Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Teaching Children About Sexual Intimacy

Due to the sensitive nature of the topic this post is not appropriate for young readers.

I received a wonderful comment a few days ago on a post I wrote last year called "In Which I Vent", which was an rant about a PG rated movie that showed several scenes of intimacy between a husband and a wife. This reader's comment brought up some really interesting thoughts and I thought it would make for a really good discussion. Here is what she wrote:
I have been mulling over this post for about a year now! I am very inclined to agree with you in every way. But I am also curious about how to teach children about sexuality in general. I told a friend of mine about your perspective on this movie and she said "I disagree, I want my daughters to have a good experience on their wedding night." Not that you have to view "soft porn" or any such thing to have a good experience, but when we view sexuality as "bad" it can be hard for our children to get the message that, between husband and wife, it is very very good. I know so many LDS women who have had a difficult time transitioning from "don't have sex, don't think about sex, don't do anything to arouse those emotions" to "enjoy it and become one with your husband." I mean, it took probably 10 years for my mom to not feel guilty after she was married. And I know many women feel the same. I even have an aunt who isn't active who thinks that the LDS Church views sex as bad in any form! So I guess my question is, how to we "live in the world and not be of the world," but at the same time teach our children to view intimacy in marriage as sacred and right?
I really appreciate this reader for being brave enough to address these questions because I think they are really important. Yet before I open up the conversation I just want to give my thoughts, I have two.

First, I think that sometimes when we are watching TV that we forget that the scenes and the people on the screen are real. We get so caught up in the fantasy world that TV creates for us that we forget that the man and the woman on the screen who are making out, taking off each other's clothes, and laying on top of each other in bed (all things that were in the movie I vented about) are not really married and therefore are not demonstrating healthy marital intimacy but rather fornication or adultery. Yet even if the actors were really married it would wouldn't make watching those type of actions any better. Just imagine if you were at the park and you saw a scantily clad married couple making out or lying on top of each other on a blanket under a tree, would you sit your children across from them and encourage them to watch it? If you are struggling with trying to decide if something is appropriate for your children (or you) to be watching just take a step back and ask yourself "Would I feel comfortable watching this if it were happening right before my eyes in real life." If the answer is "no" then you should probably turn it off.



Second, I think that this reader brings up a good point that there are some men and women who associate intimacy with feelings of guilt and shame. Yet I'd venture to say that one of the reasons men and women sometimes feel guilty about intimacy isn't because they haven't been exposed to it enough; it is because they have been exposed too much. Some of the feelings of shame associated with sexuality come from seeing something sacred and divine portrayed common and dirty. When we allow sacred things to be exploited for purposes of entertainment or curiosity we degrade and cheapen them. It hurts us to the very center of our divine nature and keeps us from fully experiencing the joy and the enlightenment that God wants us to glean from them.

I think that saying, "I want my daughter to have a good experience on her wedding night so I'll let her see sexual intimacy before she is married" is like saying, " I want my daughter to have a good experience the first time she goes to the temple so I'll let her see people performing temple ordinances before she goes." In both cases having a good experience has nothing to do with what you have seen or heard but has everything to do with how emotionally and spiritually prepared you are and how well you understand the sacred nature of what you are participating in. We would never want the sacred nature of the temple to be treated as common or to be misrepresented and the same is true of sexual intimacy. It is to be kept sacred-- not secret or scary-- but very sacred.

In speaking of sexual intimacy between a couple who have kept themselves morally pure and have a relationship built on mutual trust, commitment and respect M. Russel Ballard said,
"..For those couples sex becomes a form of communication, a way of expressing deep feelings for which there aren't adequate words. It is nature's most sublime way of bonding one human soul to another. And when its desired result is the creation of new life, it allows a man and a woman to join hands with God in fulfilling one of the key elements of Heavenly Father's eternal plan for his children. If that sounds old-fashioned, so be it. It also has the benefit of being true. And right." ( "Our Search for Happiness", pg. 107)
Each couple's form of communication is going to be different, and it can't be learned from a book, a magazine or a movie, it is something they must discover together. Part of me wishes we lived in the days when men and women went into marriage with no sexual expectations. They truly got to create and discover their own intimate language and communication without outside voices telling them what was "normal", "right" or "good". I think that today in our world that is so inundated with sexuality that couples have to unlearn much of what they have been taught by the world about sex in order to have a good healthy relationship.

