Reclaiming the conversation: Talking to our kids about sex

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I was twenty-four and naive. I’m pretty certain my mouth dropped open when she said it out loud at work, sitting in the middle of the nurse’s station, surrounded by paperwork and co-workers and a number of men. She said, “If my husband ever left me, I would become a stripper for the money. I’d need it to support my children.” She said it straight-faced, and gave all the why’s and how’s and what she would do’s. This from a woman with two daughters, a college degree, and a stable job in her profession. I sat on the fringes of the conversation, and judged the heck out of her. I know better now, having heard enough stories of desperate women and rotten marriages, but it still bothers me that she believed her body was the best way to make a buck.

No one within earshot blinked an eye. A few guys cheered her and said she “had the body for it”. (I’m sorry. What? Was this supposed to be a compliment? Help me, Jesus. I wanted to strangle them.) A few women gave a quick eye roll , and one said, “Whatever you have to do, girl” The nursing assistant beside me shifted the conversation slightly and said, ” If my man started going to strip clubs, it would be over.” Which led to incredulous looks and jeers from the men, and total silence on the part of the women.

The nurse left the conversation at the sound of the call bell, and with her out of earshot, I agreed with the nursing assistant next to me. I said something about  the objectification of women and my potential response if my husband visited strip clubs or became involved with pornography (see above reference to strangling). Didn’t men consider these women in clubs and movies and magazines belong to somebody? They are daughters, wives, maybe even someone’s mama. She nodded in agreement, and it never came up again.

A few weeks later, one of the men who stood in earshot of our conversation told me every time he considered going to a strip club, he remembered what I said. I like to think this was a win in my personal fight against men viewing women merely as sex objects, but I know he visited the club with a fistful of dollars anyway. Fast forward fifteen years, and I have a much tighter intellectual grasp on how difficult a battle it is for men and women when it comes to setting boundaries around our sexuality, and how easy it is to fall into the trap of sex as the world sells it. We’re all just a website away.

I’m part of a shrinking minority, one of the few women I know whose life hasn’t been directly affected by pornography. All of the important men in my life, from my father to my brother to my husband, and my closest male friends actively try to keep it out their lives. I believe men of integrity still exist, and I happen to find myself surrounded by more than my fair share of them. Overall, it’s remarkably absent in my relationships, and I know few people can say this anymore. However, I’m not as naive as the 24-year-old me. I know our hyper-sexualized culture invites my husband, my friends, and even my pre-teen son, into a world where porn is carried around in their pockets, with access to it at the click of a button.

When it comes to our kids, especially our son, I’m afraid of what this kind of instant access means for their future. When I think about my boy, the one who still likes me to tuck him in and kiss him goodnight, I wonder how to protect him from the constant onslaught of images. Especially when the girls at school willingly sell naked photos of themselves to fellow students, a sad but true story.

We install the software and monitor the apps and Big Brother the heck out of the kid, but we still don’t know how to keep the path his eyes travel pure. It’s a conversation we engage in repeatedly, and my husband shakes his head because what is a a twelve-year-old boy with limited impulse control and raging hormones supposed to do? How do we teach him to say no when all it takes is one rogue friend with no supervision to have free rein on the internet?

I don’t know how to protect him or my girls entirely, but I do know it starts with engaging in difficult conversations and ends with me spending time on my knees. I hope the Holy Spirit will guide us through the messy middle. I refuse, wholeheartedly refuse, to let discomfort stop me from talking to my kids about sex, especially the dark and dangerous side of it. If everyone else in the world can talk to my kids about sex like it doesn’t matter, than I can talk to them with unflinching honesty because it does. It really does. I don’t want to live in a state of constant hand wringing. There is no magic bullet, but I’d rather move in the direction of something hopeful, than be caught standing still. I want to reclaim the conversation.


If any of you are struggling with how to start talking to your kids about sexuality, in particular pornography, my pastor is currently preaching a series called “The Elephant in the Room” (a PG-13 version). You can view the weekly message online here. If you’re a parent and have any tips for me, I’d love to hear them.