father and mother talking about sexual values and beliefs

How to talk to kids about sexual values and beliefs

Inside: Sexual values are a vital part of sex education, and is when we tell kids what to do with the information they are learning. Find out what your sexual values and beliefs  are, and how best to share them with your child or teen.

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.

What sexual values and beliefs are

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 the sanctity of marriage.

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 the legal age before they have sexual intercourse.

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.

Everyone has a different set of 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 it is perfectly okay to have sex outside of a marriage. Who is right?

And which values do you share with your teenager?

opened condom

How do you feel about sex before marriage or the use of contraception?

Why values are so important

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)

Why you need to share your sexual values

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.

info + direction-minInformation = the facts about what exists.

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.

What if my partner and I are separated or I have a new partner?

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.

What if our values differ? Or we 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.

mother and son hugging

Sharing your values strengthens your ongoing relationship with your child.

How to work out which values to share

As a parent, you need to start thinking about what messages you would like to share with your own child.

Here you will find some statements about developmental milestones that will help you to start thinking about your own values about sexuality and your own child.

Sit down with your partner and work your way through the list. Some will be easy and some won’t be. Some of your values may even change.

You and your partner may not agree.

If you both disagree, you need to develop a family value instead.

Values you could discuss with children *

  • Boys and girls should be able to play with the same toys.
  • My child can see me naked.
  • My child can masturbate in their bedroom.
  • I would be okay about it if my child was attracted to the same sex.
  • It is important for my child to know that he is the boss of his body.
  • It is okay for my 4 year old to decide that he doesn’t want to kiss relatives.
  • It is the mothers responsibility to talk to the kids about sexuality.
  • It is the fathers responsibility to talk to boys at puberty.
  • It is the mothers responsibility to talk to girls at puberty.
  • My son can share a bath with his sister.
  • My child needs to know the correct names of their genitals eg penis, vulva.
  • I will harm my child if I teach them about sex too early.
  • I will scare my 4 year old if I talk to them about stranger danger.
  • Parents should never fight in front of their children.
  • Children should be protected from knowing about sexual abuse.
  • It is cute when little kids have a boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • Parents can pierce the ears of girls when they are toddlers.
  • Parents can pierce the ears of boys when they are toddlers.
  • Television contains too many sexualised images and messages.
  • I want to be the one to first talk to my child about sexual intercourse.
  • You can spoil children by loving them too much.
  • Parents should closely monitor their child use of the tv, computer, and all internet connected devices.
  • It is okay for my teenager to look at pornography.
  • It is okay for my child to access pornography when they are older.
  • My 11 year old can start meeting up with special friends on dates.
  • Parents should set the standards for dress for kids until high school.
  • I want my child to wait until marriage to have sexual intercourse.

* These lists are based on the Debra W. Hafner books From Diapers to Dating and Beyond the Big Talk

Values you could discuss with teens *

Below is a list of topics that you could discuss with your teenager.

But first, you and your partner need to discuss how you feel about these topics.

If you both disagree, involve your teen. Openly discuss your differences, and together decide on a family value that you all agree on.

Explaining to your teenager why you feel a certain way will help them as they go about developing their own sexual values. Your role as a parent is to guide them during this process , BUT at the end of the day, your teen will make their own decisions.

  • Dating during high school.
  • Abstaining from sexual intercourse (including premarital sexual behaviour).
  • Contraception.
  • Termination of pregnancy.
  • Condoms and safe sex.
  • Setting sexual limits. 
  • Masturbation.
  • Love.
  • Marriage / de facto relationships / living with a partner.
  • Sexual pleasure / orgasm.
  • Sexual consent.
  • Keeping safe from sexual assault.
  • Sexting, sending and sharing of sexual images online.
  • Pornography (girls watch pornography too).
  • Same sex attraction.
  • Alcohol and drugs and sex.
  • Managing peer group pressure.
  • Managing pressure to have sexual intercourse .
  • What to do if your teenager thinks they are pregnant or have a sexually transmitted infection.
  • Media portrayals of sexuality and women.
  • Religious values about sexuality.
  • Important qualities in a romantic partner.
  • The kind of relationship that your teenager should have before having sex.
  • Your hopes for their future.

* These lists are based on the Debra W. Hafner books From Diapers to Dating and Beyond the Big Talk

What if we disagree with our teen’s values?

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!

  • It is up to you, to make sure the discussion doesn’t turn into an argument.
  • A sense of humour can help keep the situation manageable – try to get a laugh into the middle of an argument to diffuse the situation.
  • Don’t shout and lay down the law  more than you have to.
  • Acknowledge that you cannot control what your teen thinks, and beyond a certain age, you can’t  control what they are going to do.
  • You are entitled to set certain limits within your own home.
  • If you have a ‘bottom line’ beyond which you cannot go, be sure to say what it is. Take plenty of time to think this through, and don’t bluff. Your teen may act on it.
  • Always try to get into a discussion, rather than a fight. Ask why they think that. Talk about why you feel the way that you do.
  • Stay patient. You’re the adult. If you feel fearful, don’t let those feelings run away with you.
  • Always stay open to a liveable compromise. While stating your position clearly, help your teen state theirs clearly. Listen to it. Try to understand from their point of view. Try to find some common ground.
  • Get someone to mediate if it is getting so hot that no one can listen – if you and your child are in deep conflict, and are so angry with each other that neither of you can listen to the other, get someone else in who can help you. Get that person to referee a discussion, to help everyone say clearly what they want to say, to make sure everyone listens to each other and really hears them, and to look for points where there can be agreement and some workable plan. Most teens don’t want to leave home. They need their parents.
  • If you can’t compromise, agree that you disagree on this one thing. Do it with LOVE. (It is the rare values difference which results in a child’s leaving home. Mostly, it just means that you hold different points of view on a subject.)
  • Always let your child know you love them, no matter what.
2 children hugging

Communication is the key to sharing values.