So my advice for wanting to help your daughter be ready to have a good experience on her wedding night is to keep her away (as much as you can) from the world's portrayals of sexuality, even if they seem relatively harmless... because they aren't. Let her and her husband discover and learn to speak their own sacred, intimate language. Don't handicap her by exposing her to things that are only going to cheapen and demean her divine nature. Instead focus on helping her understand the divine power that she houses within her body and her responsibility to use it wisely, show her what a good relationship between a husband and wife looks like, and answer her questions honestly and openly but still keep sacred things sacred.

Okay those are my thoughts... now lets discuss.

Please remember to be kind and considerate of others when you comment, not everyone is in the same situation.

24 comments:

  1. I think it's great that people are realizing that there needs to be a change in how we teach our daughters about sexual relations in marriage. And while I think the issue of "do I let her watch movies like this?" should definitely be decided, I think the more important thing to consider is how you treat the topic of sexuality in discussion with your children.

    If a parent taboos any talk of sex from a child by saying things like, "We don't talk about those things!" or "I can't believe I'm hearing such dirty language coming out of your mouth!" then changes the topic or punishes the child, or even is simply too embarrassed to talk about it when the child has questions, then the child is going to learn that "Mom/Dad won't talk about it, they won't let me talk about it, it must be something really bad."

    If, however, a parent uses those moments to teach rather than to reprimand or shy away, then the child will a) learn to trust the parent with sensitive topics and b) learn that marital intimacy is good and sacred. It will give the parent the opportunity to teach the child that intimacy is a gift and a blessing, but it must be confined to marriage. Teach them why it must be so. Teach them that intimacy is an act designed to create children, which power is given to us in order to be like God, but only in a situation deemed appropriate by God himself. To abuse that power is to desecrate God's power.

    If you leave that topic open and not taboo in the home, you can teach your children about how such sacred things should not be discussed crudely, watched on a screen or listened to in music. It shouldn't be crassly discussed between friends. It is something that should be kept dear to our hearts and only discussed (in generalities) with someone you trust in a respectful manner (like the discussion you're having with your children) and in detail only with your spouse.

    It's only by giving your children an avenue of discussion that they trust with you that they can ask sensitive questions and learn in a respectful manner. If they're too embarrassed to ask you because that like of communication has never been open, or fear reprimand, then they'll turn to their friends, television and other media for answers to their questions and learn very worldly things that are not in line at all with the LDS mindset.

    So basically what I'm trying to say, in a nutshell, is that teaching correct principles, the sacredness, and the beauty (not guilt!) of marital intimacy lies with the parents in having open and honest discussions with children without that embarrassment and guilt hanging over the conversation. It will not come by watching media, no matter how "innocent" the sexual act in the media is.

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  2. Very good. Glad you posted this. It's such a hard topic. We've taught our 8 year old about intimacy (hopefully age appropriate!), and have been particularly careful to tell him sex is not bad or dirty. However, one day he came home and said something about sex being a bad word or something. Oh no! That's exactly NOT how we want him to feel about it! We weren't able to figure out where he picked up the sentiment.

    One thing I felt impressed to tell my kids yesterday was just that women and men (should) WANT to be together. I didn't go into much detail beyond that, but I wanted them to know that they don't have to suppress their liking of the opposite sex. There are just certain things we express (making babies) once we're married -- but, again, I was a little fuzzy on my details there!

    And I'm with you on the idea that we should keep out the worldly views of intimacy as much as we can and let couples discover it for themselves -- although I kind of feel that it's impossible to do. :( Wish I didn't.

    Can't wait to see what other say.

