According to Covenant Eyes, more than 40% of adolescents have intercourse before talking to their parents about sex. I’m not sure who the sample included, but I have some thoughts about why this is.
Parents of children, especially those in the church, do not believe in original sin. We talk often, especially pro-life oriented churches, of the “innocence of children” and “the innocents” as a group (usually infants or toddlers). This is a misnomer and a gross misrepresentation of the biblical teaching on original sin.
One reason 40% of adolescents have sex prior to their parents having “the talk” is that parents simply wait to long to have it. My own childhood did not have honest talks about sex at all. Toddlers, it has been long known, engage in self-exploration long before they equate such action with being sexually aroused. Rather than using this opportunity to discuss the body, I was chastised, “Don’t play with yourself! It’s dirty!”
Regardless of how masturbation (if one can call it that when a toddler plays with himself) is viewed, simply telling a kid not to touch himself only serves to make him want to do it more or shames him into not wanting to discuss about his body at all. After being told this was dirty as a child, my parents gave me a book about sex when I became a teenager and told me to ask any questions I had. But it was clear to me that they weren’t interested (or at least it seemed so) because no prior dialog had been established.
My parents seemed to be reared in a church tradition that emphasized innocence of children and an age of accountability, so I would infer that this theology played out in their own child rearing (namely, me). The theory goes, I suppose, that the longer you hold off from discussing sex, the longer they’ll be innocent…and maybe even the longer they’ll live without their hormones flaring up.
Do I think that external situations (conversations, joking, etc) can stir things earlier than they might have without the presence of such situations? Perhaps. It’s not really my field of study, but common sense tells me that while nature has something to do with that, nurture plays a part as well. Would I be more or less exclusively attracted to men if certain key events had not transpired in my life at various ages? I don’t know…and I don’t know that I can definitively know that. But it would make sense that certain events have intensified my disposition at the very least.
So the question is: would you rather your child be instructed in godly sexuality, even if it meant that he/she would be interested in sexual things a month? week? year earlier? Or, would you rather put off that discussion (or avoid having it in a meaningful way) for your own comfort or to preserve some sort of naïveté which isn’t actually innocence at all?
To alter slightly my friend Matt Stublefield, “Naïveté comes from inexperience; purity comes from God.” It seems that homosexual temptation aside, I would have been better equipped to face sexual temptation if I’d had the kind of rapport with my parents that I’m recommending to you. I was “kept out of trouble” by being too scared to do anything. But that isn’t the Gospel…and if we’re making our kids more moral by hook or crook, then we are not imaging the Christ who has purchased both us and them.