Teaching Your Child About Sex (Part Two) – Rev. George Kelly


From The Catholic Family Handbook, Rev. George A. Kelly

Part One is here.

When parents “can’t talk about sex.”

Some parents may find it difficult to discuss matters of sex with their children. Having been reared where such subjects are not mentioned by “nice people,” they may tend to maintain this characteristic of secrecy with their children.

If you are one of those, reflect that your present attitude probably results directly from the way sex was regarded in your parents’ home. If you also treat it in a hush-hush manner, your children may do likewise with their youngsters, and the process of inculcating in the young the idea that sex is always shameful and sinful will continue indefinitely.

Moreover, even if the duty is painful it remains a duty. Just as you would consider it your obligation to teach your child how to behave in the presence of guests, or how to eat at table, so too it is your duty to instruct him about sex.

If parents failed to teach their children good manners, you would say that they were shirking their obligation. How much more important is it that they not shirk the job of instructing their young ones in the beautiful mysteries of life.

If you are extremely modest by nature, you will develop your ability to discuss sex by answering your child’s first questions as easily and casually as possible.

Creating an atmosphere which lets him know that he can discuss this subject with you is often the most difficult hurdle of all.

Once you get over it, you will develop the confidence to respond in a similarly calm way to questions that follow. Having achieved a rapport with him, you will find yourself able to answer even his most pointed questions with truth and dignity.

If parents are unable to provide direct sex instruction to their children, they should seek a substitute who most closely complies with the principles outlined above.

For example, the mother of a fatherless adolescent boy is not qualified to instruct him concerning the physical development of his sex and the intimate problems of male chastity. She might ask a male relative–the boy’s uncle, for example–to do so.

A priest or a teaching brother is well qualified to instruct the boy, and a nun to instruct a girl: their teaching will strongly emphasize the importance of religious discipline, and it will take place in an atmosphere that upholds the dignity of the subject matter.

The sex instruction commonly provided in public schools conforms to none–or at best, one–of the five principles which should be observed.

Early sex experimentation.

Since our feelings about sex are intimately related to our attitudes on other subjects–our love and fear of God, our reverence for our body, our recognition of the necessary functions of our organs and the relationship that exists between men and women–your child begins to form attitudes about sex as soon as he becomes aware of his surroundings.

If you react in a matter-of-fact way to his early exploration of his genitals–an act of exploration which is necessary for him to discover what his body consists of–you will avoid the common error of calling his attention to his sex organs from his first days and of making him unduly conscious of them.

Bowel and bladder training should also be carried out in a casual, unemotional way. Dr. Odenwald states that a normal child cannot control bowels and bladder before two or three years of age.

For this reason, he states, parents should use gentleness, understanding and kindness, so that the child always feels that his elimination is a normal physiological act.

Teach your children to use the correct words for their sex organs at the very beginning. You would not use a special, babyish word to describe your child’s fingers, his nose or his heart.

If you use childish words, you create an impression that the correct words carry a shameful connotation. Of course, the entire sense of shame is in the adult.

To the child, one word is the same as another. But many persons who did not know the correct names for their organs until they reached the age of ten or twelve are too embarrassed as adults to use those names even in instructing their own children.

As your child reaches the crawling and walking stages, you should treat any matters relating to his private organs in the same way that you would treat matters concerning his hands or feet. He will accept the fact that he must normally keep his sex organs covered, just as he accepts the fact that food is eaten from a plate, and that fathers wear trousers and mothers wear dresses.

How to answer your child’s questions.

Parents with the good sense to avoid making their child unduly conscious of his genitals sometimes do not know how to begin instructing him about the facts of life.

The advice upon which most experts now agree is that you should not initiate the discussion. Instead, you should wait for him to ask the questions, and then answer them truthfully and within the limits of his understanding.

Almost all children ask similar questions at similar stages of their development. Therefore, you can anticipate what questions must next be expected and learn the proper answers.