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  3. This is a great discussion, and I LOVED and agree with what you had to say on the topic. I feel that the world discounts and scoffs at the LDS vantage point on what constitutes healthy intimacy, precisely BECAUSE it is so prevalently and pervasively available in the media. Even in PG rated movies now. I don't believe the media is expert on the subject. I just believe they are more "in your face" about it. Our understanding of the sacred nature of intimacy and our understanding of celibacy before marriage and life long emotional and physical fidelity after marriage are considered antiquated ideals, when in fact, they are the life blood of a healthy, happy and eternal marriage relationship. I speak from experience, and have personally been affected by issues dealing with the pornography addiction of a loved one, it hurt my spirit deeply (another topic entirely). Yet, the world says that it is "no big deal" and even "normal" for men (and women) to view the carnal and dehumanizing acts shown in the "shock and stimulate" porn industry and even the so called "soft porn". Sexuality loses it's ability to build and empower a relationship when it is viewed with a carnal mind and appetite, in my opinion. I have 3 daughters and you you can bet that I am fiercely shielding their virtue, it's my RESPONSIBILITY. I am also convinced that they need to be taught what to ask and look for in a future husband. What rights they have in a marriage to a righteous husband who honors his priesthood and subsequently, honors womanhood. My children will learn about sexuality as they are ready to. When they have questions, I will answer them, honestly- accurately. If more parents had confidence in their OWN stewardship over their children's spiritual and emotional upbringing, I think more people would be up for the task of contributing to these sacred discussions with their children instead of leaving it television and celebrities and more frighteningly, their children's peers. Parents HAVE to be more involved in this discussion with their children. But it doesn't have to be a cinematic tutorial. It can be a sacred discussion that will empower our children to make respectful and respectable decisions regarding their virtue and their bodies. This starts very young as toddlers we teach them WHO they are and how important that heritage is. When they truly get a glimpse of their spiritual lineage, I believe the older they get, the less intimidating the "sex talk" will be with them. Their spiritual intuition will remind them of all the truth they already know about how special they are and the obligation they have to protect their virtue from the cheap and counterfeit that exists in todays world. Kids are spiritually smarter than most parents give them credit for, we just have to make the time to be there for them when it comes to these big and yet, surprisingly simple issues. They are our responsibility- our stewardship, NOT Hollywood's and certainly not mainstream society's. Bottom line? My opinion is, watching any movie with sexual innuendo and seemingly covert sex acts in them, are not necessary tools to teach our youth how to have "a good experience on their wedding night." Just my 2 cents. Thanks for the thought provoking topic.

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  4. My first comment has to do with this statement: "Yet I'd venture to say that one of the reasons men and women sometimes feel guilty about intimacy isn't because they haven't been exposed to it enough; it is because they have been exposed too much." I don't think this is necessarily true. I know of a lot of women who were never exposed to sex (the truth from their parents OR the lies from media), and due to that lack of exposure would never have sex with their husbands after they were married until they had some really intensive marriage counseling.

    In high school we had a phrase that we said (mostly in jest, but it's kind of true) that "sex before you're married is really really bad, but after you're married, it's really really good." It over simplifies the matter, but it helped us combat our teenage hormonal drives to do stupid things. It was useful to remind ourselves that there was a time and a place for sex and the feelings associated with it - and that time and place was with our spouses after we were married. It worked for most of us, as far as I know :)

    I read this post about explaining sex to your kids a few days ago, and it perfectly addresses exactly what you're talking about.

    We need to be more open with our children about sex and sexual feelings, but I like how you compared it to the temple ordinances - we don't have to tell them everything about sex, but preparing them for the principles of intimacy - and I think one of the big principles there is the "time and place" principle, which we can teach through things as simple as there is a time for running and laughing, and a time for sitting quietly and listening to the spirit - anything that teaches them that "time and place" principle can help our children understand when we tell them "there is a time and place for intimacy, and that is in marriage."

    On the eve of my marriage, my father and mother sat down with me and my future husband and talked to us a little about our wedding night. Basically all they said was, "Be open with each other, be relaxed, be able to laugh with each other and at yourself, and enjoy learning about each other." I loved how they put it - "learning about each other" because that is what you are doing when you are physically intimate - you are learning in the most intimate way everything there is to know about your spouse.

    Ha ha, and I will never forget the Sunday afternoon we (three of my siblings and myself, the youngest of which was probably 13 or 14) were sitting around the kitchen table when my dad said, "You know, when you're married, you can have sex just to love each other - it doesn't have to be to make a baby." I think we all just laughed at my dad, because of course we knew that already - and he was the one who had taught us. But thinking back on it I am so grateful that he was concerned enough to make sure we knew about the importance of intimacy in marriage.

    Aw, dang it - I wrote too much... I was just going to say we have had some "sex talk" with our 4 year old son about private parts and how touching them feels good (I found out in our foster care classes that small children will often rub their privates for comfort - normal and natural, but we took the opportunity to teach him about private parts and that stuff - and we noticed our 4 year old was doing just that when he would be laying down trying to fall asleep)

    I better stop now before it doesn't accept my comment again...

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  5. My former seminary teacher (and now good friend) wrote a blog about sexual intimacy. She talks about sensitive subjects with such frankness, but yet the UTMOST reverence.

