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Defining our sexual values and beliefs

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.

So what are sexual values and beliefs?

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.

Diverse range 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 you can have sex outside of a marriage. Who is right?

And what do you tell your teenager?

Why are they 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 do I need to share my sexual values and beliefs with my child?

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.

Working out what your sexual values and beliefs actually are

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).

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 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.

What if we disagree with our teen?

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.

 Books to help teach kids values

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.

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 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.

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