When Should You ‘Tell All’ to Your Teens About Sex?

One of the hardest things about tackling the topic of sexual abuse, and breaking the silence and advocating for survivors of abuse, is that it requires constantly staring the past in the eye, one way or another. This can be wearing, if not managed well, and requires introspection to ‘nip in the bud’ any negative impact being in this kind of ministry can have.

I am blessed to have a supportive husband, who also is tuned in to the impact ministry has on me, and together we try to stay balanced. But for all the balance in the world, it is faith in Jesus that keeps me strong and focused, without being sucked into the horror of the stories I hear, let alone my own past.

Yesterday I took a day off of my series on Sexual Abuse and Violence, to honour a friend who died suddenly and tragically, in a crash. The thought of what his family is suffering right now quite overwhelmed me. When I hear of tragedy such as this, and the painful aftermath, I realize again that this is not what we were created for. This pain and trauma, caused by sin and death, is more than the human mind and body are created to handle. That is why we need Jesus.

It is this comfort, that Jesus is willing to carry for us, those things that we were not created for, that helps me shift my focus. I shift from the tragedy of death and sin, to the triumph of the cross. From the  wounds I carry, to the battle I need to fight. And from the battle I need to fight, to the Saviour who already conquered sin on the cross, and took authority over death.

With that in mind, I dive back in….

Training our children about sexuality has been (mostly) a fun journey, after we made it past the initial awkwardness. Okay… that is my opinion. Tim, who is reserved and private, would hardly describe it that way.

On her twelfth birthday, after all the action had settled down, I was on our bed studying when Alicia joined me. I was finishing my Grade 12 studies, having determined that a GED was not satisfying. I wanted to work for my diploma. I wanted actual exams and classes to attend, and reclaim what I had missed out in my youth.

I laid my books aside to chat with Alicia, when she asked why it is important for women to cover up and dress modestly. (I had said ‘no’ to an outfit not long before this)

I explained that it is good and important to cover our bodies out of respect for ourselves and people around us, but that balance is important. We don’t want to not be so hung up on it that it becomes all-consuming and a religious ‘measuring stick’ to determine salvation. She wanted a better answer. The ‘why’ it even mattered. What was wrong about exposing our bodies.

Ah yes, that little bitty detail… Perfect material for a bedtime chat.

I can’t tell you exactly what trail led us there, but enough questions later, Alicia knew about erections, penetration and how men are wired to be visually stimulated.

Her eyes about popped out at the penetration. “It actually has to go inside?!”

I assured her that it’s all part of God’s plan, that it’s not painful as it sounds it could be.  I told her that by the time you’re married and in love, it’s a God-blessed relationship and it is all ‘right’ and good.

We were wrapping up the conversation when Alicia asked in a whisper, “Mommy, where’s Daddy?”

Playfully, I answered in a whisper, “I think he’s hiding in the bathroom.”

“I would hide too!” she exclaimed, “if someone was telling all that about my body!”  No sooner had she spoken the words than Tim walked in the room. He got that look on his face that said, ‘I don’t think I want to be part of this conversation.’

“Am… I…. interrupting something?” he asked.

“Not at all! You’re welcome to join us, if you wish,” I answered.

With a grin he declined and said he’s heading downstairs, leaving Alicia and me on our bed, giggling.

When I went to teach Nicole about these things, when she turned twelve, she calmly told me, “Mom, I already know that stuff.”

“Don’t you want me to explain it just to make sure?” I asked.


Okay then. No need to waste words.

With the boys we explained nocturnal emissions, and how that wasn’t something to be ashamed of, or worry about. Even random ‘leaking’ or spills were nothing to feel bad about, just a matter of ‘covering up’ in public. We told them of other changes their bodies would go through and the need for good hygiene. (That hasn’t always worked…. ) And then we told them about the female cycle and the importance of being gentle with their sisters, explaining the rise and fall of their emotions.

“Well they must already have that,” Bryan said matter-of-factly when we explained the mood swings to him. I guess that part is obvious.

It’s a wonderful thing when children are respectfully informed. I also believe it is biblical. But that’s at least 500 words worth, so I’ll save that for another day. In practical day-to-day living, things run more smoothly, and boys are very understanding when their sisters are not well, and they know why.

The past few days one of our daughters has been in a lot of pain because of menstrual cramps. Last evening our whole family was watching the Olympics and she moaned around a bit, then looked up and asked, “Bryan, would you mind getting me a cup of water please?”