    Here is her post where she talks about how she teaches her children: http://www.solidmarriage.blogspot.com/2008/12/messages-we-send-our-children-about.html

    I was one of those kids that thought sex was bad and dirty. The word NEVER came up in our home. I think everyone is naturally curious, and when it is hushed up and never addressed by the parents then we go to other sources to learn more. That is exactly how I DON'T want my kids to feel. I'm grateful that about a month before I was married it was suggested to me to read "Between Husband and Wife," a book written by LDS authors about sexual intimacy. I had taken a marriage & dating institute class and was taught that intimacy within marriage was beautiful and highly encouraged, but I was COMPLETELY clueless as to the physical & mechanical aspects of sex (especially when it came to the husband's perspective.) I was soooo grateful to have read something that was informative, yet respectful!

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  6. I'm concerned about what you stated when you said that ideally married couples should go into marriage knowing as little as possible about sex.

    I had a roommate in college who didn't even understand menstruation. All she knew is that one day it would help her make babies. There is a HUGE problem with both too much knowledge of sexuality AND ignorance.

    My husband and I actually read some material (BYU sanctioned, from our marriage prep class and recommended by our premarital counselor) before we married (separately). I was SOOOOO grateful! I cannot even begin to imagine the horror of my sex life if I didn't understand the basics of what is going on physically with me --and especially with my husband.

    I truly believe that couples who are told to "figure it out" are the ones who end up completely disastisfied. Those are the women who don't understand how to allow their bodies to even climax --let alone enjoy the process. Our children not only deserve being taught the correct and moral way to teach sexuality (from a young age, with appropriate language, answering questions, being open with our kids so they don't ask their friends, but not answering more than they are ready for, teaching them virtue from the get-go, telling them WHY sex exists, etc.) but they need to know WHAT SEX IS. Not at 15. Not at 17. But before marriage? I would hope so!!

    One friend of mine, the night before her wedding was approached by her mother. Her mom said, "Well, honey, sex hurts at first, but then it gets better." Wha!? Where was the discussion about cleanliness, going to the bathroom, the physical problems that could happen, the immediate and important need to communicate? And we wonder why our mothers were dubbed "frigid housewives."

    I agree with your points, Heather, about what we view on TV, but I cannot agree that couples will eventaully figure it out. Yes, they will, but it's not really fair to a woman to wait 10 years for climax and for the husband to wonder what he's doing wrong. Ignorance is not bliss. Not in this case.

    P.S. I am fully aware that many people may disagree with me, and that's okay. I feel very strongly about this subject --I've seen too many of my very own friends tainted and hurt by their parent's refusal to talk about it (so they learn about it from friends --the wrong stuff) and their own ignorance going into marriage. It's just sad.

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  7. A lot of people have a lot of things to say about this subject without any experience to back it up. As a mother at the other end of the child raising tunnel, I think it is important to talk openly and often about the subject the way the Eyers do in their book How to Talk to Your Child About Sex. An ongoing, open dialog is proper in addition to teaching the principles in For the Strength of Youth over and over again in FHE. Nevertheless no schedule of teaching guarantees everything will be smooth for every child. As parents we do the best we can to prepare our children emotionally and spiritually for adult life while still protecting their innocence. However, they have free agency and will be a product of their choices combined with our best teachings. And finally, as a child of the 60s whose parents had no qualms about letting me watch explicit R movies, I can say watching false, media ideas of sex will not prepare any girl or boy for the wedding night. On the contrary, it will confuse them about lust and love.

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  8. I just have a moment but wanted to offer this link to a manual published by the church for parents that helps you teach your children about their bodies and intimacy, with ideas for all ages:

    http://lds.org/manual/a-parents-guide?lang=eng

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  9. I really can't say much more than what has already been said. But I wanted to tell you what we did with our daughters. It has been a marvelous and spiritual experience.

    The week before their baptism, their father and I took them out to dinner and then presented them with "the talk." We wanted them to know what covenants they would be making when they were baptized. (The youngest was especially excited about "the talk" because it was finally her turn -- even though she didn't know what "the talk" was about.)

    I had made a special scrapbook for each girl. The scrapbook taught chastity in a framework of reverence, and the plan of salvation. It talked about the beauty of marriage and bringing children into the world. Both my husband and I wrote letters to the girls telling them how precious they are and how precious their births were. The book also explained the birds and the bees and the importance of sacred things, etc. It was extremely well received.... and the girls loved learning about these special and sacred things using pictures of mommy holding them as babies, etc.

    We now have teenagers who still love their chastity books. We also have children who are open about discusing intimacy with us and come to us with their questions.

