meg

      Yes!!! This is the best advice. I’d literally never heard or read the word clitoris until I was married and Googling some questions I had because I was so confused. I didn’t even know I had one! One piece of simple information from my mom would’ve changed so many things for me.

      Reply

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