Sex education for Gen Z – it's complicated
Top tips for talking with your kids about sex
Young people today are the most “sexualised generation that ever walked planet earth”, according to Christian sexologist Patricia Weerakoon.
Weerakoon has more than 40 years experience as a sex educator, spending 25 of them studying sexual health as an academic at the University of Sydney. Since retiring in 2011, she has penned numerous books on the biblical view of sex – including Teen Sex by the Book for teenagers, the Birds and Bees series for primary-aged children and The Best Sex for Life for adults. She also has been invited to speak at countless churches, workshops and events.
In fact, Weerakoon has become commonly known as “that Christian sex lady”. So if you want to cut to the chase, head to the bottom of this article for Weerakoon’s top tips about how to talk with your kids about sex.
At 73, Weerakoon has just published her “final” book on sex education: a “how to” for Christian parents, titled Talking Sex by the Book: Giving Kids a Bible-Based View of Identity, Relationships and Sexuality.
“The first part of the book lays the foundation in talking about why parents are so important in educating children about sex,” Weerakoon tells Eternity. “It gives a biblical view, saying you are God’s ambassadors to your children, so you’re that conduit of God’s love, grace, forgiveness and accountability.
“The second part of the book gives parents, carers and grandparents some techniques and skills for talking to their children about sex – and giving their children the skills to negotiate decisions [around sexuality].”
Society’s changing view on sex
According to Weerakoon, the role of parents in sex education is extremely important in a “pornified world” where “casual sex and gender fluidity are normal”. She wants to help parents address these issues, having identified them as the biggest recent changes to the way our society views sex.
“To be a Christian is really counter-cultural.” – Patricia Weerakoon
“The main thing is the cyberworld and this information overload, which obviously is a channel to a plethora of pornography, which is deviant and fantasy,” explains Weerakoon.
“The second thing that has dramatically shifted is the … post-modernity, post-truth fluidity of gender, and identity based on gender.
“So gender and sexuality have become the source of identity, which it wasn’t so many years ago when I started speaking about it.
“We’ve moved from a [world] where sex was nice and naughty and we giggled about it, but it wasn’t, ‘this is my very identity’ …
“Social media bombards them with these things, saying you’ve got to be sexual, you’ve got to find a gender identity. So to be a Christian is really counter-cultural.”
Building an internal filter
In addressing the first issue – the cyberworld and pornography – Weerakoon advises: “The fact is you can put on all the external filters, like accountability software, but the most important thing is to build an internal filter for kids.”
“And that internal filter comes from two things: one, knowing the word of God and that God has a good message that your body is precious. Secondly, whether you’re Christian or not, is to understand that pornography is not reality. Porn is deviant and fantasy, and it rewires your brain, so that [through neuroplasticity] your brain begins to think it’s reality. So, there’s God and there’s the science of your brain.”
“Christian parents are in a position to give children a better narrative …” – Patricia Weerakoon
In regard to the second societal change – sexuality and gender defining identity – Weerakoon points parents to sharing the Bible with their children.
“As Christian parents, we are in a position to give our children a better narrative: a model of significance and identity given, not earned by social media, peer popularity, sexual performance or gender. An identity given by God,” she writes in Talking Sex by the Book.
Top tips for talking about sex with your kids
At the heart of all parental sex education is open communication. Weerakoon’s book is filled with practical tips on how and what to discuss with kids – from under fives through to teenagers.
She also devotes a section to helping parents overcome “roadblocks” in teaching kids about sex, which mainly stem from parents themselves feeling uncomfortable and unprepared.
“Don’t be afraid to talk to your children about how many good things the Bible has to say about sex.” – Patricia Weerakoon
“If you don’t talk to them, they’ll talk to their friends or else they’re learning from pornography. So you better talk to them first,” Weerakoon warns.
“Sometimes parents think ‘I won’t start the conversation, I’ll wait until [my children] come to me.’ But you’ve got to be proactive, you can’t wait and be reactive because you will be reacting to misinformation they have got from friends or porn …
“As Christians, you’ve got to be there giving them God’s good message.
“The world thinks Christians are negative about sex, but the Bible is a ‘sex positive’ document. Don’t be afraid to talk to your children about how many good things the Bible has to say about sex.”
1. Talk early
“Start early – start when they start speaking,” Weerakoon advises.
“Give them the right words for their genitals. That’s very important for at least two reasons: one, today primary schoolers are being exposed to pornography. So before you send them to primary school, you need to have told them the right words for the body.
“Children are naturally curious. So you can explain to them, ‘you might want to look more at [pornographic images], but say ‘no’, run away and talk to someone, like Mum or talk to the teacher.’ Because you’ve got to debrief, otherwise those images stay in the brain.
“And, sadly, if somebody touches children inappropriately, they must have the words to come and tell Mum or Dad about it.”
On the positive side, Weerakoon adds: “And don’t be afraid to share your values, especially in pointing them to God’s good message. So always look for opportunities to talk early and talk often, to share your values and point them to the gospel.”
2. Talk often
“You’ve got to talk [to kids] often – not have a one-off sex talk. A continuous drip-feeding of information is really important, so a parent has to be available to talk to children often. If you start early, it tells the child ‘I’m comfortable, you can talk to me about these things’ – without you necessarily even saying that,” says Weerakoon.
“If you have these conversations early and often, then they will comfortably come to you whenever they have any questions.”
3. Be in their world
“Be in their world and help them to be literate – media literate and social media literate,” Weerakoon advises.
For example, if your child is watching a sexualised music video, she suggests, “watch it with them and then talk about it. Ask: Do you think that’s attractive when she’s dancing around the pole? Why do you think they have so little clothes on? Why do you think they’re dancing like that, so close to each other, is that necessary? Do you think it’s necessary to dance like that to sell music?”
“It boils down to talking,” she concludes.
4. Model good loving
“Sex is caught more than taught,” Weerakoon adds.
To married couples she says: “Show them that Mum and Dad have a loving relationship. I tell parents, hugs at the kitchen sink are highly recommended. I say, even if your children run into the bedroom [while] you’re having sex, that’s OK. It’s a teaching moment!” (Maybe much later, not at that moment when they run in and see you).
“It is something you can then talk about, you know, ‘Mum and Dad love each other, and sometimes we hug and kiss and cuddle, and that’s what mummies and daddies do. In fact, guess what? That’s how we made you!’
“It’s OK to share those things and talk about it, so don’t be afraid.”