    If anyone is interested in my chastity books, and the text I used, e-mail me. I also have a blog about homeschooling and religious things, if you are interested!
    My blog:
    sunshine-sentiments.blogspot.org
    My e-mail: sundy.degooyer@gmail.com

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  10. Good comments everyone. And, yes Cheryl, I agree with what you say... we totally need to teach our kids about intimacy in a good and educational way, just not the carnal, lustful worldly way. I was so grateful to have taken the "Social Hygiene" class at BYU when I was there -- it was really Human Sexuality -- I don't know what they call it now, though! My parents didn't go much into any detail when we ever talked about the topic, but that class was so helpful in the mechanics of it all. When the worldly views enter the perspective, it sure makes it hard to determine what is really good or normal or not.

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  11. I think it's so important to help kids understand that sex and sexuality are normal; there are just times and places when it's appropriate versus when it's not. I think we teach that by example as well as when we sit down and have "talks." For example, if we aren't willing to even use the correct words for anatomy without embarrassment, we send a message that the sexual parts of our bodies are weird or different (e.g., I recently heard about a child who thought her baby sister came out of her mom's "bum"; um, no). After all, we aren't embarrassed about talking about our hands and noses and eyes. And as they have more questions, we need to be willing to provide more answers calmly and without freaking out.

    I think this also applies to how we handle things in public. Everyone knows the stories about preschoolers saying embarrassing things in very public places; it can't be helped. But if we react by clamping a hand over their mouths and getting angry, they'll get the message that there's something wrong. If we instead calmly respond by explaining that we can talk about that more at home or something, we can teach about appropriateness instead of teaching by fear. That's what I think, anyway.

    I also agree that entering marriage with incorrect expectations and media-filled understanding of sex is likely to cause problems. But I'm so grateful that there are a number of really good books now that can teach a basic understanding of sex so that couples are prepared for what comes. Like Heather said, I agree that husband and wife should be able to practice communication through sexuality. But it helps to communicate if you already speak the same language, and getting some good, correct information about sexuality can teach couples a basic language from which to experiment and grow together.

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  12. I don't think Heather means that we should keep our children ignorant about sex, just that the knowledge should be treated in a sacred way, and that the knowledge should come from parents, not from the world: tv, movies, friends. Sex is INUNDATING the media nowadays. And there is no way to portray it in a sacred way. You can talk about it with your children in a sacred way, and that's where the knowledge should come from.

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  13. "If you are struggling with trying to decide if something is appropriate for your children (or you) to be watching just take a step back and ask yourself "Would I feel comfortable watching this if it were happening right before my eyes in real life." If the answer is "no" then you should probably turn it off."

    I don't think this is a good measure of the imappropriateness of a movie. I'm not comfortable with watching somebody rob a house, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't watch Home Alone. I'm not ok with war or abuse, but I still watch the History channel. Someone might be uncomfortable around birth or breastfeeding, but that doesn't make it inappropriate for children. I'm not saying we should all start watching porn; I'm saying that discomfort is not a good judge of appropriateness.

    I also don't believe it's my job to project my children's "virtue" (and can we stop using that word as a euphemism for virginity? it's much more than that and I believe you can be a virtuous person even if you've had sex outside of marriage). It's my job to give them the tools to live with other people. They are going to run into porn and sexism. As they grow, it's my job to ask, "So how does that make you feel? What do you think the message is that that sending? Do you feel like that message is true?" I don't want to shelter them, I want to prepare them. Because they'll run into people wearing skimpy clothing and I don't want them judging them as immoral. Sometimes people wear less or more clothes and that's how it is.

    Also, talking about how spiritual sex is kind of bugs me. Yes, I suppose it can be "spiritual" and "divine", but I think that kind of language can also add to Good Girl Syndrome. If we want a quickie (which doesn't feel very "spiritual") does that make our desires for that sex not good? No. It means we want a quickie. Sex is not always this gorgeous beautiful thing, sometimes is it messy, funny, playful,fast, very erotic, and even "dirty." Personally, I don't want to feel like the God or the Spirit is watching me have sex- how AWKWARD! That kind of takes the fun away and makes it harder to orgasms, personally. Yes, there is more to sex than making babies, but it doesn't have to be "spiritual." It can be just sex and that's ok.

    And I concur with the person above who said that it's important to know about sex and sexual response before getting married- I really feel like everyone should know more than they do going into it, really.