Without hesitation, and with a look of compassion, he did it for her.

When Tim prayed at dinner, he prayed that her cramps would go away and that she would feel better.

I am convinced of this, when my boys get married, they will be sensitive and caring. They will be prepared for what goes with a woman’s monthly cycle and will treat their wives well.

It is no wonder that the enemy loves silence in Christian circles. There is so much power in the truth! Yes, every family needs to be discerning in the ‘when and how’, but to not do it at all, because of fear and awkwardness, is a cop-out and a tragedy.

Have we done it perfectly? No. I doubt it. But the door is open and our children know we’re available. They know God thinks they’re pretty awesome, right down to their sexual identity. It was His idea after all, the way He designed us just before He said, “It is very good!”

© Trudy Metzger

Return to 1st post in Sexual Abuse Series

If God Makes Babies, Why do Unmarried People Get Pregnant?

“Mommy, my friend said her brother’s girlfriend is pregnant. How can someone that’s not married have a baby?” Alicia, seven at the time, asked this question immediately after school one day, as she emptied out her lunch box.

Alicia had a knack for asking all the tough questions, always keeping me on my toes. With God coaching me, and a few good friends to encourage me, her questions taught me this: Talking about sexuality, in a healthy way, shouldn’t be that different from teaching our kids how to play ‘patty-cake, patty-cake…’ or how to cook, read, write or handle money. It’s all part of good parenting. Quite honestly, I’ve done better in this area than some of the others.

“Well, it isn’t just married people who have babies,” I answered, still trying to form an age-appropriate answer. “When people live together and sleep together, like married people, they sometimes have babies too. But that’s not God’s plan for people.”

I wasn’t quite ready for the ‘sex talk’ so I kept it real, but superficial, hoping it would be enough.

She asked several other questions, trying to sort out what it all means. Did it make God sad? And if God makes babies, then why would it happen before people get married? Could just anyone suddenly be pregnant? (Way to keep it ‘light’, girl!)

I explained that by sleeping together, and living the way God planned for married people to live and sleep together, they do their part in making the baby.

“A man and a woman have to be together for that to happen, it doesn’t just happen. And babies are always special. It might be a mistake to sleep together, but the baby is never a mistake.”

Not perfect, but it was the best I knew. And it satisfied her. For a while.

Up to this point I had told them that God takes a part of the daddy, and part of the mommy, to make a baby in the mommy’s tummy. I was in no hurry to explain that we play a predominant (and fun!) role in that miracle making process. Back then the thought of talking to my children about it, in any detail, was still awkward and unnerving, even looking ahead to when they would be ready. Fortunately each ‘baby step’ prepares you for the next, and we don’t have to do it all in one day.

Starting in the bathtub when they were still toddlers, I explained body parts, using appropriate names. I told them that this is stuff we talk about at home, with our family, but not with other people. And if other people start talking about it, we tell them we only talk about this at home. This teaching resulted in our one son returning home from school, in grade one, having had an interesting conversation.

“One of the boys at school told us that all boys have a peanut,” Bryan said.

I wanted to laugh, but he was dead serious, so I responded calmly, “Really?”

“Yes. But I told them, ‘it’s not a peanut! It’s a p-e-e-n-i-s-s-s-s….'” he said, enunciating the ‘s’ in the appropriate word.

“Very good!” And with that he was off to play.

Shortly before her tenth birthday, Alicia had more question. The years in between had been the normal talks of respect, how to treat others, and how to expect to be treated. But that couldn’t last forever. I always assumed that if they asked detailed questions, then detailed answers were in order. The time had come.

“Mommy, today at school I had to look up a word that started with ‘ex’. And someone had written an ‘s’ in front of it. I showed it to my friends.”

“I see. Did you girls look up what it means?” I asked, curious.

“No. We talked about it and decided maybe it was bad and we shouldn’t look it up,” she answered.

“Good for you,” I said. It wasn’t that looking it up would have been bad, but that they collectively decided what was the right thing to do, and did, made me proud. “But it isn’t bad,” I added.

“So, Mommy, what does ‘sex’ mean?”

Tim had left with the other four children, and Alicia and I were alone at home.

“Go get a pen and paper, and I’ll explain what it is, if you want,” I said. She nodded and ran off to get the materials.