A basic principle to remember, however, is that inculcation of proper attitudes is more important to your child’s proper understanding than is the mere recitation of facts.

You want him to feel that sex is a beautiful means conceived by God to propagate the human race and to enable husbands and wives to express their love for each other.

If you yourself stand in awe before the beauty of the marital act and the reproductive process, you will be able to give the same reverence and wonderment to your child. When you hold such an attitude, instructing him becomes an opportunity to impart a sense of the love and wisdom of God.

The practical value of stressing the fact that God is the author of the sexual union will become apparent during his adolescence and for the rest of his life.

When he firmly understands that God made the act for use only within marriage, he will have the moral support he will need to resist the inevitable temptations he must face.

The child who learns about sex without the necessary religious education to accompany it may reach adolescence merely believing that use of the sexual function before marriage is not customary or “nice.” Such a naturalistic belief often falls before the first surge of passion.

At about the age of three or four, most children ask their mothers where they came from. They ask with the same innocent curiosity they might use in asking where the picture in the television set comes from.

You would not reply to that question with an elaborate explanation of the marvels of the electronic age.

Rather, you might say that it is sent through the air by a broadcasting station and received by the set. Similarly, the answer, “from the mother’s body,” satisfies the normal small child when he inquires about his birth.

If you answer your child’s question calmly and confidently, he may be satisfied temporarily. Before long, however, he may ask how the baby grows in the mother’s body and how it emerges.

In order to develop an understanding of the proper relationship between God and the act of procreation, it is wise at this and succeeding stages to include references to the Divine plan in your answers.

You might explain to him that God devised a way to insure that babies would be safe and warm, protected by their mother’s body, until they were strong enough to live outside.

You might call his attention to the way mothers carry newborn babies–close to their hearts, protecting them with both hands and arms. You might explain that God devised a protective means like this to make sure that the baby received warmth and shelter within the mother’s body.

Your child may not raise the subject again for months or years. At about five or six years, however, he may become more interested in pregnancy and birth, and may wish to know how long the baby remains inside the mother’s body.

Like the questions that usually precede it, this one is not directly related to the sexual act but to a biological fact. It is as harmless as his question as to why he has teeth or what happens to his food after he eats it.

At about the age of six or seven, he may wonder how the baby was placed in his mother. You might answer that God gives fathers a way by which they deposit seeds in the mother’s body. You should not go beyond this.

Sometimes precocious children sense that a mother is embarrassed over this question and ask others to upset her rather than to elicit information.

At this age–or any other in which your child asks for information he should not have–you might quietly state that it is not proper for him to know the answer now and that he will receive it later.

This is the natural response you would give to other improper questions–to his inquiries about how much money the father earns each week, for example, and similar queries of a personal nature.

At any age you may be called upon to restate simple truths that you thought the child already knew. Children forget, or at least seek new insight into old words. The child who is most glib in his use of terminology may be most innocent about the meaning of those terms.

A good Catholic home is the one supreme need of the hour. And a good Catholic family life alone makes up a good Catholic home. The home is the source and maintainer of the Catholic way of life. -Fr. Lovasik, The Catholic Family Handbook

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“Where is there a virtue that spreads around itself so many blessings as that of chastity? But it is a very tender virtue, most like a tender flower which is injured by the slightest touch and by the least breath of cold. Therefore it is that according to the will of God the Christian home must serve as its sheltering place and protection; there it ought to be carefully guarded; there, especially by the vigilance of the mother, everything ought to be refused entrance that could injure it; there it must be fostered and cherished…”

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The greatest battles do not occur in a distant land or even in past times but in the depths of the human soul. It is the battle between virtue and vice, the conflict between aspiring to be a saint or living a mediocre life. The conflict between reaching heaven or forfeiting it.

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Just as this book is a dialogue between the virtues and vices, so too must we learn to listen to the voice of truth and not the voice of lies. The Lord, the General of our souls, whispers words of encouragement and peace while the devil, the captain of vice and enemy of our souls, tempts us to sin and then accuses us.

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