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  14. Much of what I wanted to comment has already been said, but I just wanted to reiterate a couple of things that seem super important. Of course one does not - and should not - watch any kinds of movies to learn about sex, but I don't agree with the idea that men and women ought to go into marriage with "no expectations" about it. To me, that indicates that have little knowledge of sex and how it affects men and women. I think that would cause way more problems than it would solve. Sex is a little more complicated than that, and young people should be taught as much as is appropriate. They should go in to marriage with certain expectations so that they are better equipped to deal with any issues that might come up and therefore have the very best experience possible. I guess the main point is, children should be given good, quality sexual education: physical, spiritual and emotional. And they should never, ever be made to feel that it is too embarrassing to ask parents questions about it. They should feel 100% free to ask their parents about anything. Good post!

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  15. Great post, Heather! A LOT of GREAT comments have been made. We have no married children, but two grown children and the rest are at home. But my experience tells me this is a topic that has to be revisited often. It begins with teaching modesty, proper body parts and functions, without stimulating them. School aged children have more conversations where their inacurate perceptions or wrong information can be corrected....Their ideas may have come from books, movies, classroom or playground discussions, language, jokes, any number of sources. But they are getting input all the time, so we have to be continually checking it and helping them to have a solid foundation and age appropriate perspective. And teenagers need different information, more doctrine and reasons for living a chaste life. Our favorite has been Elder Jeffery R. Holland's "Of Souls, Symbols, and Sacraments." He puts things so beautifully. I imagine and expect we will have more conversations as our children approach marriage. But I am so very grateful for the Strength of Youth, and words from men like Elder Scott and Elder Hales who have both given me guidance for how and what to teach my children.

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  16. Really, I don't see how this post is helpful at all to parents who want to guide their children to healthy and righteous attitude about sex. Your plans to keep it all on the down low except as principles about chastity, love, and intimacy assume an amount of control over the inputs your kids receive that you simply do not have. TopHat's tack is much more helpful and practical.

    This idea that anyone who isn't married shouldn't know anything about sex or be exposed to issues of sex and sexuality is so puritanical. All over the world families live in tight quarters where parents have sex and the kids generally know about it. It's a normal part of family life and being a human. Not everyone has to be cool with doing it in close vicinity to their kids, obviously. We live in a very different cultural setting. But is sex part of normal everyday life for every human from at least 12 on? Yeah, it is. Don't pretend like it only gains real relevance the moment you are married. That's a set up for a dissonance between lived experience and what you've been told over and over is "right." A perfect opportunity for shame, secrecy, and, frankly, sin to ferment.

    Also, your temple vs sex analogy falls short. I had a good experience in the temple because I learned a lot about what it involved and was able to pray about and come to terms with some of the things I didn't understand or was troubled by. I had great sex on my wedding night because my husband and I both knew everything we could and had talked about any concerns well ahead of time. Additionally, sex involves issues of health, safety, relational skills, that require an understanding of both the mechanics and the emotional facets.

    And this is an aside to the main issue here, but I think it is concerning and damaging to characterize a depiction of mild physical intimacy as pornography. You can avoid these depictions if you feel that that is important. But don't call things that aren't porn "porn." It confuses the issue and masks what aspects of true pornography are the most damaging.

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  17. I kind of agree with TopHat that uncomfortable does not always mean bad. There was a devotional at BYU in 2005 by Van Gessel that talked about how it is important to be exposed to sin because we will one day be gods and goddesses and have our own spiritual offspring who sin, and we will have to love them, and how important it is to love them, and how important it is to love those that sin here on earth. Now, he definitely suggests being exposed to these things through books rather than movies or popular music, because those often are degrading and too desensitizing. And he quotes "For the Strength of the Youth" about standards for media. But how can we have love for characters in books (that are often made into movies) that sin without being exposed to the sin itself? I don't think it is necessary to be nearly as graphic as many movies are, but I think there can still be value to media that is not 100% "clean." Maybe I'm rationalizing, but I'm not perfect, and in different stages of my life have higher and lower standards.

    As far as using all of this to teach children, I think it can be a very valuable tool to parents to discuss why something is good or bad that is portrayed. I know this is what my mom used to give me the sex talk - I had come across something on TV (which was inappropriate and turned off) and my mom took the time to talk with me about why it was inappropriate. I wish our conversations on sex hadn't been limited mostly to that one instance though. Reoccurring conversations, after repeated incidents, might have been a lot better for me in developing a healthy view of sexuality.

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  18. Heather, I know you have the best of intentions with this post, but frankly I think this approach seems pretty unrealistic. We just can't shelter our kids that much. I agree more with TopHat and D's comments.