How to start talking about values

There are many different way to talk to kids about your values and beliefs. 

Practice what you preach

Kid’s often learn more by what they see than what they hear. So  it is important to set a good example, as they learn from seeing how you treat them and others, by overhearing your adult conversations and by watching what you do during the day. 

For example, I teach my kids that they are the boss of their own body, which means they can say no to unwanted touch. So one of the small things that I do, is to ask for their permission before I give them a bedtime kiss each night. I’ll usually say, ‘Do you want a kiss tonight?’.

But what message am I giving my kids if I make them kiss Grandma when she comes to visit? Where my actions (forcing them to kiss someone whether they want to or not) are the complete oppositite to my verbal message (they have the right to say no to touch).

It is important to be consistent and to role-model what we teach our kids.

Explain the meaning of your values

It is really important that kids understand the ‘why’ or meaning behind your values. That is, they need to understand why you believe what you believe. Just knowing your beliefs is not enough, they need to understand why you believe it.

For example, you might believe that sex should only happen in the sanctity of marriage. If you want your child to wait until marriage you need to explain why you want them to do this. What does it mean if they do wait, and what does it means if they don’t wait. Did you wait until marriage? If you didn’t wait,  how did that make you feel? If you did wait, was it worth it? Do you have any regreats about having oral sex before marriage?

You’ve got a much better chance of your child having similar values to you by  helping them to understand the meaning of it all.

Use everyday experiences as an opportunity to talk

There are many opportunities during our day that we could turn into an opportunity to share our values.

For example, you might be watching a movie that your child wants to see. And in that movie, a girl meets a boy at a party and they kiss, having only met for the first time that night. This is the perfect opportunity to share your values. You might casually make a comment like, ‘Haven’t they only just met? I really do think you need to get to know someone before you start kissing them.’ Or you might ask a question, ‘Why do you think they’re kissing, when they’ve only just met?’.

This might lead into a deep and meaningful conversaion or it might just be a couple of short sentences. 

Or you might just get a grunt of acknowledgement or no response at all. But remember, they are listening to you. You’ve voiced your beliefs and you’ve opened the door for ongoing conversation. Just by talking, your child knows that you are open to talking about this stuff.

Share your own stories

As your child grows older, it is important to share your own stories with them. Think back to your own past, and think of the experiences that taught you some valuable lessons. By sharing some of these stories with your child, you can share how you made chocies that were consistent with good values.

For example, my teenage daughter likes to ask me about love, and how did I know that I loved her dad.  So I might talk about how her father was very different to all the other men I had met, and that he treated me as an equal. I am a firm believer in gender equality, and the fact that he genuinely believed in it too, was important to me. And yes, my daughter is a staunch believer in gender equality too! She sees it practiced in the home, and we often talk about the inequality we see in our daily life and in the media. 

Books

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.

You’ll also find a wide range of books that incldue sexual values in my extensive list of  sex education books for children

Resources

My mission is to create resources that will help you to naturally talk to your kids about sex, all while respecting your personal values.

Which means that inside this website, you'll find lots of resources to help you with talking to your child about love, sex, relationships and growing up.

My Sex Education 101 page includes all of the information on sex education. You'll find lots of different blogposts to help with getting started, on a wide range of different topics.

You'll find videos about sex ed in my Sex Education Videos resource page that you can watch with your child or to learn more about sex education yourself.

You’ll also find an extensive range of sex education books for children, for kids of all ages. There's even some books in there for parents!

If you're looking for some ideas on how to talk to your child about bodies, How to Talk to Kids About Bodies, will help you to start naming the private body parts and to have shame-free conversations with them about bodies. It is filled with lots of different ideas on how to have natural converasations with your child about their body. 

You'll also find some child friendly anatomically-correct cartoon illustrations of the genitals and internal reproductive organs that are appropriate for children from the age of 3 and up. Let's Look at Different Body Parts is a printable that will help take the awkward out of talking to your child about their body, so they grow up feeling educated, confident, and comfortable in their own skin.

If you need some help with explaining sexual intercourse to your child, then How to Talk to Kids About Sex, will help you explain sex to your child in a way they will understand. It breaks it down into simple steps that  take the stress out of explaining!

If you're unsure about how to answer your child's questions about sex, then I have a number of different resources that will give you word-for-word answers that are age specific.

If you want a printed book to hold in your hands, then the  The Sex Education Answer Book will give you age-specific answers to the most common questions kid's ask parents about sex. Which means you don't need to worry about finding a child-friendly explanation that your child understands. 

If you want the answers to questions about a lot more than just sex, then Sex Ed Quickies is your best option. It has answers to 300+ questions  that kids commonly ask parents,  including how babies are made, sexual intercourse, body parts, puberty, relationships, pregnancy, birth, masturbation, sexual diversity, gender, pornography, STIs, contraception and much more.

About the Author Cath Hakanson

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 empower their child to make smart sexual decisions. To find a better way to talk about sex, you can join my community of parents and visit my shop for helpful resources.

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