I whispered a silent prayer… “Oh God, help! I don’t have a clue what I’m doing here!”

We sat at the island, and she watched intently as I drew the torso of a female and a male body, with detailed internal and external sex organs. I explained that sex can simply mean ‘gender’, or it can be an act between a man and a woman.

I told her about sperm, the female egg, the monthly cycle–in more detail than I had already told her about–and the birthing process. I explained the simple facts again, saying that God takes part of the daddy, and part of the mommy to make the baby. This time that wasn’t enough.

“But how does He get it from the daddy into the mommy?” She asked. “Does the daddy have to touch the mommy?”

I pointed out how the male is created and how the female is created, and how it all fits, and that the male has to transfer sperm into the female. I didn’t explain erections, penetration or the intimate pleasure of love-making. That would come later.

When I had finished, she continued to stare at the paper, in absolute silence. For a brief moment I was sure I had overwhelmed her. Destroyed her innocence.

She looked up, her face filled with awe, “Cool!” she exclaimed.

And that was the end of that, for another two years, when, on the night of her twelfth birthday she asked yet more questions. Her birthday was a month later, and I took her out for dinner to celebrate, and I told her we would have ‘the talk’ with her siblings later. For now it was something she could talk to myself or daddy about.

Not all parents are comfortable with this level of detail at ten, while others will have ‘told all’ at a younger age. I cannot say what is right for everyone, but it has been good for our children.

The important thing is to be available, to never shame or punish children for asking tough question or being curious. Yes, it’s a bit scary at first, especially if we didn’t get that from our parents, but it’s important.

Our sexuality it a beautiful thing, a wonderful gift from God, and our responses either confirm that truth, or they warp it. We either equip our children, and free them from shame, or we give shame power.

How will you influence your children?

© Trudy Metzger

Return to 1st post in Sexual Abuse Series

Mommy, What Would You Do, If I Told You, I’m Pregnant?

My then-fifteen-yr-old daughter asked this question, rather casually, sitting on the floor beside me, leaning against the fireplace.”I would be very happy for me, because I would get to be a Grandma–(or Nana, as I hope to be called one day)–and I would be sad for you.”

Had I been at all concerned that this was her way of making an announcement, I’m sure my heart would have skipped a beat. My reply might have been worded a bit differently, I’m sure, but hopefully the message would have been the same.

Alicia went on to ask a few more questions, like what I would do if she couldn’t take care of the baby. I assured her that her baby would be our baby and we would never abandon her, or any of our children if they had a child out-of-wedlock. We talked about what it would mean for her, as a teen, to be a mom. What it would cost her on so many levels.

This conversation was Alicia’s way of processing the fact that many of her friends were sexually active and the reality they could potentially be facing, should birth control fail them. The conversation was not our first, and definitely not our last.

It is important for parents to make it safe for children to talk to us about anything, and that doesn’t happen over night. The younger they are when we open that door, the better off they will be, and the more likely that they will ask the hard questions later. This is not a guarantee–there are many factors that play in, including personality and temperament–but it does increase the odds.

There are seasons when some teenagers resort to grunts, and rolling of the eyes frequently, as their method of communication. They won’t want to talk about anything personal, let alone this kind of thing. It’s important to be sensitive to this need for personal space, but it’s not reason to give up on these talks. When they are bombarded with false information on every hand, we can gently let them know we are here. We can ask how they’re doing, without pressuring them to ‘tell all’, and offering a safe place if they need to talk.

Hopefully, if they are faced with the really tough stuff, like premarital sex or even pregnancy, they will trust us enough to open up. I have listened to numerous stories, of young women who became pregnant in their teens, and because they couldn’t face their Christian parents with the shame, they chose to hide it by having an abortion instead. Numerous women have sat across the table from me, in tears, spilling their pain, and their shame, grieving the loss of the child they aborted.

The first time a young woman shared her story with me, about ten years ago, I made a vow that my children would be loved, accepted and safe, should they ever have an unplanned pregnancy. I teach them abstinence, but their place in my heart, and my love for them is not dependent on that.

Pride, ‘image’, and the way some might gossip is secondary. What matters is that every child knows he or she is loved, that mom and dad are here to support them regardless what happens, so that their shame does not push them into deeper darkness.

That trust and communication does not begin when teenagers start dating. It all begins in the diaper phase….

© Trudy Metzger

Return to 1st post in Sexual Abuse Series