    You said: "Part of me wishes we lived in the days when men and women went into marriage with no sexual expectations."

    Did such a time ever actually exist? I'm highly doubtful that it did. Plus, I think we SHOULD have expectations. Now they need to be healthy, realistic expectations, but we still need to be educated enough about our bodies and our own sexuality that we can have a fulfilling sexual relationship our spouse.

    Sex is divine and sacred, yes, but it is also a very HUMAN experience. A chance to connect with our bodies and with our partner in a way that has no comparison. I want to teach my children to respect the power of sexuality, to know that its best when one is mature enough to appreciate and understand its power, but to also be excited for all the ways it is one of the best parts of living.

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  19. I haven't had the time to read all the comments and so I don't know if this has been addressed or not. I know that I have very different standards from you with regards to this topic, and I don't think there is anything wrong with your views or standards. If you don't want you or your children exposed to visual depictions of intimacy, I really can't argue with that. And I don't think anyone would really argue with that. I think the potentially damaging aspect of this stance or perspective would be in how those lines were drawn for our kids. I guess what I'm saying is if a family is watching a movie and an iffy scene comes on and a parent immediately turns it off, without discussion and with an attitude of fear and disgust - that will be damaging to the children's feelings about sexual intimacy, but if the parent chooses to approach the subject, decides to turn off the movie and then explains that he or she doesn't want to expose the family to those images and then makes it clear that although the images are not to be viewed, the feelings they might have stirred are not bad, they are just best saved for a future spouse. If there is this feeling of openness and honesty and continual assurance that feelings of arousal are not inherently bad, but just something to be nurtured and explored later. Does that even make sense?

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  20. Thanks for all the great comments-- I thought this would be an interesting conversation!

    Becca, I really love the idea of "time and place" as an eternal principle to teach my children. I'd never thought of it that way, but God uses that one A LOT and it really is crucial to understand... not just for intimacy but for many other things as well.

    I think perhaps I was a bit misunderstood. I am not saying that men and women should be ignorant about how their bodies work or about the basics of the sexual process. What I am trying to say is that the world puts such a great emphasis on the "mechanics" of sex that sometimes people go into marriage with expectations that "healthy" or "good" sex should be done a certain way... which isn't true, every couple needs to find out what works for them and what meets THEIR needs. They don't need to copy what they have seen on TV or read about in books-- like Elder Ballard said it should be their OWN form of communication.

    Sex doesn't always have to be a "spiritual" experience (it is certainly okay to enjoy a quickie!) but it just isn't all about the mechanics and the physical response, which is often all the world shows and teaches. In the end it is about becoming "one flesh" and bringing a couple closer together in love and unity... and that is something that is learned and discovered little by little.

    Mostly I was just trying to suggest that we can use the way in which we teach our children about the temple and it's sacredness as a way in which we might also teach our children about sexuality. Helping them see that it is beautiful, exciting, and worth waiting for. But also making sure that WE (and not the world) are helping them be prepared physically, emotionally and spiritually for what they are going to experience.

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  21. I would second Tristan in recommending the Parent's Guide that the Church has put out. It is an outstanding resource.


    http://lds.org/manual/a-parents-guide?lang=eng

    You can also order it from the Distribution Center.

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  22. Great dialogue. I particularly agree with the comments from Tophat and D (in general).

    I thought this was an insightful point from Tophat: "I don't think this is a good measure of the imappropriateness of a movie. I'm not comfortable with watching somebody rob a house, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't watch Home Alone...." etc. Certainly, there are many films worth watching (at least for me, it's personal of course) that I wouldn't be comfortable watching in real life. In addition to the mainstream examples tophat hat giave, for my refugee course at BYU we have films that depict the effects of genocide and war etc., and though we would never want to witness those things in real life, some exposure to these issues is often necessary to compel action and to help us have real empathy and compassion. This whole dialogue is compelling to me: how do we decide what material is worth watching or not? I think when it comes down to it, we have to make that decision individually, by the Spirit.

    Regarding the temple analogy, I have kind of a unique perspective For me, I really struggled with my first Temple experience and to be frank I'm still working on having a positive experience there. It's a journey for me :). My mom felt inspired to discuss with me beforehand some of the dialogue and information covered in the Temple (nothing you covenant not to say-- which is really only the ordinance parts), and it was a HUGE comfort to me. If I had gone in without that knowledge, I might have walked out. I'm not saying that's appropriate for every person, but because I am her daughter my mother had inspiration about me and how to offer me insight and comfort so that my experience could be more meaningful (or at least less terrible...).

