As a parent, we need to be clear about what sexual values and beliefs we want to share with our kids about sex, preferably before you are put on the spot!
For example, it is a good idea that both you and your partner are clear on how you feel about contraception, before one of you takes your teenage daughter down to have her contraceptive implant inserted. Or how you both feel about nudity in the house before you start talking to your 3 year old about what level of clothing is appropriate in the family home.
There is no point giving our kids information about sex if we don’t share with them our sexual values and beliefs.
You’ll find more information about sex education in my Sex Education 101 page.
A value is a deeply held sense of something that is important to us; a personal guide to how we live our life. They are shown by what we think, feel, do and say. Often we feel quite strongly about particular values. At other times we may not even be aware of some of our values.
An example of a value could be that sexual intercourse should only happen within a marriage (or that it should only happen with someone that you love).
Attitudes are our thoughts and feelings about what is good, bad, right or wrong.
An example of an attitude could be that teenagers should wait until they are married to have sexual intercourse (or are in love).
Al Vernacchio, the author of For Goodness Sex: Changing the way we talk to teens about sexuality, values and health, simply defines values as the deepest-set rules that guide one’s decisions.
Values and attitudes are not something we are born with. They are unique to us and we decide which values we wish to believe in. We develop them as we grow. We learn about them from our families, our culture and our environment. Our values usually change over our lives as we have experiences that challenge our values.
Values can mean different things to different people. Our own values are not right or wrong.
For example, you may feel that it is sinful to have sex outside of a marriage whereas your partner may feel that you can have sex outside of a marriage. Who is right?
And what do you tell your teenager?
Values are what guides us throughout life.
Values don’t just tell us what to do; they tell us why we do it, which is much more important. Our values reflect our core beliefs; they tell us what really matters to us. Most people strive to do what they think is right or correct in any given moment or circumstance. Your values help to guide each of these seemingly separate decisions, helping you determine what’s right in an ethical, moral, or spiritual sense. (Al Verncacchio, For Goodness Sex 2014 page 22)
Dr Martha Gelin, the author of The Sex Explanation Handbook, explains that there are two parts to teaching kids about sex – kids need information and they need direction.
Direction = is how you feel about what kinds of behaviours and attitudes are okay and not okay, based on your own values.
So, your six year old child asks the question ‘Will I have sex one day?’
Your response could be ‘Yes, you probably will have sex one day (information) when you are a grown up and married/or in love (direction)’.
So you are telling your child two things. Firstly, that sex is something that happens when you are an adult. Secondly, you are guiding your child as to when sex should ideally happen ie when married or in love (depending on what your family values are).
One day, your child will be a teenager who is deciding whether they should have sex with someone. Ultimately, they will make their own decision BUT it will be influenced by the values that you have shared about when sex should happen.
It is up to you and your partner to decide on the messages and values that you want to give to your kids about sexuality. So start thinking about what sexual behaviours and attitudes are okay (and not okay).
Sometimes our circumstances change, and our child may be living in two homes. It may not be possible or appropriate to discuss values with the other parent of your child. This means that you alone, will need to decide what your family values are. Just make sure that when you discuss some values, that you make it clear that they are your values, and that their other parent may disagree.
Don’t be surprised if there are some values that you disagree on. Talk about it with your partner and together, decide what your family value will be. If your child is a teenager, sometimes it helps to open discuss value differences with your teen. Teens are more likely to listen to your values if they understand your reasoning behind it. It will also help them to navigate the mixed messages that they receive from the media and their friends.
There may be times when your teenager disagrees with your values. Dr Martha Gelin, the author of The Sex Explanation Handbook, provides some suggestion on how to not turn a value conflict into a full-scale war!
Laura Markham, from Aha! Parenting, has put together a list of books that you can use to talk about your sexual values and beliefs with your kids.
I'm Cath, a sex educator living in Australia with my husband and 2 kids. I help parents to talk about sex (with less cringe and more confidence) and to empower their child to make smart sexual decisions. You can join my online parent support group here and visit my shop for helpful resources.