Book Review Series: Teaching Your Children About Sex Using the Temple As Your Guide
As I was reading this book, I did a quick informal poll of some of my Mormon girlfriends: did your parents ever talk to you about sex? If so, did they talk to you about more than once? About one-third said that their parents never discussed sex with them, and over 75% said that they only discussed it once. For this reason alone, I am grateful that Cherri Brooks has written this book – more Mormon parents need to be talking to their kids about sex, and often!
This is a book meant for parents – it’s not the book that you hand to your kids and hope that they’ll reference if they have questions that they’re too embarrassed to ask their parents (although Brooks does provide an excellent appendix of resources at the end of her book, which includes some books of this nature). It’s meant to help parents understand the values behind teaching their children about sexual behavior and sexuality, and to add an LDS perspective to the diverse resources available to parents who want to have these important conversations. She grounds her book in the notion that our bodies are temples, and that we should treat them positively and with reverence. To quote the book, “A temple is a sacred, holy structure where events of eternal significance take place. Our bodies are also sacred, holy structures where events of eternal significance take place.”
Brooks begins her book by providing an excellent foundation on preparing parents to have these conversations with their children. She puts special emphasis on becoming aware of our own issues and attitudes surrounding sexuality, and on avoiding shame in our speech and reactions surrounding the topic. She provides thoughtful self-assessment questions for parents to ponder before they engage with their children. For example, if you see something that you view as inappropriate in the company of your children, how do you react? Do you gasp in horror, or ask your child to avert their eyes, possibly sending messages that sexual intimacy is disgusting or shameful? Or do you take the opportunity to teach your children about proper sexual behavior, both outside and inside of marriage? Her foundation, built upon viewing sexual intimacy as beautiful and sacred, provides excellent opportunities for self-reflection and practice before approaching these topics with children. I remember being told once that if I couldn’t talk about sex with children (particularly teenagers) seriously, then they wouldn’t take my message seriously. Brooks does a thorough job of setting the tone surrounding sexuality to be one that is open, positive, and grounded in church teachings.
After setting the foundation, Brooks has three sections designed to help you talk to your children about sex based on their age. The first section (ages 0-5) talks about teaching children proper words for their body parts, as well as being mindful to help children set their own boundaries surrounding their bodies (for example, if a child refuses a hug, don’t force it). She talks about bodily exploration and privacy with children, and gives ideas for how to react to possibly uncomfortable situations. The second section (ages 6-8 and 9-11) discusses the actual mechanics of sex, puberty, masturbation, and informed consent. The third section (ages 12+ through premarital) discusses controlling one’s own behavior, kissing, a brief discussion about LDS teachings on birth control, and love versus lust. She then ends the book with a section of Special Topics, including homosexuality, sexual abuse, and rape. She ends each section with a set of questions and answers, and frequently provides the value that the answer is based in as well.
While I found that the foundation given to help parents talk to their children about sex was helpful and positive, there were some parts of the books where Brooks and I differ in our approaches in talking to our children. Brooks is clear from the beginning of her book that it is based in LDS teachings, and it is focused strictly on abstinence-only sexual education. She also maintains a hard line against any homosexual behavior, and says several times throughout the book that masturbation is sinful and should be avoided. There are many mentions of modesty in clothing, and she specifically references Dallin Oaks’ talk about “walking pornography,” stating that part of the reason we dress modestly is to prevent inappropriate thoughts in others. Additionally, she includes a harmful quote from “The Miracle of Forgiveness” suggesting that a woman’s virtue is worth more than her life, and that you should “preserve your virtue even if you lose your life.” While Brooks does try to tackle the quote and give an alternate framing, I think that the mere inclusion of the quote can be damaging, particularly to survivors of sexual abuse. Additionally, I found that almost all of the references to valuing a woman’s sexuality were in reference to childbearing. Given that many young women won’t be bearing children in their lives (for a variety of reasons), I had hoped for a broader discussion of how youth (and young women, in particular) could have healthy relationships to their sexuality apart from motherhood. I also hoped for more of the temple symbolism to be used – how can sexuality be used to teach us, as we are taught in the temple? How can it bind us and seal us to each other as couples? How can we use our sexuality to bless our own life and the life of our spouse? I would have enjoyed a more expanded section relating to the symbolism of the temple and healthy sexual expression in marriage.
Overall, I think Brooks’ book would be helpful to any LDS parent who is looking for a resource on how to talk to their kids about sex. It provides useful framings for sex-positive discussions, and is a comprehensive collection of church teachings from both church leaders and church publications (such as “A Parent’s Guide,” “To Young Men Only,” “The Miracle of Forgiveness,” and “For the Strength of Youth”). I am grateful that this book is available and hope that parents throughout the LDS church will be having positive, healthy conversations with their children about sex more often!
This is a part of the Exponent Book Review Series and Cyber Monday Giveaway. By making a thoughtful comment on this post, subscribing to the Exponent, or making a donation to Exponent II by sending a PayPal donation to firstname.lastname@example.org, you will be entered into a drawing to win one of many books being reviewed! Check the intro post for information and terms. Entries accepted until the 5th of December 2015.