    I think the same goes for sex conversations... when it comes down to it, parents need to seriously and prayerfully consider how to talk with their own unique children. Some children might benefit from more discussion and details than others; it just depends! I also think that certain depictions by the media, of kissing and allusions to intimacy between married couples... for me those are often good media experiences. Every person is entitled to their own experience, so Heather I don't disagree with your reaction to Young Victoria, but that wasn't how I felt about the intimacy scene you described. I'm struggling to recall the details, but of what I can remember my reaction was that it was tasteful and I appreciated that there was a respectful depiction of love between a married couple (including cutting away), rather than raunchy sex porn we see all the time. That said, I thought this was an interesting point from D. "I think it is concerning and damaging to characterize a depiction of mild physical intimacy as pornography. You can avoid these depictions if you feel that that is important. But don't call things that aren't porn "porn." It confuses the issue and masks what aspects of true pornography are the most damaging."

    I thought that was a compelling point... not sure how I feel about it exactly, but it made me think! I do agree that it could be damaging to categorize a depiction of loving intimacy between married individuals that tastefully cuts away, etc. as porn. Maybe that was best addressed by Mere, who talked about how it's very critical to address that if we consider it pornographic and turn it off for or children that we discuss a scene it, rather than send a message of disgust and fear.

    I'm having a hard time articulating myself on this, I'll have to think about it more. :)

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  23. We have a 17 yo daughter and and adopted 7 yo son with FAS. Teaching about appropriate intimacy has proven to be a very different challenge with each of them.

    It has been so easy to talk with my daughter about her body and sexuality because we started very early. By the time she went to kindergarten, she knew that she could ask me anything about things she was curious about or that she had heard on the bus. By 5th grade she wanted to be homeschooled in part because of the inappropriate behavior of her peers. She's back in school now and very grateful for her "time-out" from the world. We've never shied away from anything she wanted to know and didn't force her to participate in a social environment that was stressful and degrading as she was entering puberty. I trust that she will make good decisions about intimacy as she enters adulthood and I'm prepared to keep loving her if she makes bad ones. She knows this and seems to be confident about her body an her virtue.

    Our son is another creature entirely. I try very hard not to bring him to the grocery store and we don't get fashion or women's magazines in our home (in spite of the fact that I am a jewelry maker and textile artist and SHOULD be following those trends) because he obsesses about the soft porn and close-to-porn images of women on the covers. It has been hard to talk with him about appropriate vs inappropriate touching because his understanding is limited, his verbal cognitive processes are slow and he latches onto anything that sounds "sexy" and runs with it immediately. Maybe part of this is just "boy-ness" but I'm sure that his FAS plays a big role. (Many kids with FAS have strong urges toward inappropriate sexuality.) As his understanding matures, we are trying to teach that sexuality is supposed to be reserved for marriage. He understands that, even though they love him, his Birth parents weren't ready to raise him and that they made bad decisions that ultimately hurt him in part because they were not keeping some of the commandments (word of wisdom and law of chastity - though that chastity term is still a bit too much for him to grasp.)

    What I'm trying to say is that each child is different & different "rules" apply for each child. There are things that my daughter can see and discern clearly that it isn't worthy (like some images on magazines at checkout) that I can't even let our son get a glimpse of. Our mode & style of communication with each of them has been different. My goals for them are different according to their capacity.

    I'd love to hear more about how you are all teaching your boys. I think our culture falls very short there but that it isn't as recognizable because we tend to dismiss as "natural" boys' tendencies to be vulgar or inappropriate and place the burden of chastity more upon our girls.

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  24. Kels and Tophat, I probably should have specified that my suggestion about not watching something if you wouldn't watch it in real life was referring to intimate scenes. I think that there are times when it is very appropriate to watch or read things that we wouldn't normally watch in real life. Isn't that the whole purpose of art and literature... to expose us to ideas and thoughts that we might not otherwise think about or understand? So I think that there are times when even though something may be violent or outside of our comfort level it is still alright. Yet, personally I don't think that sexual intimacy falls into that category. Sacred things should not be mocked and need to be kept sacred and seen and taught in the right way and place.

    I think that Virgina and Kels brought up good points that you REALLY need to be led by the spirit about what and when you teach your children and what you allow in your home. We each have a personal stewardship over our children and God will give us the wisdom and ability to teach them in the way that each of them needs. What might be right for one child will not be right for another.

    Good thoughts!

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